Tackling systemic inequalities in water and sanitation

This is a guest blog by Juste Nansi, Country Director for IRC Burkina Faso. It is is reposted with thanks from the IRC blog; you can find the original blog post here.

Systematic or systemic inequalities are grounded in our mindsets; in the way, we think, in the way we plan, in the way we see people, and in the way we interpret the rights to water and sanitation.

A lot has changed, practically all events have gone virtual over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Something positive though is, we have realised the exciting potential, built new skills, reached more audiences, and discovered that virtual is not all bad.  

At this year’s Annual Water and Health Conference: Science, Policy, and Practice hosted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC) Water Institute [October 26–30th], more than three thousand participants attended this registration free well-executed virtual conference. The 2020 conference was anchored by major panel conversations covering timely topics such as WASH response during the COVID-19 pandemic and Systemic Inequalities in WASH.   

Systemic Inequalities in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) 

The plenaries were an opportunity to explore critical themes emerging in 2020. While a lot of information was shared over the week, this reflection stems from one of the most challenging and interesting themes – Systemic Inequalities in WASH – at which I was one of the panellists. This plenary, just like all the others, was used to challenge us, to review the evidence to stimulate critical thinking and to try to look at our work in new ways so that we can learn and do better. Systemic inequalities in WASH gets to the heart of who we are as a sector and why we do what we do. Recognising that it is not all about water and sanitation for some, but for everyone.  

It happens that we are allowing either consciously or unconsciously for systemic inequality to get in the way of our achieving SDG6 and achieving the real impacts that we hope to have for the beneficiaries of our work.  

In his elaborate and eloquent introduction of the theme and discussion, Dr Aaron Salzberg from the 2020 UNC Water and Health Plenary Panel honestly said that he was somewhat afraid of the topic. He touched on several forms and examples of systemic inequalities, ranging from people in the south struggling at odd hours to find a place with good wi-fi to join the conference, the unequal treatment of people of colour within the United States, in particular black indigenous and Latino communities that have been ignored. The deeply rooted systemic practices that have led to the indiscriminate attacks on and the discriminatory treatment of communities of colour, the growing wage and wealth inequalities in the United States and across the globe. It is highly likely that even our children will not see gender parity in our lifetimes. At the current rate, and this was before COVID 19, it will take 257 years according to the World Economic Forum to close the economic gender gap deeply impacting communities of colour and low-income communities around the world. Countless others have had to die before Black Lives Matter, and that one in every 100 indigenous Americans has died…. Aaron’s list of inequalities was not exhaustive but clearly gives a true picture of what the reality has become… 

This is also true for the work that we do on water, by providing water and sanitation services to an informal settlement on the outskirts of a city we are allowing the government to skirt its fundamental responsibilities and continue its oppressive practices of not legally recognising marginalised communities. It may be easier for us to provide the services than to force governments to recognise the rights of these individuals and grant them land tenure access to capital and extend municipal services. Also, realising that we have let the SDGs define success and have invested in vanity metrics the number of people served rather than measures related to capacity and autonomy of communities.  

COVID-19 is a time of reawakening, a lot has changed, and this situation has reminded us of how fragile life is at a global scale and how ill-prepared we are to address the challenges that we will face in the 21st century, challenges like the spread of infectious diseases, climate change, food and water, and security, access to basic services and health care.  

Women fetching water in the Sahel

Now let’s look at the rural situation in Africa, that I am well familiar with as the IRC country director in Burkina Faso, leading the country programme as well as the regional African programme. 

Over the past decades, I have learnt more about who is left behind and who are not enjoying safely managed WASH services, what, how inequalities are shown, what are the root causes and what would be the solution. 

Most of the time many of us as practitioners in the developing world start working on inequalities with the assumption that the victims are a minority of the population. We used to think that when you talked about marginalisation, these were people living with disabilities, or people living in fragile states, but when we look at the figures of the Joint Monitoring Group [JMP] data of 2017, 73% of the population in sub-Saharan countries in Africa did not have access to safely managed water services and 82% did not have access to safely managed sanitation services – this is really the majority that is left behind from enjoying adequate public services. All these figures confirm the need to address this challenge. This is a noticeably big problem, an excessively big need that we need to address.  

Consciously or unconsciously somehow perpetuating this kind of discrimination 

One of the things that we all know is that many of these victims of inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa are living in rural areas. One of the things that I have noticed is that when we think for example about rural water, we all kind of systematically think about hand pumps and boreholes, while when we think as sector technicians about urban water, we instinctively think about tap water household connections. This way we are consciously or unconsciously somehow perpetuating this kind of discrimination while the data from the World Health Organization [WHO] confirms that handpumps can only deliver basic services and basic services are not enough for improving health. So how do we make the decision that rural people only deserve basic services, and improved services are meant only for those who are wealthy? How do we make the decision about blaming people for being poor? This is clearly just one example of how the systematic or systemic inequalities are grounded in our mindset, it drives a lot of what we do and see, in the way we think, in the way we plan, Etc. How we make assumptions about the types of service that rural people either should have or deserve. 

There is also the issue/bias around data collection, data analysis and then the fundamental assumptions that we make often at the very beginning of a scientific process that in many cases can lead to significant biases and outcomes. 

