Monday, September 27, 2010

Water for the World Act: please write the US Congress!

Those of you who are in the U.S., please take action below to send an email to your Congressperson on behalf of the Water for the World Act. 

To not leave out my friends outside of the U.S.: please contact your government officials and encourage them to prioritize funding for safe drinking water and sanitation in your countries as well!

Here is a note I just got from CARE:

-- I just took action to champion safe water and sanitation for people everywhere. I urge you to take action yourself and spread the word!

To take action on this issue, click on the link below:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Water for the World Act - NEXT STEPS

As Blogging on Water readers know, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act passed the US Senate a couple of days ago. We need to pull out the stops to bring it up for a vote in the House right now and would very much welcome your help.

The ask is very simple:

Urge your U.S. Congressperson to support immediate House passage of the just-passed Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, S. 624.

*** Can you please do everything you can to get phone calls made as urgently as possible? ***

*** We are beyond the letter-writing stage, and very much at the phone call stage. ***

Thank you for everything you can do at the earliest. We may well just have a few hours to make this happen.

Here is more background in case you need it:

Please email me if you need more details and forward this blog mercilessly.

Clinton Global Initiative / Water Commitments

Greetings from the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Those of you who are familiar with the CGI model know that it revolves around commitments - people and organizations making commitments, financial and otherwise, to be part of the solution to global development challenges. A number of commitments related to safe water and sanitation were featured this year. Here are a couple:

From friends at P&G:

Today at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, former US President Bill Clinton and P&G CEO and Chairman Bob McDonald, announced P&G’s new commitment to scale-up the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program to provide 2 billion liters of clean drinking water every year in order to save one life every hour in the developing world. P&G is issuing the attached media release today to announce this new commitment. Importantly, later this week we will recognize several of our partners in providing safe drinking water. Last year, P&G recognized CARE. PSI, and World Vision at the Clinton Global Initiative. This year we are recognizing:

• U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): partnered with the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program in a collaboration that led to the development of the PUR packets, in addition to ongoing research to improve program implementation including a recent study showing that safe drinking water in schools reduced absenteeism.

• Save the Children: partnered with the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program to provide clean drinking water to school children and those in need in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Somalia, south Sudan, and Uganda.
And from Coca Cola:
A $3.75-million grant from the Coca-Cola Company to start eight water projects in Morocco, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and other African countries that have large Muslim populations. The grant is part of a $7.5-milion project that is also being supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. Development Program.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Water for the World Act - through the Senate! On to the House!


September 20, 2010


Legislation to Improve Water Access for 100 Million Globally

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – The Water for the World Act, introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), passed the Senate today and was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The Water for the World Act places water in the forefront of America’s development priorities, seeking to reach 100 million people around the world with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation over the next six years.

“Access to safe drinking water is a right that everyone in the world ought to enjoy but too few are able to realize,” Durbin said. “Water access is no longer simply a global health and development issue; it is a mortal and long-term threat that is increasingly becoming a national security issue. The United States needs to do much more to ensure that global water access is protected and expanded.”

“The needs around the world are tremendous, but our foreign aid dollars are limited. We need to make every single penny count by better focusing and coordinating our efforts,” said Corker. “A lack of clean water leads to the deaths of 1.8 million people each year – 90 percent of them children. It stifles economic growth, keeps women and girls from going to work and school, and has contributed to political unrest in Sudan and elsewhere. Experts tell us every $1 invested in safe drinking water and sanitation produces an $8 return in costs. I’m a fiscal conservative and want to see each of our foreign aid dollars go as far as possible, and I believe water is one of the wisest places we can invest.”

One billion people around the world lack access to clean, safe water and more than two billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Most of these people live on less than $2 a day. Rapid industrialization and population and economic growth will continue to put pressure on global water supplies, particularly in developing nations. Such water issues can no longer been seen as isolated problems, but must instead be viewed as factors contributing to regional tensions, global health, child and maternal mortality, and economic growth.

The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 made access to safe water and sanitation for developing countries a specific policy objective of the United States Foreign Assistance Program. The Act was named after the late Paul Simon, who more than a decade ago, wrote the book, Tapped Out, which warned of the world’s looming clean water crisis.

The Act has already made a difference in the world: last year alone the U.S. helped provide nearly 2 million people with first time access to an improved source of drinking water and more than 1.5 million people to improved sanitation.

