Thanks to a wee bit of lobbying (it was actually a very easy sell), the Clinton Global Initiative organized a breakfast/coffee table discussion on Safe Drinking Water which I had the pleasure of moderating today.
As I was tasked with reporting back to the appropriate authorities at CGI, my careful note-taking has revealed some compelling ideas from the table:
1) First of all, the suggestion was made to encourage the Clinton Global Initiative to better prioritize the global safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene issue throughout all of the tracks (Global Health, Poverty Alleviation, Education and Energy/Climate Change for 2007 - tbd for 2008). Water is everywhere, but is rarely addressed directly and specifically (with an increasing number of exceptions like P&G’s PUR commitment, WaterHealth International’s commitment with Dow). The availability of water and sanitation will make all other sustainable development efforts, regardless of who funds them, more successful initially and more sustainable over the long run.
2) There needs to an increased advocacy effort to raise awareness of safe drinking water and sanitation as a major public health challenge, both in the developed and developing world. In particular, this awareness-raising needs to focus on the solutions to water and sanitation challenges, not just attest to the gravity of the problem. One participant focused specifically on ways to broadcast the water, sanitation and health message throughout the developing world, and getting those governments to better prioritize the issue in their own budgets. One useful precedent is the International Network to Promote Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage. Use such a tool to raise public awareness of the safe water issue throughout the world, use it to educate policymakers, use it to urge corporations, civic organizations, faith communities and private givers to focus on the opportunity to address the cause of development challenges, not just on the symptoms.
3) There is a bottleneck in delivering health-related products and services across the board. Think bednets, vaccines, pharmaceuticals. Also think safe drinking water, latrines, hygiene promotion programs. Although a debate emerged around the issue, the table’s thinking was that there is a reasonable amount of new, innovative and sustainable ideas in the water and health sector, and what is now needed are innovative ways of scaling those doable solutions up, out and over. One example was raised of using village health shops on a grand scale around the world to promote not just bars of soap but hygiene promotion messages. And the option of bolting on microfranchised water purification systems to such village health shops was discussed, as well as using these shops as a foundation from which to deliver social marketing techniques aimed at increasing the number of people with access to improved sanitation systems (e.g. pit latrines). And how about Trainers Without Borders to deal with some of the lack of institutional capacity to grow the sector?
4) Behind every commitment at CGI this year, and there have already been a LOT, there is an exceptional narrative story that if told eloquently and broadly will result not only in progress in the water sector, but additional such commitments at next year’s CGI.
More soon. However, a quick news flash: Bill Clinton announced in a press conference this morning that CGI intends to expand to Asia this year (they are shooting for a meeting in Hong Kong). One might consider lobbying CGI Hong Kong to make sure that the 700 million Indians without improved sanitation are represented, and that the 23% of Chinese (300 million!) without safe drinking water are well-represented in Hong Kong.