Listening very carefully and regularly to what people want in the WASH sector is not something we do naturally. This is reflected in the way that we design our questionnaires and surveys. It is about the questions we want to ask and the answers that people give. These are rarely open-ended questions that point to what people want, what their priorities are, for example about sanitation. 

A brief notable example of the work in our community in Banfora district in Burkina Faso is when we were doing data collection and surveys for designing the masterplan for WASH-related SDGs. Going back with the results to the community and they said: yeah, we already know our problems, but for once, you’re considering our expectations and vision in terms of service quality and not only how many handpumps we’re missing in our community as we use to hear from other partners. So, listening and creating space for people to share their knowledge and vision and not only to collect their problems from the lens of our predefined solutions.  

There is no single solution to dealing with inequalities 

The issue of any inequality must be tabled in a constructive manner and not be about pointing fingers at anybody. We need to acknowledge our mistakes and say what is going on despite our good intentions, what we are doing wrong so that we can improve. These issues should be discussed with the public authorities in the developing countries and their development partners.   

As organisations/people providing support to the government in developing countries, we also need to recognise the fundamental and critical responsibility that the public authorities have for addressing the issues of inequalities in a sustainable manner. There is no single solution from my experience that bypassed authorities mandated by their people for taking care of their community. 

Another crucial point is that we must rethink or reframe the usage of our performance indicators that help highlight inequalities rather than hiding them. In my experience, it happens a lot that we have good indicators, but the accuracy as compared to the actual percentages can tend to hide a lot of inequalities and finally, we need to be aware of the critical needs for strengthening country sub-national and national government systems. This is all about all the mechanisms in place for policymaking, institutional arrangements, planning, budgeting, financing, monitoring, accountability and learning and adaptation.  

It is the whole complex system that is actually perpetuating the inequalities and that needs to be strengthened, to be transformed in some cases, to make the change we are all pleading for. 

Watch the online plenary session – Addressing Systemic Inequalities in WaSH – It’s Me; Not You –

[https://waterandhealthconference.pathable.co/meetings/virtual/no2PrLySEKDhxTpfC]

Gratitude goes to Vera van der Grift for her support in making this happen, and Tettje van Daalen for proofreading.  Photo credits: IRC Burkina Faso

Multi-dimensional challenges of ensuring sustainable water supplies

Word from the RWSN Chair:
Louisa Gosling, WaterAid

Download the latest RWSN Update in English, French or Spanish

Dear RWSN colleagues, the 4 months since the last newsletter have been eventful for the RWSN.

It has become clear that covid-19 will be with us for a long time and that people need water to stay safe. But there is still no sign of the long term investment needed to ensure services are sustainable, while the social, economic and health pressures of the pandemic are making existing inequalities worse. 28 July marked the 10th anniversary of the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN General assembly.

In his statement to mark the anniversary, the UN special rapporteur concludes: “On the positive side, the international community is well aware that it has the obligation, both moral and legal, to ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for all, without discrimination (…) However, without a swift and considerable increase in the efforts currently dedicated to water and sanitation, and a better understanding of the legal and policy changes required by a human rights-based approach to water and sanitation, the international community will not fulfill the ambitious promises it has made.”

The last RWSN webinar series focused on the human right to water as more practitioners are looking for ways to use human rights commitments to leverage progress.

On the positive side, the pandemic has generated a new urgency for agencies and practitioners to collaborate and work out solutions. RWSN has supported many discussions through webinars and online forums, its members bringing a large range of skills, experience and perspectives to the challenges posed by covid and climate change.

An important milestone was the conclusion of the UPGro research on groundwater in Africa, which has released a huge amount of valuable insights about the potential of groundwater and how to unlock it – especially for the poor. This is the result of a long collaboration between institutions in the global north and global south, with RWSN as knowledge broker. Meanwhile, hugely enriching discussions about decolonising WASH knowledge have erupted on the LNOB group, triggered by Black Lives Matter.

Institutionalised power imbalances between water experts from the south and the north and the different value placed on their expertise were exposed. These dynamics are damaging in themselves and ultimately compromise the viability of solutions developed. I encourage everyone to join this discussion and to challenge the systemic discrimination that limits the potential of collaborative learning.

The role of RWSN has never been more important in jointly tackling the multi-dimensional challenges of ensuring sustainable water supplies for rural populations.

¿Cuál es la situación jurídica del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos? Las respuestas a sus preguntas

El 28 de julio se cumple el décimo aniversario del reconocimiento de los derechos humanos al agua y al saneamiento. 10 años y 12 resoluciones más tarde, este blog responde a preguntas frecuentes sobre el estatus legal del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos en la legislación internacional y nacional.

El 28 de julio de 2020 se cumple el décimo aniversario del reconocimiento de los derechos humanos al agua y al saneamiento. 10 años y 12 resoluciones más tarde, este blog responde a preguntas frecuentes sobre el estatus legal del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos en la legislación internacional y nacional.