To build on the progress achieved through the Water for the Poor Act, Senators Durbin and Corker introduced the Water for the World Act. To achieve the goal of reaching 100 million people with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation the bill:

• Targets underdeveloped countries with focused initiatives to improve access to clean water and sanitation;
• Fosters global cooperation on research and technology development, including regional partnerships among experts on clean water;
• Provides technical assistance and capacity-building to develop expertise within countries facing water and sanitation challenges;
• Provides seed money for the deployment of clean water and sanitation technologies; and
• Strengthen the human infrastructure at USAID and the State Department to implement clean water and sanitation programs effectively and to ensure that water receives priority attention in our foreign policy efforts.

The Water for the World Act represents a robust U.S. contribution to the Millennium Development Goal on water, which is to reduce by 50 percent the proportion of the world population without safe water and sanitation by six years.

The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Bond (R-MO), Boxer (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Burr (R-NC), Burris (D-IL) Cantwell (D-WA) Cardin (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Dodd (D-CT), Dorgan (D-ND), Feinstein (D-CA), Gillibrand, (D-NY), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Johnson (D-SD), Kaufman (D-DE), Kirk (D-MA), Landrieu (D-LA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Lieberman (I-CT), Murray (D-WA), Reed (D-RI), Reid (D-NV), Roberts (R-KS), Sanders (I-VT), Shaheen (D-NH), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (D-PA) and Whitehouse (D-RI).

A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Donald Payne (D-NJ).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WASH in Schools - October 13 event, Washington DC

WASH in Schools

- More than half of all primary schools in developing countries lack adequate drinking water and nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation facilities.

- The provision of sanitary latrines at schools increases girls’ enrollment by 11%.

- Handwashing practiced in facilities such as day-care centers and primary schools reduces cases of diarrhea by 30 percent.

A diverse coalition of WASH, education and health organizations is working together to launch Raising Clean Hands. Please join us for A Call to Action for WASH in schools on October 13 to increase public and private awareness and funding for WASH in Schools globally.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010, 10:30 AM

Other coalition events in October include:

*Capitol Hill Briefing
*Youth Awareness and Action for WASH in Schools
*"Bathroom Pass," a multimedia exhibit on WASH in Schools

Further event details and invitations are forthcoming.

For more details or to join the coalition, contact Elynn Walter at ewalter ((at))

Organizations supporting the events include: Action Against Hunger, AED, Basic Education Coalition, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Children Without Worms, Global Environment & Technology Foundation, Global Water Challenge, H2O for Life, Millennium Water Alliance, PATH, Plan USA, Project WET, PSI, Save the Children, UNICEF, USAID, US Fund for UNICEF, WaterAid, Water Advocates, Water For People, World Water Relief.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Unilever / Rainwater Harvesting / Request for Proposals

Good morning/afternoon/evening all:

I just found this on a listserv this morning, from Unilever India. It is an 11 page Request for Proposals (see summary below) available through the FTP site they have established. If you have trouble downloading the RFP, email me and I will send it to you. We (particularly NGOs in India) need to get Unilever some great ideas.


Dear members,

United Nations reports that people need a minimum of 50 litres of water a day for drinking and other basic needs. In India, more than 50% of the population lives on less than 10 liters of water a day. Approximately 70% of the total water is consumed by the agriculture sector. India is an agri-economy, and as its population grows, there will be an increase in water consumption by the agriculture sector. These issues are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, making access to water an issue for farmers and society.

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is one of the leading private sector companies and is interested in water conservation to address water scarcity and its implications to agriculture. Efficiency in water management has been a key area of focus for HUL across entire value chain.

HUL believes that water scarcity is one of the biggest crises India is facing. Water management has been a focus area for HUL and has been made one of the key performance indicators for all HUL factories. In order to address this issue proactively HUL has been supporting watershed and water conservation projects since last few years. HUL is looking for partnership with developmental organizations having their technical skills, experience and field presence in HUL focus areas and support them to work for water conservation.

In this regard HUL is inviting proposals from organizations those with expertise and experience in water conservation and management. They should able to implement the project in large scale and open for the external monitoring and evaluation. Format for the proposal is attached with this request letter.

