Monday, December 15, 2008

The Time of Cholera

By now we have all read of the cholera situation in Zimbabwe (or should have). It sucks - and has been caused by any number of mostly if not entirely preventable factors far beyond simply the gnarly water and sanitation situation there.

Although it is difficult to step back and look at the cholera outbreak more broadly right now, let me add a couple of thoughts:

- this crisis highlights the need for a holistic approach to water for people: safe drinking water supplies, sanitation facilities and hygiene (handwashing) interventions are all required. Cholera is not spread simply by water, but by water contaminated by human feces which has not been adequately treated, and by dirty fingers, food, etc.

- this cholera outbreak also highlights the need for tight language in appropriations for the Water for the Poor Act, the Water for the Poor Enhancement Act, and other related legislation, e.g. on child survival. That language needs to focus on people and poor. Period.

- safe drinking water and good sanitation facilities are both the prevention of and the cure for cholera. It is much more efficient to prevent cholera and other diarrheal diseases than to treat them. Ask Peru about the economic/financial costs of prevention vs. cure when a cholera outbreak cost their economy $1b+ a few years ago.

- cholera is now a regional health and economic issue, and could become a regional (southern Africa) security issue quite easily with the xenophobia prevalent in the region.

- Zim is not alone. Cholera outbreaks are occurring or have recently occurred in Kenya, Peru, the Philippines, Malawi, Zambia, DR Congo, Angola, Nigeria, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa and others.

So: try to keep as many Zimbabweans alive in the short term, keep cholera from spreading beyond its current borders in the medium term, and let's do what we can to prevent it from happening again by addressing water, sanitation and hygiene in the long term.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Water Innovations Alliance - Launch in Washington DC

The Water Innovations Alliance invites you to attend its founding meeting:

December 3, 2008
At the office of K&L Gates in Washington DC
1601 K St. NW (entrance on 16th St.)

The Water Innovations Alliance is the public policy voice of the world's water innovators. The Alliance's role is to advocate policies that promote the aggressive development of water technology and innovations across all sectors and all users of water by creating new market opportunities through increasing funding and removing barriers to deploying new innovations.

The Alliance also serves as a platform to improve awareness and collaboration between large companies, universities, start-ups, NGOs and utilities within the water sector – exposing all key stakeholders to new technologies, innovations and prospects.

The Alliance is developing groundbreaking reports and policy briefings, hosting events, conducting member surveys, and tracking new technology developments to increase awareness of new water develops, needs, and opportunities. The Alliance is collaborating with its members as well as other global water organizations to support a global agenda for safe, fair and sustainable water policies.

The Alliance was founded by leaders in the water, investment, technology and non profit field. It is jointly headquartered in Cambridge, MA and Washington DC. For more information go to: (launching 12/01/08).

The Founding Meeting will be an opportunity to help set the course of the Alliance. Attendees will include will include leaders from key water-related sectors, as well as researchers, funders, public entities, and grassroots groups.

Supporting the membership will be an advisory committee of highly-regarded water technology experts from around the globe, as well as a team of veteran technology association executives with years of experience representing broad coalitions. Please join us in Washington DC on December 3, 2008 and take part in building a new movement in water.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Flush it?!? I would LOVE to.

Here is TIME Magazine's review of Rose George's book The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters:

Flush it.

OK, fine. Well, hold on. I am writing from India, where 700m of us don't have the luxury of a flushing john with which to flush our bacteria-laden poo much less books about sanitation. I am writing from Ethiopia, where only 8% (sic) of my rural compatriots have even the most basic sanitation facility. I am writing from Nicaragua, where only 34% (sic) of rural inhabitants have a place to go to the bathroom besides the jungle. And might I encourage Andrea Sachs to compete with passersby for a space on the sidewalk in front of her office next time nature calls? See for example, the questions posed by this campaign from the German Toilet Organization.

For that matter, how about Freddy and Sara, Ms. Sachs' two shelter cats, being deprived of their litter box? Would that change her mind as to the primacy of the sanitation issue?