El 28 de julio de 2010, la Asamblea General de la ONU aprobó la resolución A/RES/64/292, que “reconoce que el derecho al agua potable y el saneamiento es un derecho humano esencial para el pleno disfrute de la vida y de todos los derechos humanos”. 122 Estados miembros de la ONU votaron a favor del texto y ninguno en contra; 41 se abstuvieron.

Continue reading “¿Cuál es la situación jurídica del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos? Las respuestas a sus preguntas”

Quel est le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits de l’homme ? Réponses à vos questions

Le 28 juillet marque le 10ème anniversaire de la reconnaissance des droits humains à l’eau et à l’assainissement. 10 ans et 12 résolutions plus tard, ce blog répond aux questions les plus courantes sur le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits humains dans le droit international et national.

Le 28 juillet 2020 marque le 10ème anniversaire de la reconnaissance des droits humains à l’eau et à l’assainissement. 10 ans et 12 résolutions plus tard, ce blog répond aux questions les plus courantes sur le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits humains dans le droit international et national.

Le 28 juillet 2010, l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies a adopté la résolution A/RES/64/292, qui « reconnaît que le droit à l’eau potable et à l’assainissement est un droit de l’homme, essentiel à la pleine jouissance de la vie et à l’exercice de tous les droits de l’homme ». 122 États membres de l’ONU ont voté pour le texte et aucun n’a voté contre ; 41 se sont abstenus.

Continue reading “Quel est le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits de l’homme ? Réponses à vos questions”

What is the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights? Your questions answered

28 July 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. 10 years and 12 resolutions later, this blog answers common questions on the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights in international and national law.

On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/RES/64/292, which “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. 122 UN member states voted for the text and none against; 41 abstained.

Continue reading “What is the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights? Your questions answered”

Putting equality, inclusion and rights at the centre of a COVID-19 water, sanitation and hygiene response

This is a guest blog by Priya Nath (RWSN Theme Leader) and Louisa Gosling (RWSN Chair). It is reposted from the WaterAid blog with thanks. The original post is available here.

The poorest and least powerful sections of all societies are likely to be worst affected in crises, but we can work to alleviate inequalities through our response. Priya Nath and Louisa Gosling highlight how our emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic can mitigate new and existing vulnerabilities among people affected.

Handwashing with soap is the first line of defence in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet inequalities abound in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), services, and following the advice to wash your hands with soap regularly is not as easy for some as it may sound.

Years of experience and evidence show that income, economic context and landlessness; age, disability and health status; geographical location; and ethnicity, race, religion and gender all play huge roles in determining whether individuals, households and communities have appropriate, available, affordable and accessible WASH. At WaterAid, we have committed to tackling inequalities in all aspects of WASH access.

The way we approach the current extraordinary global health crisis can be no different. Tackling new and existing inequalities must be central to our emergency response to coronavirus. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, life-saving clean water for hygiene, safe sanitation and basic healthcare is more critical than ever. And delivering equitable, empowering WASH responses for all is fundamental.

In our support of COVID-19 responses through WASH we are both drawing on what we already know and learning new ways to reach the most marginalised and the most burdened.

What we already know about tackling inequalities in WASH and emergency contexts

1. Gender inequality is exacerbated in health emergencies and economic crises, so must be tackled in all response efforts

As schools close and families head into lockdown, domestic chores and caring responsibilities increase greatly. At the same time, increased calls for washing hands, as well as for cleaning and sanitising, multiply the need for water. Because of gender divisions of labour, it is women and girls who will have to collect this extra water, perform more labour and do more caring for people who become sick.

For the 29% of people who do not have water inside their home, the additional long journeys to water sources caused by increased demand for water will mean more chances of contact with others at waterpoints or kiosks. And for many it will mean spending more of their already scarce resources on buying water at an unaffordable cost.

Women queue up to collect water from the common water source in Anna Nagar Basti, Hyderabad, India.

WaterAid/ Ronny Sen
Women queue up to collect water from the common water source in Anna Nagar Basti, Hyderabad, India.

Meanwhile, an estimated 70% of the global health and social care workforce are women. As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, these frontline workers face increased pressure and exposure to the virus, often with little personal protective equipment. This in the context of two out of every five healthcare facilities globally lacking handwashing facilities, and 55% in least developed countries lacking basic water supplies.

Health crises also increase risks of violence and harassment of frontline health workers, particularly women nurses. Amid the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the World Health Organization documented attacks on more than 300 healthcare facilities in 2019, leaving six workers and patients dead and 70 wounded.

During times of enforced isolation and closure of many public facilities, women and girls’ ability to manage menstruation can be compromised in communities and households. Finding a clean and private space to change and wash while remaining indoors for much of the time with their family, and accessing menstrual materials and water, can be difficult.

Finally, isolation measures, the inability to access previous social support systems and increases in financial and other stresses are increasing the risks of violence against women everywhere (download report PDF). Although not directly connected to WASH, this has implications for women’s ability to access essential services, and must be factored into our response, to ensure people’s safety and security when accessing WASH and other services.

You can read more about the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in this article published in The Lancet.

