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:

http://www.irc.nl/page/35947 ]

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.