I don't have the luxury of flushing away a well-written, well-documented, eye-opening book about a global health crisis that kills five times (sic) as many under-fives as does HIV. I'd like to be able to pull the handle on a porcelain toilet to wash out of sight a book which brings to light the fact that diarrheal disease kills twice as many under-fives as does malaria, and sickens billions (sic) more.

Ms. Sachs writes "A series of articles was plenty on this topic," and she also suggests reading it is an "ordeal by ordure." I am mildly impressed by her alliteration, but was a series of articles enough to focus the world's attention on HIV/AIDS? How comfortable were we discussing HIV twenty years ago? Did our discomfort make HIV a less worthy cause? Was an oped in the Washington Post enough to get the world's attention on malaria, or safe drinking water?

Only when sanitation (shit, diarrhea, feces, cholera, dysentery, 2m dead under-fives each year) becomes as compelling to talk (and blog) about as HIV/AIDS will the proper amount of effort be dedicated to inadequate sanitation. This remains arguably the world's gravest public health challenge, whose gravity siphons off innumerable resources from other less preventable health challenges and development priorities. And fatal diarrhea is preventable.

So, now that we are past the nonsense of a "series of articles" being enough, how about we start with a cover story on TIME to highlight the global sanitation challenge, and the work, for example of the Global Sanitation Fund? Or maybe more feature articles on Rock, Paper, Scissors are a better use of newsprint?



Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Global Handwashing Day

Wash Your Hands

Mom's sage advice, and the way out of poverty.

Unsafe water, then inadequate sanitation, then dirty little hands, then feces goes from food and fingers into mouths, and diarrheal disease is transmitted. Kids are sick, stay out and drop out of school, don't learn, don't earn, and the cycle of poverty continues.


Data point: the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal reported that 42-47 percent of all diarrheal transmission could be stopped by handwashing with soap (Curtis, Val, & Sandy Cairncross. (2003, May). "Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: A systematic review." Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal 3(5), 275-81.)

A couple of examples of the good work being done to alleviate poverty through simple handwashing campaigns:

In Madagascar 19,300 primary schools will participate in a week-long event. Handwashing with soap activities involving schools and the community, culminate on October 15th with 3.5 million children washing hands with soap at noon. President Ravalomanana will lead the Day. Three Ministries have issued a joint statement to the Prime Minister to officialize Global Handwashing Day. A parade of schoolchildren through the capital is planned for October 15th.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health are supporting an event on October 15th in an elementary school close to Panama City. Children will wash their hands together with high representatives from both Ministries.

Justice Kennedy's Fierce Urgency of Now

Last weekend Stanford University held its third "Roundtable at Stanford" - subtitled "Wanted: Courage, Compassion and Character - Leadership for the 21st Century."

It's an interesting chat, futuristic but set squarely in the context of our present day challenges. Much of the conversation revolved around how the U.S. can regain its global leadership position in the coming years by essentially working smarter not harder.

At about the 49:00 mark of the discussion, Justice Kennedy gets wound up about water because of the failure of society writ large to tackle some of the world's most basic challenges, but also because of his hope in and optimism for this and future generations to meet those challenges.

To paraphrase his remarks:

"The best security is in the world of ideas, and the world of ideas must be concerned with the human condition. This is not my area, but there are 6 billion people on the planet and over 2 billion do not have adequate drinking water. How many hours - and you can't call it man hours because it's women's work - how many hours a year are spent in sub-Saharan Africa bringing water to the family? Answer: 16 billion hours - with a "b" - and that is the lowest estimate. For some people that's 6-8 hours a day to get water for their family. You take a photo in sub-Saharan Africa of the elegant, stately African woman with the long colored dress and the water jug on her head - that jug weighs more than the luggage allowance at the airport."

Then it gets REALLY groovy. Justice Kennedy continues:

"The temptation of the rule of law is to say well, you have the Magna Carta, you wait 600 years, then you have a revolution, then a civil war. What about Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'fierce urgency of now'! These people cannot and will not wait and they should not." Talk to me.