2. Marginalised people become even more vulnerable during a crisis

People with chronic health issues, such as HIV, or other health conditions are dealing with increased fear of acquiring COVID-19, while often already experiencing social stigma and exclusion based on their health status. In an environment where misconceptions around HIV transmission or general discrimination might already prevent them from using communal WASH facilities, crises have the potential to exacerbate the situation, making handwashing and maintaining treatments even harder. Additionally they face the real risk of disruption to essential life-saving services, and concerns over whether they will be able to access treatment for COVID-19 on an equal basis to others.

More than a billion people globally live with disabilities, the rates higher in low-income countries and among those living in poverty or belonging to ethnic minorities. Once again, the health and social inequalities they already face are intensified in crises. For someone with a physical impairment, accessing clean water frequently can be a challenge because of distance, inaccessible infrastructure or reliance on others.

People with disabilities are often already isolated from the outside world, missing out on public health campaigns geared towards people who move around. And public health and information campaigns are rarely targeted to their specific requirements. Those who rely on a carer to help them with daily tasks face either the risk of added exposure to the virus through their carer, or an inability to get the help they need more than ever in challenging times.

Reuben J. Yankan, Director of the Disable Camp 17th Street Community, who is visually impaired, being helped down the steps from a public toilet by Timothy Kpeh, Executive Director for Peace, Education, Transparency, & Development in Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia.

WaterAid/ Ahmed Jallanzo
Reuben J. Yankan, Director of the Disable Camp 17th Street Community, who is visually impaired, is helped down the steps from a public toilet by Timothy Kpeh.

 

Equally, public health messaging and calls to stay inside are hard to follow for people who have little or no access to WASH facilities; those who rely on daily wages to survive; those living in densely populated informal settlements or refugee camps; and street dwellers. This puts them at greater risk of not only COVID-19, but also harsh punishment by authorities. For example, we are already seeing a response that includes clearance of informal markets and housing in the name of ‘sanitisation’ in some places. The Ebola crisis in Monrovia in 2014 set a precedent for quarantining entire informal settlements that were deemed a ‘health risk’. This a deep injustice.

Our response efforts can mitigate both existing and new vulnerabilities

While the poorest and least powerful are likely to be worst affected in crisis situations, we can work to alleviate the inequality through our response:

  1. Support governments and other WASH actors to deliver the human right to water and sanitation as a central part of response efforts, provided in a way that is non-discriminatory and accessible to all.
  2. Develop crisis responses alongside the affected communities rather than for them, to ensure solutions meet cultural, social and religious challenges. Disability rights, women’s rights and indigenous rights groups, to name a few, are best placed to help us shape our response in a way that is empowering, does no harm and responds to real requirements.
  3. Tackle and confront any discrimination and stigmatisation in response efforts, related to factors such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, livelihood type and caste. We must closely monitor our messaging, images and approaches to ensure they are not inadvertently fuelling discrimination.
  4. Promote collection of water, cleanliness of water and sanitation facilities and practising of hygiene as the responsibility of all – not just women.
  5. Recognise the obligations and responsibility of government and sector actors to respond; do not make this an issue of individual action or responsibility.
  6. Ensure we are collecting and disaggregating data to understand differing impacts on all parts of the population. At minimum age, disability, gender and location disaggregation is needed.

Read UNICEF’s COVID-19 Considerations for Children and Adults with Disabilities (PDF) guide.

Our simple list of dos and don’ts

As initial responses, including ours, rely heavily on visual and mass media public communications, it is vital that these are respectful and do no harm. Our list of actions to take and avoid can help.

Do: Use images and messaging that show responsibility for hygiene behaviours can be equally distributed.

  • Ensure images are gender balanced.
  • Include males in images of household & community hygiene practices to show collective responsibility.

Don’t

  • Do not reinforce gender or other stereotypes – i.e. do not show only women doing washing, cleaning or looking after children.

Do: Frame messaging that builds community spirit, support and collective action.

  • Use terms like ‘us’, ’we, ‘together as a community’, ‘altogether we can, etc.
  • Use images that show people helping each other.
  • Demonstrate sector/government response and duties, not just individual responsibility.

Don’t

  • Do not focus only on individualistic messages, which reinforce individualistic responses and actions.
  • Do not use emotional triggers such as shame, guilt or fear – we have a responsibility to avoid promoting further hysteria or blame.
  • Avoid emotional or negative language.

Do: Portray people in all their diversity.

  • Communities are made up of women, men, children, people with impairments, people of different ethnic or religious identifies, etc – reflect this reality in your communications to improve uptake.

Don’t

  • Do not blame or associate individual factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion, age, impairment, health or poverty status with reasons for infection or contagion.
  • Avoid messaging, images or implementation approaches that unintentionally stigmatise, ostracise or cause abuse for certain people.

Do: Acknowledge and respond to the diverse needs of communities.

  • Demonstrate how assistive devices can be used.
  • Demonstrate solutions that are relevant in low-income settlements, in rural and water scarce areas.
  • The Compendium of accessible WASH technologies has illustrations and descriptions you can adapt.

Don’t

  • Avoid blanket approaches that suggest that everyone can change behaviours without any specific adaptations.
  • Do not direct messaging or responsibility for ‘change of behaviour’ at one group of people, e.g. mothers, instead talk about parents caring for children.
  • Do not misrepresent the number of people who have a clean water supply or access to soap.

