Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Donde esta el baño?

What is the first thing you learn in any foreign language, other than perhaps the name of the most popular intoxicating beverage in the country (e.g. cerveza, vino, slivovitza)? It is:

"Where is the bathroom?"

If that isn't the best way to communicate the primacy of sanitation I don't know what is. Brilliant (thanks David!)

OK - now imagine that the answer, in whatever language, is "We don't have one, or any paper, or any water." NOW what would you like to be able to say in that foreign language? You will find those phrases here.

I should change the name of this blog to Blogging on Sanitation the way recent events have been going...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beat the Rush

One of the things that keeps me awake at night is that the global safe drinking water and sanitation sector can't compete with Heifer International during the holiday buying frenzy and the end-of-year search for tax breaks. Buying two shares of a pig or a flock of chicks strikes me as more fun than buying a toilet or a pump.

But WaterAid comes close:

How about a puppet show for hygiene promotion for 31 quid, or a soap-making business for 100?

One of the keys to attracting more financial and political support for the water is telling the right stories to the right people, and making it fun. Go WaterAid.

World Dunny Day! Cheers!

I imagine that all six of my readers already know that it is World Toilet Day today, but just in case one of you out there just woke up, Happy World Toilet Day! Or as the Aussies say World Dunny Day.

To the 2.6 billion without such amenities, hold on, I'll be right out.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Good Scratch

I made the mistake recently of asking a British friend of mine “What are the first three things you do in the morning?” His reply: “Well, I finish me gin from the night before, I smoke a ciggy, and I have a good scratch.”

I suspect that safe, clean water will be more important for those of us with less vigorous mornings.

Imagine your morning without water. Imagine your bathroom trip, your shower, your coffee/tea, imagine brushing your teeth without water. If you woke up and realized your home didn’t have safe water, what would your first three actions that morning look like? Forget the first three things – what is the first ONE thing you would do?

Water is vital not only to our morning rituals in the developed world; water is life in its barest essence. Water is security, human security.

Without water, women and families in Africa, Asia, Latin and Central America and elsewhere spend significant parts of their days NOT learning, NOT working, NOT being productive members of society, NOT watching their children play. We in the States are increasingly aware of this challenge abroad – throughout the developing world – and are increasingly active on behalf of the issue. Yet effectively tackling the global safe drinking water and sanitation problem is not as easy as driving to the local soup kitchen and ladling soup to homeless people on Thanksgiving - which reminds me - do that too. Ensuring that poor communities in Africa, Asia and elsewhere have safe water and sanitation is tough work – and requires money, political support, thoughtfulness, and patience. And of that list the most important may well be thoughtfulness.

The recent announcement of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s commitment to the sector - called the Global Water Initiative - is an important one, and one which displays many of the best – or at least emerging practices in the sector. It is also an announcement which merits MUCH more attention in the media than it received. John Sauer nailed it in The Huffington Post, trying valiantly to get this announcement the coverage it deserves.

$150m is important. Having a name like Buffett associated with its support for the global safe drinking water and sanitation sector is important in that it minimizes the risk of the next philanthropist getting on board. The focus on both water and sanitation is important. However, arguably more important are the Global Water Initiative's (GWI) efforts to streamline and decentralize decisionmaking throughout the entire process. Long before the formal launch GWI was consulting with a select group of several of the finest implementing organizations on the planet. Long before the launch the GWI was looking at ways not simply to build more systems but to catalyze systemic change in the world's most vulnerable communities. Long before its launch GWI was looking at ways not to measure quarterly or even annual results, but looking at what it could achieve over a ten year period and beyond. And long before its launch GWI was streamlining the process of distributing these grants and the process of receiving these grants in-country, so the focus could be on making the work itself as sustainable, as holistic and as inclusive as possible.

I myself would have chosen fewer countries to minimize dissipation of effort, and to make it more likely that this initiative will produce meaningful successes at scale - the sort of successes that generate headlines like "Every School in Guatemala Now Has Access to Safe Drinking Water" and "Every HIV/AIDS Clinic in Uganda Now Has Private Sanitation Facilities." It is money, it is political support, it is lots and lots of technical know-how and elbow grease that will push this sector onward. However, it is thoughtful initiatives like the Global Water Initiative that are likely to demonstrate not the gravity of the water problem or quick technical fixes, but how solvable the problem is if approached thoughtfully.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

International Year of Poo

Hooleintelligence has it right - I have been delayed in my posting due to my being a little too excited about the upcoming International Year of Sanitation. I'm not so sure that getting all worked up about another UN Year for something is advisable, but at least I am not alone:

World Toilet Association General Assembly - tickets still available. Seriously. Go. (Seoul, Nov. 21 - 25)

'Mr. Toilet' builds commode-shaped house

World Toilet Summit in Delhi - Check out my friend Dave Praeger's updates from the World Toilet Summit here. Poop humor just never gets old.

So how can we determine whether we are making progress with the global sanitation challenge? How about when news about sanitation shows up in mainstream media and not in the "Offbeat News" or "News of the Absurd."

And now the underlying harsh reality of this post: what kills and sickens more people, water or inadequate sanitation? A recent UNICEF report answers that clearly:

Reduction in diarrhoeal diseases morbidity resulting from improvements in drinking water and sanitation services:

  • 25% from improved drinking water
  • 32% from improved sanitation
  • 45% from improved hygiene (viz. handwashing)
  • 39% from household water treatment

Yes, we need all three. But we need an invigorated response to the global sanitation challenge. But Blogging on doesn't have the cachet that toilets deserve.