That was Justice Kennedy, and it is not the first time he has spoken to the global water situation. One other quick comment worth mentioning:
The bane of my existence is that many people do not believe the world's water and sanitation challenge is solvable. Stanford University's David Kennedy was talking about leadership at different levels - talking about credibility, trust, authority. The first order of business for the U.S. is to reestablish our credibility globally. The key for the U.S., however, is NOT that we have to be heard to be believed. The key is that we have to be believed to be heard. And that's the stickler - large numbers overseas no longer believe that the U.S. is 'here to help.' Overcome that credibility hurdle, and it will be much easier once again for the U.S. to be a true leader.

Same with the water sector: overcome the 'doability' hurdle - get people to believe in the solvability of the challenge - in the viability of universal access to safe water and sanitation - and we're one huge step toward getting there.

Paul Newman - the man, the myth, the Water Advocate

Many have said most of what needs saying about Paul Newman's vast legacy: as a man, a husband, a father, an actor, a philanthropist and as a really fast race car driver.

One under-recognized but impactful part of his legacy may well be his Safe Water Network, founded a couple of years ago to "develop, optimize, and validate viable water purification solutions that provide safe water to neglected populations." Groovy.

The Safe Water Network includes Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and PepsiCo, and counts as members of its very prestigious Board of Directors Jack Hennessy (CSFB), Josh Weston (ADP), Bob Forrester (Payne Forrester), Hank Greenberg (C.V. Starr & Co.), Harold Newman (Neuberger Newman), Linda Nordstrom (Northstream Development), James Quigley (Deloitte), Steve Reinemund (PepsiC0), and John Whitehead (former State Department and Goldman Sachs).

They already have projects underway in Bangladesh, Ghana and India, and are essentially an early stage incubator for water-purification technologies and approaches appropriate for the developing world. With Paul Newman and his legacy as catalysts I hope the Safe Water Network can continue to scale up its activities.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Big Necessity - Book Signing with Rose George, the Scribe of Sanitation

Did you know that even though disease spread by human excrement kills more children each year than HIV, TB and malaria combined, nobody talks about it because it’s not sexy?

While we’re ignoring this silent killer, 2.6 billion people (that’s four in ten!) today do not have a toilet and instead are forced to do their business on roadsides, in bags or bushes, or anywhere they can. Open defecation is the leading cause of some of the deadliest, but most ignored, communicable diseases affecting our world’s population today.

Diarrhea – usually caused when flies, feet or fingers introduce feces into the food (dig the alliteration) or water supply - needlessly kills nearly 2 million children a year and is the second leading cause of child death worldwide. We hope you will join us and help tell the story about the billions of people whose lives can be saved by the simple introduction of a toilet – a privilege we take for granted each and every time we flush. Journalist Rose George will join us in Washington, DC on October 22nd to launch her new book:

The Big Necessity:

The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters

It's an entertaining, educational and insightful ride through the world’s sanitation systems, or lack thereof. From the slums of Dar Es Salaam and the villages of Bangladesh back to the squeaky-clean sewage plants that serve Washington DC, George exposes the taboos and disparities that surround human waste – and shows us in no uncertain terms why confronting them is essential to our global health, dignity, and prosperity.

Double click on image below for more details. The event is free, but please RSVP.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Canadian Toilet Organization - Party!

Friends, colleagues, sanitation advocates,

The moment all of you up North of the border have been impatiently waiting for: the Canadian Toilet Organization is having its official launch Oct. 21, 2008.

In attendance will be Jack Sim, founder of the 'other WTO' - the World Toilet Organization. Jack was recently honored as one of Time Magazine's "Heroes of the Environment" for 2008.

Others present will be Thilo Panzerbieter of the German Toilet Organization and Dr. Tom Keating of Project CLEAN.

All are welcome.

Members of the media, please feel free to inform other interested media parties who would be interested in covering the event.