Do: Adapt communications to suit different target groups.

  • Consider the communication and learning abilities of all people, including people with visual, hearing and intellectual impairments.
  • Plan channels for information to reach all, especially those doing caring duties, sanitation work, etc.
  • Takeaway materials can reinforce messages and make up for some short-term memory loss among older people or people with disabilities.
  • These should be easy to read, large script, high contrast between text and paper, on non-glare/glossy paper, in local languages/dialects, highly visual​​​​.

Don’t

  • o not exclude anyone. Not being inclusive of all can lead to fear, shame and blame.
  • Do not portray informal settlements or slum areas as ‘vectors of disease’, or poorer areas of the city as being unable to keep clean. This reinforces stigma and increases the chance of a negative reaction. For example, there have already been cases of informal housing being cleared in the name of ‘sanitisation’. The solution lies in guaranteeing adequate and safe levels of service for all, rather than reinforcing stigma towards certain parts of the population.

Do: As part of our do no harm approach, do a risk assessment before and throughout communications campaigns

  • Monitor backlash on social media, such as racist comments and immediately delete as needed.
  • Check that it does not amplify or put blame on one group (or if audience is interpreting it that way).
  • List who is likely to miss out on the communication because of language, ability, culture or gender, and come up with strategies for how they could be included.

Don’t

  • Do not ostracise or promote ‘calling out’ of people or parts of the population. This may encourage vigilante tactics or backlash.
  • Avoid terms such as ‘victim’, ‘infecting’ or ‘spreading to others’.
  • Do not tolerate any racist, bigoted or blaming comments on social media and have a strategy for monitoring these.

Follow us on our journey through the response

As we support community, national and global responses to the coronavirus pandemic, we need to draw on what we already know, keep learning from others and ultimately improve the way in which response work reaches and addresses the needs of the most marginalised, the most burdened and those further away from life-saving clean water for hygiene, safe sanitation and basic healthcare.

At WaterAid, we are putting these principles into action, applying them to our COVID-19 response efforts, details of which you can read in this blog. We look forward to sharing lessons and challenges along the way.

Priya Nath is Equality, Inclusion and Rights Advisor and Louisa Gosling is Senior WASH Manager – Accountability and Rights, both at WaterAid UK.

Photo credit: WaterAid/ Ronny Sen

 

 

 

Regulating the WASH sector from a human rights lens – IWA/RWSN webinar

Featuring a presentation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, this webinar aims to:

• exchange experience with and among regulatory actors and practitioners, in particular highlighting barriers and opportunities and share good practices and practical approaches to promoting and implementing the human rights to water and sanitation
• discuss the way forward for the next decade on the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation
• provide input/suggestions for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur

SIGN-UP

TYPEWebinar
DURATION60 mins
START DATE13 Feb 2020
START TIME15:00 (Amsterdam time)
LANGUAGEEnglish
FORMATPresentation, Discussion + Q&A

Target Audience

Practitioners in WASH sector, representatives of regulatory agencies

Regulatory actors have an important role in how individuals enjoy their human rights to water and sanitation. They contribute towards the enjoyment of human rights by taking measures to monitor how utilities comply with rules and standards that are in line with the human rights to water and sanitation. Further, they are responsible to ensure that utilities are held accountable for non-compliance. Such regulators are able to oversee services, and to ensure that all – especially the most disadvantaged – are provided with the services they need and deserve. Therefore, in the current world where 1 out of 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water, the role of regulation has been steadily gaining ground in the water (as well as sanitation and hygiene) sector.

It is equally important to note the challenge of regulating WASH services in rural areas and peri-urban informal settlements. In such unserved or underserved areas, many households have no choice but to turn to informal, small-scale providers that operate beyond any institutional oversight. Regulating these actors might not be an easy endeavour, but it is instrumental in guaranteeing the compliance of the services provided with human rights standards.

Learning Objectives

Featuring a presentation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, this webinar aims to:

• exchange experience with and among regulatory actors and practitioners, in particular highlighting barriers and opportunities and share good practices and practical approaches to promoting and implementing the human rights to water and sanitation
• discuss the way forward for the next decade on the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation
• provide input/suggestions for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur

Host

IWA, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, WaterAid & Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN)

Panelists

  • Léo Heller UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation
  • Kelvin Chitumbo Director, National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO)

SIGN-UP

Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation – Summary on the RWSN E-discussion

The e-discussion on the topic of “Cost effective ways to leave no-one behind in rural water and sanitation” has come to an end and we are very grateful for the 40+ participants who actively took part. A summary of the e-discussion can be found here. Additionaly, we as moderators want to share our own summary of the discussion in this short blog.

Authors: Julia Boulenouar, Louisa Gosling, Guy Hutton, Sandra Fürst, Meleesa Naughton.

As duty bearers for the realisation of human rights to safe drinking water, States have the responsibility to ensure that no-one is left behind. And the SDG framework clearly sets out the need for all stakeholders to work together on the challenge. This e-discussion was an opportunity for diverse members of the Rural Water Supply Network to share lessons and views on how this can be done.