HUL has identified the following areas:

1. Rain Water Harvesting

2. development of water sheds, increasing catchment areas

3. Revival of natural water storage structures

Please contact the under-signed to submit a proposal. Further details are in available at:, Word, 300 Kb.


Manisha Gulabrao Patil
Corporate Responsibility

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Global Waters - USAID Newsletter

Water friends, please see below for details about a new water newsletter published by the U.S. Agency for International Development.


Dear Water and Development Colleagues –

Global demand for freshwater is doubling every 20 years, yet water is becoming increasingly scarce in a number of countries, including many in the developing world. As you all know well, water is central to the success of our sustainable development efforts. Whether for domestic use, agriculture, industry, energy, or the environment, the availability of adequate supplies of good quality freshwater underpins the hopes and expectations of billions of people for improved well-being and affluence.

In his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to help the developing world address its water challenges. And last March, Secretary Clinton challenged USAID and the State Department to elevate our freshwater access efforts and to ensure that we look at these challenges in an integrated manner. Climate change, food security and global health issues are three of our top priorities, and water is integrally linked to each challenge. In order to maximize the impact from our development investments we must enhance integrated programming, utilize smart science and innovation, build strategic partnerships, and learn from experience.

As one step on this path, I am pleased to announce the launch of Global Waters – the first newsletter dedicated to the broad portfolio of water-related activities of the United States Agency for International Development. Through this new bi-monthly newsletter, we wish to share with you the many challenges and opportunities, and the approaches and lessons learned that reflect upon USAID programming in the water arena. Each issue will highlight the work of our many implementing partners, as well as some of the more intimate stories of how the Agency’s work directly affects individuals, families, and communities around the globe.

If you wish to receive Global Waters on a regular basis, I encourage you to subscribe today, and to share this with your colleagues and partners who may find this of interest. You can do so by clicking on the following link, where you will find the full newsletter and subscription details.

I hope you will take time to peruse Global Waters and continue to help us build public support and understanding for these critical development challenges.

Dr Rajiv Shah

USAID Administrator

Monday, September 13, 2010

Exhibition by National Geographic photographer to benefit WaterAid

For those of you in - or with access to - New York City, please try to attend this photo exhibit (details below, please RSVP). And if you haven't yet seen WaterAid's latest damning report on waterborne diarrheal disease, go here.

Please join us - Thursday September 23

The Burden of Thirst

A benefit exhibition by renowned photojournalist Lynn Johnson

Thursday September 23, 5:30 - 10 pm, at The Soho Gallery, 138 Sullivan St., New York, NY

Meet the photographer

Lynn Johnson shot powerful images for the "Burden of Thirst" feature in the April 2010 special water issue of National Geographic magazine. These photos from Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania depict how the burden of water collection dominates women's lives.

Prints will be available for sale - 100% of the proceeds will support WaterAid's vital work bringing safe water, sanitation and improved hygiene to the world's poorest communities.

View an online preview of the exhibit or sign up for the chance to win a signed, framed photo on the megree website.

RSVP to kfrew  (at) wateraidamerica  (dot) org or 212-683-0430 Oxford Landing Wines courtesy of the Australian Trade Commission. Donations accepted at the door.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let's Keep It Going For Pakistan

Some ideas on where we all can continue to help in Pakistan, from the Ansara Family Fund in Boston are below. For a great list see Interaction's site here.

From Ansara:

These recommendations have been culled from multiple sources including The Acumen Fund, Associated Grantmakers of Massachusetts, The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, The Council on Foundations, Grassroots International, GuideStar, Hunt Alternatives Fund, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Jonathan Lewis at Opportunity Collaboration, The Philanthropic Initiative, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, U.S. State Department, other sites and personal interviews. Rapid research was provided by New Philanthropy Advisors. All organizations have been recommended by respected funders and have US 501c3 tax-deductible status or a US 501c3 vehicle for giving.