VENUE: Main floor, Mills Library, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

TIME: 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm, October 21


Welcome and Introductions: Dr. Corinne Wallace, Programme Officer, Water Health Programme, UNU-INWEH

The global importance of sanitation and changes to policy and finance needed to address this global crisis: Dr. Zafar Adeel, Director UNU-INWEH

The importance of sanitation and public health and the impact of the exhibit for McMaster: Dr. Susan Denburg, Associate Vice President Health Sciences, McMaster University

The global importance of sanitation and toilets: Mr. Jack Sim, Founder, World Toilet Organization

A history of the “Sanitation Is Dignity” exhibit: Mr. Thilo Panzerbieter, German Toilet Organization

“Soap and Citizenship: Safe, Sanitary School Restrooms”: Dr. Tom Keating, Coordinator, Project CLEAN

Messages of support for the Canadian Toilet Organization:

Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair of The Global Water Partnership and member of UNSGAB

Clarissa Brocklehurst, Chief of the Water, Environment and Sanitation Programme Division, UNICEF

The Canadian Toilet Organization: Mr. Ari Grief, Canadian Toilet Organization

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Girl Effect - Best Video Ever

Best video EVER. Watch this. Two minutes of your life. Girl Effect... Very powerful. And directly related to safe drinking water and sanitation. No Girl Effect if she's hauling water on her head for her childhood. No Girl Effect if she has to drop out of school because her school doesn't have single gender sanitation facilities. Seriously - sit down and watch it.

And register to vote while you're at it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

No more excuses

How to prevent a tenth of the global disease burden...

Actually, unsafe water and inadequate sanitation cause in many cases up to 15% of the disease burden according to a new World Health Organization report Safer water, better health.

The connections between water, sanitation, hygiene and health are becoming more clear with each passing report, conference, and Lancet editorial. The latest is here:

How to prevent a tenth of the global disease burden

Take the time to read, and forward the editorial or this post to those doubting Thomases who need to better see the linkages between water and health. Some of its findings:

  • 9·1% of the global burden of disease could be prevented by improving water, sanitation, and hygiene
  • in 32 worst-affected countries, this figure is 15%
  • health-care agencies could save US$7 billion a year on health-care costs
  • 320 million productive working days could be gained, and
  • there could be an extra 272 million school attendance days a year.
In summary, there could be a total payback of $84 billion a year from the $11·3 billion annual investment needed to meet the drinking water and sanitation target of MDG 7.

The piece goes on to say the links between water and health "have been neglected by policy makers in strategies aimed at improving child survival and development" and "this issue remains largely neglected in international development efforts."

"So what?" I whinged halfway through this editorial - another report expressing in ever more graphic terms the disease burden attributable to bad water and no toilets, not to mention the suffering and economic privations associated with hauling water and thus not attending school. Thankfully, the Lancet asked the same question: "But is the international community paying any attention to this wealth of information and evidence?"

The answer is increasingly yes - this piece mentions specifically the recent African Union meeting in Egypt and a number of other reports/series on the issue due soon from The Lancet, WaterAid, etc. All will contribute to the record, and all should call out the global health community and child survival organizations in the strongest terms for not adequately dealing with one of major - if not the largest - contributors to childhood morbidity and mortality.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

American Prospect - Special Report on the Global Freshwater Crisis

The American Prospect published a special report on "The Global Freshwater Crisis" this month. It's a good, wide-ranging report on the global water situation, which many if not all of the authors agree is indeed a crisis. I'd suggest in particular Roger Stone's interview of Peter Gleick here, the interesting piece on a successful private water company in Manila here, and just perhaps yours truly's piece on the unprecedented opportunity this generation has to get it right with water here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Water for the Poor Act - 2008 Report to Congress available now

Water for the Poor Act - 2008 Report to Congress available now here.

More to follow shortly on this important document.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

India sweeps

Congratulations to the winners and finalists of the Ashoka / / Global Water Challenge competition!

Typically winners in competitions receive a lot of great advice and $5,000. As an example of the growing momentum in the water and sanitation sector, the pot this time 'round has been sweetened by a $1m grant from Coca-Cola.

For more updates on the momentum in the sector, see:

Water Advocates' latest eNewsletter.

A segment on this morning's Today Show about H2O for Life School to School.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Global Health Council - The Link Between Clean Water and Health - event

Join me and others on Capitol Hill this Wednesday:

The Link Between Clean Water and Health
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
12:30-2 pm
Rayburn House Office Building Room B338
Washington, D.C.