Reminding ourselves of the challenge at stake: since the SDG WASH targets 6.1 and 6.2 were adopted in 2015, the sector has been thinking hard about how to finance the ambitious goal of providing access to safely managed WASH services for everyone, everywhere and forever. This ambition is even more challenging in rural areas, where coverage levels are lower and the unserved include remote communities which are harder to reach and often poorer.

In order to develop a credible financial strategy to achieve this ambition and leverage resources, governments and sector stakeholders need to determine the real costs involved (not only to provide first time access for a few, but sustainable services for all) and the sources of funding that are available and can be mobilised. It needs credible data on those aspects as well as on the population served and unserved, including the most vulnerable groups.

What we already know about the cost of providing WASH services: the costs of providing services rely on many factors and the WASH Cost initiative led by IRC has helped to identify 6 categories beyond capital expenditure to include among others, operation and maintenance, capital maintenance expenditure and direct support. We know that some of these cost categories are largely unknown and as a result, not planned, not budgeted and not financed. This is the case for capital maintenance expenditure and for direct support costs (generally referring to costs for local government to support service providers).

In terms of actual costs, a World Bank study of 2016 showed that $114 billion per year would be needed globally to cover capital costs and roughly the same for operation and maintenance.

What we know less about is the real cost of providing services to all, especially for those left behind (including those marginalised and those discriminated against) and this is because limited data are available. We also recognise that beyond the 6 generic cost categories, many costs are unknown and neglected and these include:

  • the non-financial time costs of WASH access,
  • the cost of taking time to properly understand demand, recognising gender differences and diverse perspectives,
  • the cost of strengthening skills and stakeholder capacity to fulfil their mandate, particularly service authorities and service providers,
  • the cost of corruption,
  • the time and cost of including people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in services.

These can be seen as cost drivers rather than additional categories, but should be thought through, every time services are planned for.

Who is currently financing this goal and who should do more? Leaving no one behind is the responsibility of national governments. They need to mobilise funding through a combination of sources, including government (taxes), development partners (transfers) and users (tariffs). This is usually known as the “3Ts”. In some contexts, the private sector may have a role to play in investing in water services. However, results from countries that conducted to identify and track WASH financing with the UN-Water tool TrackFin, show that the main contributors for the sector are by far the users who are paying for their own services through capital investment (Self-supply) and through water tariffs (operation and maintenance). In that context, should we consider revising the “3Ts” to “3Ts and S” to acknowledge the importance of Self-supply in the mix of services? And should we also add a 4th T for time to recognise the extent of unpaid labour, especially that of women, on which rural water supply depends? And should we recognise the time used to travel to a place of open defecation or also the waiting time for shared sanitation?

In any case, given the magnitude of the challenge, governments should mobilise additional funding for the WASH sector and coordinate efforts at all levels to ensure cost-effectiveness and efficiency, particularly in resource-constrained environments. Developing WASH plans at sub-national level could be a good way to strengthening governance and coordination, and maximise cost-effectiveness.

4

What about serving those that cannot afford to pay? Those currently left behind include communities located in rural and remote areas who are often the poorest and currently rely on Self-supply. For those who cannot afford to pay and to address the issue of leaving no-one behind, various areas can be investigated:

  • Defining and measuring users’ affordability
  • Considering low-cost technology options such as Self-supply but only if accompanied by long-term support from local and national government (including through regulation)
  • Making sure the solutions are acceptable and accessible for all – taking into account gender, disability, and cultural preferences

This e-discussion has been useful at clarifying knowns and unknowns related to costing and financing services. Even though the issue of affordability has been touched on, many questions remain unanswered.

We think this discussion should continue and here are a few questions, which we still have in mind, but you might have many more:

  • Who are populations left behind in different contexts (including the marginalised and discriminated against) and how can we define and identify them?
  • What are the ongoing costs of reaching everyone (including the aspects listed above)?
  • If users are those paying the majority of WASH supply costs, how do we deal with those who cannot afford to pay?
  • What mechanisms can be introduced to set tariffs appropriately, whilst also covering the costs of long-term service provision?
  • What are the examples of supported Self-supply that have been successful?
  • What are the specific roles of local government in ensuring no-one is left behind?

Continue the discussion with us and post your answers below or sent your contribution to the RWSN e-discussion group.

Photo credits (top to bottom): Dominic Chavez/World Bank; Alan Piazza / World Bank; Arne Hoel / World Bank; Gerardo Pesantez / World Bank

Scotland’s place in achieving water for society – including all

This is a guest blog by Ben McIntosh-Michaelis, a RWSN Young Professional who submitted this entry as part of the RWSN@WWW competition. For more information on RWSN’s support to Young Professionals, please see here.

Living in Scotland we often think that everyone here has access to safe water. In reality, this is not quite the case. Despite not being perfect, we are still good at managing our water. Because of this, Scotland is heavily involved in Water, Sanitation And Hygiene (WASH) projects worldwide.

In Scotland’s cities and towns, naturally occurring water sources cannot meet demand. In order to maintain a supply of water for society, which is of sufficient quantity and of good quality, common civil infrastructure is key. By and large, Scotland has a well-developed infrastructure for supplying and removing water. Therefore, water for society is a reality, at least in the urban areas.

