My experience at the World Water Week Conference: Water for Society Including all

This is a guest blog by Benson Kandeh, winner of the RWSN@WWW competition for young professionals.. For more information on RWSN’s activities for Young professionals, see here.

My name is Benson Kandeh and I am a young water professional from Sierra Leone. I work on providing water supply for rural communities in my country through the EMAS technologies and by training technicians to enable self-supply by and for communities. You can find out more about my organisation here and my work here.

This year, I won a competition for young professionals organized by RWSN to attend World Water Week in Stockholm. Getting to Stockholm from Sierra Leone was a challenge: I had to apply for a visa to Sweden in Nigeria, where I had to stay over two weeks waiting for the outcome of the visa process. My visa was initially denied by the Swedish authorities and later approved thanks to an appeal from the RWSN Secretariat. I got the news that my visa has been appealed on Monday 19th August, and two days later, on Wednesday I was on a plane to Abuja to collect my visa and fly out to Stockholm the next day. It has been a whirlwind and quite an adventure for me!

This year’s World Water Week conference was held from August 25-30, 2019 and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) with over 3,300 people from 130 countries – including Sierra Leone. The 6-day programme consisted 270 sessions with the Theme: Water for society – including all”. Two of the highlights of the event were the Stockholm Water Prize ceremony, and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition honouring outstanding young people between the age of 15 and 20 who have made an innovation in the water sector. 23 countries were represented this year in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition but only Nigeria and South Africa represented Africa as a whole. I was fortunate to meet with the Stockholm Water Prize winner, Dr Jackie King during the conference.

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Meeting Dr Jackie King, winner of the 2019 Stockholm Water Prize

The conference gathered many experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries. It featured many interesting sessions, of which I was fortunate to attend the following, and learn and interact with many water professionals:

  1. Shared and Public Toilets: Equitable access everywhere
  2. Joined-Up thinking: Sanitation in the Broader context of slum improvement
  3. From success to scale: improving rain fed agriculture in Africa
  4. Entrepreneurship driving water impact for all (3/3)
  5. Water and Sanitation solutions for the people left behind
  6. Remote WASH: Quality and Lasting services for rural communities
  7. Entrepreneurial model for rural, domestic water for all
  8. Sanitation for Society, including for all (1/3)
  9. Safely Managed Drinking Water Services for Rural People, where I served as a panelist

Here are some of my highlights of World Water Week:

Shared and Public Toilets: Equitable access everywhere

This session was very important especially for organizations and individuals that have interests in rural communities for water and sanitation. The presenter was able to clearly outline the shared sanitation model as it is important when considering household access as well as access outside the home. Toilet/latrine access is a challenge in the African region especially in institutions (schools, religious buildings, medical or other institutions). However, with this model, it can reduce the disparity greatly as it considers students, workers and anyone who lives outside their home.

According to the presenter, the quality of these services is often poor, because of limited monitoring standards, and the funding needed for such work is inadequate. The presenter made it very clear that shared sanitation is not just a service needed at one’s home but people need to access safely managed sanitation facilities, while they are away from home, whether at school, work, a market, or anywhere else they might go.

A pitching competition for 9 young water professionals

Thanks to the Water Youth Network for organizing an interesting and educative short pitching competition among nine young people, who work in the water sector.  In fact, the group work was so amazing after the problems were presented to participants with the aim to discuss and offer solutions on how to make sure that water supply projects use an entrepreneurial approach to overcome inclusion challenge. We also talked about the difference between water accessibility and use.

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My pitch at the Water Youth Network event

Key projects highlighted during the discussion were mini-grid piped water schemes in Bangladesh, scalable water services in Uganda and a Football for Water project in Kenya (Aqua for All), all reaching rural, poor, underserved households. During the various young water professionals’ presentations, I was able to learn about the impacts colleagues are making in their various countries to improve access to water and sanitation.

Safely Managed Drinking Water Services for Rural People – the Last Mile

This was one of the most important sessions for me during World Water Week in Skockholm. I served as a panelist, representing the rural communities among other personalities from the WASH sector with the topic: “Safely Managed Drinking Water Services for Rural People”.

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Speaking as a panelist with Clarissa Brocklehurst (Water Institute at UNC) and Peter Harvey (UNICEF)

I shared my experience using the EMAS technologies in the Sierra Leone context. The EMAS technology is a self-supply concept that entails local public or private initiatives by individuals, households or community groups to improve their own WASH supplies, without waiting for help from governments or non-government organizations. Self-supply is more about self-sustained initiative, rather than donor subsidies or external support. It empowers individuals and communities to gradually improve their WASH supplies at their own pace with regard to technical and financial capacities. Once the basic services are available, families make their own decisions on how to improve those services based on affordability and technical capacities at local level.

The most interesting part about this session was the mixed backgrounds of the presenters (knowledge, skills, cultures, etc.). All were centered on the water crisis and solutions with an emphasis on sustainability, affordability and accessibility for everyone everywhere.

Finally, the different presentations were able to examine the various technologies and hand-pump types that are utilized in various countries and provided evidences for technology options that can yield much for ease of maintenance, accessibility and sustainability.

Conclusion

Participating in World Water Week has been a great opportunity for me to present my work, make contacts, and contribute my perspective as a young professional from Sierra Leone. I am looking forward to staying in touch with some of the people I met during World Water Week, and hopefully this will help me on my mission to provide safe water in rural communities in my country.

Since coming home I have created my own group for young water professionals in Sierra Leone. I am trying to connect with other young professionals in Sierra Leone, to see how we can come together and contribute to the water sector. Any young professional interested in water in Sierra Leone is welcome to join here. I believe we can do a lot!

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Meeting with RWSN Young Professional Kenneth Alfaro Alvarado from Costa Rica