Most importantly: Lunch will be served

Congressional Briefing

More than 1 billion people live without access to safe water and 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Please join the Global Health Council in commemorating World Water Day at a briefing focusing on the importance of clean water as a health intervention. Diarrheal diseases - in large part caused by unclean water - result in the deaths of 1.8 million people annually and contribute to the deaths of many more. In addition, the burden of collecting clean water more often than not lies with women, increasing their vulnerability to neglected diseases and violence.


Greg Allgood, Director, Children's Safe Drinking Water, Procter & Gamble
Eric Mintz, Leader of the Diarrheal Diseases Epidemiology Team, Centers for Disease Control
Joan Timoney, Director of Advocacy and External Relations, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
John Oldfield, Director of Partnership Development, Water Advocates

Moderator: Maurice Middleberg, Vice President of Public Policy, Global Health Council

If you want to attend, click here to RSVP.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy World Water Day! And Washington DC fundraising opportunity

First of all, Happy World Water Day for 2008! Let me know in the comments what you all did to celebrate. (I was at the DC Environmental Film Festival's Water Day at Carnegie.)

For those of you in DC, please consider attending Living Water International's April 8 fundraiser:

DC Gala 2008

More than 300 people attended Living Water International's inaugural Washington, D.C. gala in March of 2007, and the 2008 gala promises to draw even more. The event will provide an opportunity for attendees to hear the story of the thirsty--the 1.1 billion people in our world who live (or are dying) without clean water.

Do you want to help spread the word about the global water crisis and the work of LWI? You can get involved by volunteering, or by sponsoring a table so you can invite friends, family, and colleagues to join you for the evening. E-mail for further information. Click here to download a table sponsorship form.

Gala Chairman: Julien Patterson

Guest Speaker: Todd Phillips, Founder, The Last Well Movement

Honorary Co-Chairs
The Honorable Tommy Thompson
The Honorable and Mrs. Steve Largent
The Honorable and Mrs. Jim Slattery
The Honorable and Mrs. Tony Hall
The Honorable and Mrs. Don Bonker
The Honorable Marsha Blackburn

Host Committee
Jason Slattery, Chairman
Andrew Briggs, Co-Chairman
Andress Boggs
Spencer Brand
Chris & Callie Call
Julie Christou
Dick & Anne Dingman
Mike Donohue
The Honorable Becky Norton Dunlop
Lucas Edwards
Marly Garcia
John & Vicki Gingrich
Samuel E. Hancock
Bud & Jill Harper
Chuck & Aino Leedom
Frank and Wanda Lewark
Rodney J. MacAlister
The Honorable John B. Mumford
Andy Musser
Paul O'Brien
Jordan Olivero
Erin Pfneisel
Robert Strain
Ollie Thomas
Dan & Lynda Thompson
Mark Winter

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and HIV/AIDS

Thought I'd do a little research on the nexus of safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and HIV/AIDS tonight. I found a very interesting presentation given recently by USAID staffperson Merri Weinger at AfricaSan 2008 in Durban:
(PDF document)

It's a quick, introductory read. I'm not sure if you all will find anything new there but for me it does a good job of laying out the linkages between water, sanitation, hygiene and HIV/AIDS, and of quantifying the positive impact of WASH on HIV+ patients and to a certain extent the larger communities.

Note that Pepfar funds can be used for drinking water and hygiene improvements. Sanitation improvements (latrines) need outside sources of funding.

Page 14 discusses 'small doable actions' that need to be scaled up, out and over.

Then I thought of the ongoing debate (as seen in the recent LA Times article "Unintended victims of Gates Foundation generosity") between vertical (viz. disease-specific) and horizontal (viz. basic public health care) approaches to global public health challenges. The facts are, plenty of financial and political capital is flowing to one individual disease: HIV/AIDS. In my mind, it is premature to determine whether that is a good or bad idea (and there are others: malaria, TB). But how can the global watsan community work within the current situation of HIV getting a lot of attention and water getting relatively less?