Many water supplies in Scotland are managed by a national body, Scottish Water. This goes a long way in ensuring that everyone is included when water is supplied for society. However, rural water supplies in Scotland are not managed by the national body, meaning that ca. 500,000 people on private water supplies (using boreholes or stream water for instance) are not covered by the same infrastructure and quality controls. As the research from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau Scotland suggests, this situation means that safe water for all isn’t a reality even here in Scotland.

Huge variations in geology and landscape in Scotland means that the water quality varies from location to location. The result is that these small and individual sources require a bespoke set of technical steps to clean the water. But as you can appreciate, this is extremely costly and often not a realistic approach.

Development of a standard system which can be used to treat water from sources with significant variations in flowrate requirements and water quality is challenging. Many of the standard, tried and tested technologies used to treat these sources require a lot of electricity, high levels of maintenance, and replacement of parts. This is expensive to manage, and it also places people living in rural areas at risk of being supplied with untreated water if a piece of equipment stops functioning. This section of society may become excluded from the quality water supply for society.

Better mechanisms for implementing new systems and technologies in areas where traditional systems can be unreliable and expensive are needed in Scotland. This is in terms of policies held by those responsible for infrastructure obtainment and providing independent analysis about which products will be suitable. As stated by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau Scotland, “more needs to be done to improve the quality of information available to consumers, and signposting needs to be improved to ensure those that need it can access it.”

From a global perspective, water for society – including all, means that the impacts of climate change and economic practices should be considered when discussing Scotland’s place in society. Steps are being taken by the Scottish Government to include these considerations, many of which relate directly to water (information can be found on the Scottish Government’s website).

As well as Scottish Government involvement, Scottish society engages in international development; from school groups, to charities, universities, student groups and businesses, there are a wide range of projects and affiliations. Many of these projects relate to or involve water. During my own engagement as a student and as a professional engineer working in Southern Africa, I have observed that many of these activities are unregulated and are based on random connections between people in Scotland and around the world. On the one hand, this is great because there are so many ways in which people in Scotland can get involved. On the other hand, many of the projects are untargeted, and do not focus on the needs of the people they are supposed to be helping. The lack of coordination means that there is a lot of replication of projects, sometimes a lack of qualified experts on board, and a lack of a best practice principle.

For Scottish society to engage healthily in international development, including the WASH field, greater coordination and regulation of projects is required. Young people in particular need to be made more aware of the issues surrounding voluntourism in order to curb the harm caused by this practice.

The importance of being properly qualified to do a job must be highlighted, to everyone. My work in the rural water sectors in Scotland and in Southern Africa suggests to me that a cultural shift is required. Just because a water infrastructure project is in a rural area – whether in Scotland or Southern Africa – doesn’t mean it can be hastily implemented or without the necessary technical input. Water for all of society must include those living in even the most remote areas, and the infrastructure, expertise and business models need to be adapted to help meet the needs of these communities to ensure no one is left behind.

More resources

If you are interested in finding out more about rural water supplies in Scotland, and the comparison with other countries (specifically Eastern Europe / Ethiopia), please see this RWSN webinar from 2018, or check out this presentation.

About the author

Ben won the Vision in Business for the Environment of Scotland (VIBES) Hydro Nation Challenge in 2016 for the design of the Afridev Hi-Lift (a handpump retrofit adaptation unit that allows water to be lifted to a head). Later, upon completion of his engineering Masters, he started work for the Climate Justice Fund Water Futures Program (CJF WFP) based at the University of Strathclyde, gaining experience working in Malawi’s Southern region alongside BASEflow, a local Malawian organisation. He currently works for Clean Water Wave, an Edinburgh based Community Interest Company which is developing the low energy, no chemical Clean Aqua For Everyone (CAFE) water treatment system.

 

 

 

Make the last mile the first mile: is business the key to fulfilling human rights?

This guest blog was written by Selma Hilgersom (Simavi). The original blog post is available here and is re-published with permission and thanks from Simavi.

Last week, I attended the AGUASAN workshop. This yearly event is organised by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and joined by a broad variety of WASH practitioners. The key focus of this year’s workshop were ‘service providers that take an inclusive business approach and drive the advancement of the human right to water and sanitation’. Within the conference, six cases of young and inspiring entrepreneurs were put forward during the week and participants teamed up to dive into the business cases and assess the human rights angle of making a business out of WASH.

If anything, the week has given me a serious mind exercise on the role of the private sector in development. I have a background in the field of water technology and supporting the development of innovative business propositions. I do believe that the private sector is key in addressing global challenges. Business comes with internal drivers to guarantee the delivery of products and services that meet the demands of costumers, as entrepreneurs depend on the success of their business to generate an income. This drives efficiency, cost-efficiency and the continuous exploring smarter ways of working.

So, if business has the potential to provide everyone in the world with well-functioning WASH infrastructure, why are we not collectively entrepreneuring into the most rural areas of this world and ensuring that the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled? And why are NGOs still funded to do a job that business can do while making money out of it?