Every water development organization (UNICEF, CARE, WaterPartners, WaterAid, Water For People, Living Water, and myriad others) that is working in a community where there are HIV positive people should approach Pepfar and ask for support for drinking water and hygiene promotion. Those water development organizations could make that more attractive to Pepfar by agreeing to provide sanitation facilities from their own funds. Essentially the water community should do a better job of grabbing onto the coattails of the HIV/AIDS juggernaut and get a bigger piece of the pie. The end game? - Every HIV clinic, and perhaps the surrounding families and communities could not only have ARVs and medical professionals trained in treating HIV, but also safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, and therefore significantly less diarrheal morbidity and mortality.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

TED Conference - Dave Eggers - idea

This came out of the conference this week:

Dave Eggers - author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - was one of three winners of the TED prize, and wished for:
"I wish that you - you personally and every creative individual and organization you know - will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area and that you'll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of transformative change."
Little is more transformative than seeing that a school in the developing world gets safe drinking water, single gender sanitation and hygiene education. Kids have the opportunity to go to school, they - especially girls - have the change to stay in school, they suffer fewer cases of diarrheal and other waterborne diseases, they continue their educations past secondary school, they wait longer to start families, they have more economic opportunities, and so on.

Patty Hall is a schoolteacher from Minnesota who has recently launched H2O For Life: School to School.
"H2O for Life is the “sleeping giant” that lies within the potential of students and teachers in schools to raise funds to support people in need."
Check out their projects - Kenya, Mozambique, Mali, Nicaragua... transformative change indeed. Give Dave Eggers a call.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

WASH in Schools Event: March 12, Washington DC

You’re Invited to the Launch of the WASH-in-Schools Initiative

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The National Geographic Society Grosvenor Auditorium
1600 M Street NW
Washington, DC

8:30am Doors open

9:00 – 11:00am Program and videos

11:00 – 11:30am Coffee and tea

Media interview opportunities will be available from 11:00am – 11:30am

*We encourage parents to bring their children to this event.

Please join Water Advocates and a growing list of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, corporations, and schools to launch the U.S. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools Initiative—an effort to help the 50% of schools in the developing world that lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education.

The morning’s events will feature videos of schoolchildren in the developing world as well as comments from Gil Grosvenor, Chairman, Board of Trustees, National Geographic Society; Ambassador Hattie Babbitt; Carol Bellamy, President and CEO, World Learning and UNICEF Executive Director from 1995-2005; Dr. Peter Gleick, President and Co-founder Pacific Institute; Gil Garcetti, Photographer of "Water is Key: A Better Future for Africa;" and Alexandra Cousteau, co-founder Earth Echo International.

While much is already being done for WASH in Schools, there is still an enormous unmet global problem—half the schools in the developing world lack adequate water and sanitation. This initiative will focus on expanding WASH to 1,000 schools in developing countries while creating the momentum to help as many additional schools as possible worldwide. Water Advocates encourages interested corporations, foundations, organizations, and individuals to use this event as a platform to highlight their activities or to pledge their support to do more for WASH in Schools.

For more information on the WASH in Schools Initiative and how you can be involved, please contact Andra Tamburro 202-293-4047,

*** To attend the event, please RSVP to Katie Delisio at

For a map to the event:

Please share this invitation with your friends and colleagues.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sanitation Hits It Big

Sanitation has a few things going for it:

There is a realization that the ROI of an investment in basic sanitation infrastructure in the developing world is high: $1 gets you $9, to be more precise - good return. (WaterAid and WHO)

There is also a growing recognition that, like it or not, meeting the water Millennium Development Goal will not have the impact on public health we all want it to unless there is significant progress on the sanitation MDG as well. (Lancet)

But today, sanitation takes one more step toward being recognized as the marquee player we all know it is by getting prime billing at the World Business Council on Sustainable Development:

The Sanitation Challenge: What Does it Mean for Business?

The article itself doesn't come up with any groundbreaking answers to the question it poses, likely because those answers aren't readily apparent. But inadequate sanitation and water-related illnesses fill 50% of the world's hospital beds, with an obvious and significant impact on corporate activity. A healthy employee is a happy, productive employee. If that employee's family and community are healthy, so much the better.

I look forward to what the WBCSD's newly-launched Sanitation Workstream can produce...

And would one of you please attend what's being billed as the "sanitation session" at Davos this year and report back?

Sat 26th January 2008: 14.00 - 15.15 Interactive session "Death, Disease and Dirty Water"

Monday, January 21, 2008

World Economic Forum and Water

The World Economic Forum's Chairman Klaus Schwab and the Nestlé Group's CEO got the Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland off to a good start by co-authoring A World United on Water.

The authors ask the right, inter-related questions about water (if completely ignoring the sanitation challenge and its impact on human health and the environment), and give readers their hopeful and I think realistic answer:
"But it is not a catastrophe yet. It lies within our collective grasp to find the solutions. Business can improve its water efficiency, and in many cases it has raised the bar. There are many success stories. But it will take everyone in the water basin working together to change the overall game. This is what makes the challenge complicated. We are ahead of the curve for now. Addressed smartly, innovatively and with new forms of collaboration between government, business and industry, we believe the coming crisis can be averted."

I think I'll write a book on the world's water issue called "It Takes a Basin." Peter Brabeck is as pro-business as it gets as you might imagine - check out the last bit of his wikipedia entry (no citation given, so take with a grain of salt), and he is right to include the self-interests and responsibilities of business into the mix. He is also right to assert that all water is local. If all water stakeholders in an individual water basin can't work together to come to a reasonable settlement to the issue, the settlement will not be sustainable.

I am constantly harping on the solvability of the world's water challenge, if we actually make the commitments necessary to come to that solution. Carl Ganter quotes Peter Gleick in his post at The Huffington Post: "We know how," he says. "It's just not clear that we're going to make the commitment." Carl is looking for commitments at Davos this year, and so am I.

So call your CEO, ask him/her to attend the water events at Davos this year, and report back.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Save The Date - March 12, 2008


Save the Date -- March 12, 2008


For: The Launch of a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools Initiative

Where: The National Geographic Society Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

When: Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 9:00am - 11:00am

Water Advocates and a growing list of non-governmental organizations, foundations, corporations, and schools will launch a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools Initiative on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at the National Geographic Society Auditorium in Washington D.C. While much is already being done for WASH in Schools, there is still an enormous unmet global problem - half the world's schools lack adequate water and sanitation. This initiative will focus on expanding WASH to 1,000 schools in developing countries while creating the momentum to help as many additional schools as possible worldwide. Water Advocates encourages interested corporations, foundations, organizations, and individuals to use this event as a platform to highlight their activities or to pledge their support to do more for WASH in Schools.

Doors will open at 8:30am and a half hour social will follow the event.

Media interview opportunities will be available from 11:00am - 11:30am.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Water, Technology and the World Bank's 2008 "Global Economic Prospects" report

As interested as I am in basic and applied research, new technologies, and ways to get them to market, I am not particularly excited about new water-related technologies just for the sake of new technology. I am far more interested in the scale up, out and over of existing appropriate technologies, particularly in the developing world where people suffer not from a lack of solutions but a lack of diffusion of those solutions.

The World Bank has some very insightful things to say about all of this in its recent Global Economic Prospects report:

Page 12: One of the recurring themes in this report is that “even relatively simple technologies can have far-reaching development impacts…For example, the dissemination of the simple skills required to build rainwater collection systems can improve access to clean drinking water and reduce the incidence of disease.”

Page 55: “In developing countries, the diffusion of such technology as water and sanitation systems…(has) been tremendously important for improving household well-being, but such innovations will affect output (blogger’s italics) only over time as improved child health eventually pays off in terms of greater adult productivity (source: Alderman, Hoddinott, and Kinsey 2006; Behrman and Rosenzweig 2004; Glewwe, Jacoby, and King 2001). These technologies may also have important noneconomic societal benefits, such as improved gender equality, which are not recorded in GDP because women are more likely to engage in nonmarket production, or may appear only with a lag as improved health technologies facilitate women’s entry into the labor force over time (source: Bailey 2006; Miller 2005; Schultz 2007).”