Let’s first set the perspective straight. I work for an NGO. I am not afraid to re-consider my role in a fast-changing world. I do believe business has an key role to play in accelerating development and strengthening (business) ecosystems in-country. Especially local entrepreneurship and equal North-South partnerships can go a long way in providing people with the basic services that they need. Especially the businesses that pro-actively include women and girls and effectively respond to the needs of all members of a given community, regardless of who they are and their circumstances, seem to have the exact same goal as many NGOs. And stepping away from the ‘beneficiary perspective’ and including people as ‘costumers’ creates a different perspective. Two sidenotes: let’s try to avoid the discussion whether capitalism is the system that ensures everlasting happiness here and at the same time acknowledge that disadvantaged people benefit from a system in which they are participating as more than just ‘costumers’ that are defined by their purchasing power.

The nature of business is to ensure that there is a profit made. And from my experience in start-ups, this is a challenge when starting-up a business. The question that comes to my mind is then how feasible it is to design a self-sustaining business model targeting consumers with the least purchasing power, especially in the beginning. And whether it is possible to focus on the lower-bottom of the pyramid; even if this comes with challenges. A few examples: geography (what if a village is located at a remote mountain), reaching relatively few costumers per community, having to invest a lot in demand-creation before WASH services and products are bought. Are there smart models that make this ‘work’? Or stable financing mechanisms that can blend different revenue streams to cover the high need with the limited profitability? And how do you create a business ecosystem with local entrepreneurs to serve the people who currently lack access to WASH? What is the role and contribution of the government?
There is a broader development perspective to this too. Including ‘impact indicators’ in doing business, which reflect the aim of development work, does require extra efforts that may conflict with business interests. But results in lasting positive change in communities. Think of delivering water in a community where people are at high risk of a specific disease; is this just solved by delivering water? Or does this require the provision of additional health information and working towards improved service delivery? Or in the case that women are not allowed to decide over their own bodies, does the delivery of WASH provide an answer to the broader challenges that exist in the community?

Even if we would imagine an all-inclusive model of the private sector that perfectly responds to the needs of people, there is still one discussion that was put forward more than once during AGUASAN: (government) systems are the enablers of the success and upscaling of any business. The central question is therefore how business models fit in existing local, national and global systems? This links into the very basis of acknowledging that people have rights, and that they should be able to claim them, wherever in the world that may be.
And this is not ‘just a remark’ – it links into the issue of rightly anchoring the responsibility where it belongs: who is (or should) take the responsibility for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, and what is the place of the private sector therein? What to do if there is no profitable business case for providing WASH? Maybe the consideration is whether the ideal business model, if it would exist, would silence this discussion: does access to WASH equal that human rights are fulfilled? Even if this is done independently from the government, and in a profitable way? And if so, is it possible (capacity wise) to reach the 2.1 billion people (!) that still do not have safe and sustainable water delivery? Should the private sector be made responsible for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, if governments fail to do this?

I am not afraid of profit. I believe that businesses and NGOs both play a vital role in development. I believe in systems that are driven by (young) entrepreneurs and create a broad-range of value to consumers and are self-sustaining. There are many examples in the world where the private sectors makes a huge difference in the lives of disadvantaged people. I refer to the two amazing female entrepreneurs of Pad2Go who want to break the barriers women face in Nepal due to their menstruation (and with whom I had the honour to work with during the week). I am incredibly happy that many entrepreneurs are positive towards cooperation with NGOs. However, I also believe that this comes with a joint dream and a joint responsibility.

Often, the cooperation between NGOs and the private sector is defined by the roles ‘taking care of the business’ and ‘taking care of development’. I advocate for a more integrated business case, where investing in business and investing in development are one and the same thing. Could we agree that the success on the broader impact indicators is equally important as the development of a sustainable business model? And not from a ‘charity perspective’, but from the believe that this will increase the integrated value proposition of businesses. And thereby open up new markets and potential (impact) costumers. And a call to NGOs – can we move beyond the output, outcome and impact indicators, and join hands with those who will remain long after the funding of our NGO programmes has run out? And create built-in incentives to be as successful as we can? And not be guided by pre-set targets?

One of the things that stayed in my mind after AGUASAN is the presentation of human rights superstar Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, who challenged us to “make the last mile the first mile”. Let’s do that. Together.

Edit from the author: I had some discussions about the extent of ‘pushing (Western) values upon local communities’, and whether businesses or even NGOs should be involved in this at all – or that we should limit ourselves to basic product or service delivery. I can write another blog on my thoughts on this. As this blog has a slightly different focus, I refer to Simavi’s aim to ensure that disadvantaged people in low and middle income countries are enabled to practice healthy behaviour based on their own free and informed decisions and free from coercion and violence. By doing this through supporting civil society to claim its rights with and through local organisations, development is no more than amplifying positive changes that start locally.

About the author

Selma holds a master degree in ‘Human Geography’ and ‘Policy and Organisation’ with a specialisation in transnational advocacy and business and innovation. She has worked in international organisations to promote and support the development of new business models, sustainable innovations and the uptake of new water technologies. Currently, she coordinates programs of Simavi in Tanzania and Nepal that aim to ensure that disadvantaged people, and especially women and girls, can live healthy lives