Page 57: “A recent study of Rwanda identified simple technologies whose greater use could have a substantial impact on development. For example, the study identified a lack of qualified plumbers and water sanitation technicians as a major factor holding back the implementation of simple rainwater collection strategies that have helped improve the quality of drinking water supplies in neighboring countries.”

Examples of the diffusion (or more correctly, lack thereof) of watsan technologies appropriate for Rwanda include:

• Roof water harvesting: only on limited scale for households
• Boreholes: few and expensive
• Hand pumps: imported from region or India
• VIP and Ecosan latrines technology: available, limited uptake

To repeat, “even relatively simple technologies can have far-reaching development impacts.” And the World Bank, the U.S. government, other international donors, and most importantly the Rwandan government itself should see to it that those simple technologies get to where they are most needed.

What could happen if happen if more financial and technical resources were available to more broadly diffuse the known solutions to Rwanda’s water and sanitation challenge? Rwanda is not racing for the cure for its water and sanitation challenge – they have the cure in their hand – e.g. they and the rest of the world have been putting into practice rainwater harvesting for millennia. Rwanda needs to scale it out and over. Perfect segue to my closing remarks:

I shouldn’t be surprised by the accurateness and relevance of these ideas coming from the World Bank, considering its mission of “global poverty reduction and the improvement of living standards.”

However, considering the controversy over many of its policy and fiscal recommendations and requirements in the developing world, and the irrelevance or worse of some of those in many cases for its primary mission of alleviating poverty, I find the simple ideas in this report refreshing. The next step is to make those recommendations happen, and my hope is that the US government is taking a step toward making those happen with its recent funding of the Water for the Poor Act.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Open Source Water and Sanitation

The Global Water Challenge, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation, has partnered with Ashoka, one of the most impressive idea generation factories (and social-entrepreneur-finders) on the planet. They are today launching Tapping Local Innovation: Unclogging the Water and Sanitation Crisis.

"Ashoka’s Changemakers and Global Water Challenge have partnered to open a worldwide search for ideas and projects that, when scaled-up, have the potential to transform the provision of sanitation and water. We hope you will join us. Between January 9 and March 16, 2008, we invite you to submit your proposals."
To get folks thinking they have pulled together a good initial landscaping of the sector here:

[If you want several hundred pages - several hundred GOOD pages - of landscaping, go here: ]

Ashoka is very good at identifying entrepreneurs tackling major social issues - read How to Change the World if you have time - or make the time - it's that inspiring. This competition will give water and sanitation entrepreneurs an opportunity to get an open source review from their peers and others. Winners get plenty of exposure. Then it's up to the growing funding community to support their efforts. And that funding community is growing.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Water for the Poor Act - funded!

Happy 2008! We're off on the right foot:

As you know, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act was signed into law in late 2005 by President Bush, making water and sanitation priorities of U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, Congress did not see fit at that point to fund the Act, making the Act basically the same as the President writing "Water is Important" on the back of a cocktail napkin and moving on. But it was a start - and water remains the only Millennium Development Goal that is officially a priority of U.S. foreign policy.

This lack of funding was rectified when the President signed into law the omnibus spending bill a few days ago, in which the following language was included:

"Provided further, That of the funds appropriated in this Act, not less than $300,000,000 shall be made available for safe drinking water and sanitation supply projects, including water management related to safe drinking water and sanitation, only to implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-121), of which not less than $125,000,000 should be made available for such projects in Africa."

This is important for two reasons: it's give-or-take $100m more than last year, and more importantly the statutory language above makes it at least more likely that the taxpayer dollars will be invested in longterm safe drinking water and sanitation programming, and not sunk into Iraq, Afghanistan, or disaster response. The legislation essentially says "keep going with those other things, but re-emphasize the importance of longterm capacity-building for water and sanitation where the need is greatest." The most important word in the statutory may well be the "only."

Rep. Payne recently said, in support of precisely this sort of appropriation, that it's the "Water for the POOR Act, not the Water for the WAR Act." Although it is too early to tell how this will turn out, this is clearly a huge step in the right direction and I will be tracking progress closely.