Suggested Organizations:

ACT Alliance - Coordinating the funding and efforts of over 100 Christian denominations and organizations worldwide, the ACT Alliance works in 130 countries for positive and sustainable change in the lives of people affected by poverty and injustice. Conducting humanitarian, development and advocacy work, ACT "works with and for people of all faiths and none." In response to the Pakistan floods, ACT has issued a $1.6 million appeal. ACT is funded by donations made to its member organizations, including Church World Service, a leading ACT member in Pakistan. Donate to Church World Service

Action Aid - Action Aid works with national and international alliances, as well as with local partners worldwide to fight for and gain their rights to food, shelter, work, education, healthcare and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. In the provinces of KPK, Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Action Aid's partners have reached over 20,000 with evacuation assistance, food and hygiene packages and medical services. Donate to Action Aid

American Jewish World Service - Known as a "progressive" organization and motivated by Judaism's imperative to pursue justice, AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people. AJWS makes grants to partner organizations in Pakistan that are erecting temporary shelters, facilitating access to clean drinking water in government relief camps, and working with local and national government authorities to expedite the relief process. AJWS has funded in Pakistan since the earthquakes in 2005 with a special focus on women and youth. Donate to AJWS

CARE - CARE is supporting health teams, mobile clinics and the distribution of emergency supplies, having already treated more than 32,000 people, including those affected by cholera and other potentially fatal diseases. CARE has established camps and shelter including tents, plastic floor mats, mosquito nets and kitchen kits. Recognizing that women and children suffer disproportionately from poverty, women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to promote self-sufficiency, improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. Donate to CARE

The Citizens Foundation - a Pakistani-based organization with US chapters, which runs 660 schools in the poorest urban and rural areas of the country, TCF is using its schools as distribution centers to distribute 100,000 relief packages that will each feed a family of six for one-month for just $30 each. With schools that boast 50% female enrollment, TCF is committed to eradicating illiteracy and extremism through education. Additional funds will support the repair and rebuilding of schools. Vetted by The Acumen Fund. Donate to TCFUSA

Developments in Literacy, is rooted in Garden Grove, California with strong leadership from Pakistani Americans, and has established 150 schools, primarily for girls. Partnering with other local organizations, DIL aims to distribute $100 worth of dry food rations to 2,000 families in six districts. With another partner group, DIL is providing shoes, clothing, hygiene kits and mosquito nets. Endorsed by the wife of the Ambassador at Large from Pakistan. Donate to DIL

International Rescue Committee - With 30 years experience working in Pakistan, and a robust network of local staff and partner organizations, IRC is providing shelter, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and essential supplies to those who been displaced by floods. Immediate program assistance for flood affected areas will focus on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), non-food item distributions and shelter. IRC is providing shelter, clean water, sanitation, and essential supplies to those who have fled the rising waters. Donate to IRC

Mercy Corps specializes in alleviating suffering, poverty and oppression in 40 countries where governments are weak and disaster or conflict has struck. Working in Pakistan since 1986 with 90% Pakistani staff, Mercy Corps is working to provide clean water, staple foods and clean-up tools to families in the Swat Valley and in northern Sindh Province. Long-term reconstruction will be jump-started by a grant from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assistance to repair water and irrigation systems, distribute cash vouchers and operate cash-for-work programs. Donate to Mercy Corps

Naya Jeevan is a Pakistani-based nonprofit social enterprise (with US 501c3 status) providing low-income families with affordable quality, catastrophic health insurance. In addition Naya Jeevan is improving family health through health education and reducing infant/child and maternal mortality within low-income populations residing in urban areas of developing countries. In the midst of the flood, Naya Jeevan is transporting the sick and injured to health care providers, mapping the availability of emergency health services, and delivering medicines to the sick and stranded. Vetted by Draper Richards Foundation and Jonathan Lewis, Opportunity Collaborative. Donate to Naya Jeevan

Oxfam - Oxfam and its on-the-ground partner organizations, which advocate for long-term solutions to poverty that protect human rights, have launched a rapid-relief effort to quickly reach 400,000 people in hard-hit areas of Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Oxfam is providing evacuation, clean water, latrines and hygiene, hot meals and food vouchers to purchase from local traders, and cash-for-work opportunities. Known for its expertise in agricultural development, Oxfam will help people keep their remaining livestock in good health via vaccinations and deworming, and will revitalize farming and grazing in the vast territories that have been destroyed. Donate to Oxfam

Rural Support Programmes Network via The Friends of Pakistan Fund, Inc. -- a national, Pakistani umbrella and the largest non-government network of rural development programs in the country, RSPN mobilizes rural women and men around relief and rehabilitation, micro credit and health insurance, learning employable skills, and strengthening agriculture, livestock, and small enterprise in 105 of the country's 138 districts. Vetted by the Acumen Fund, UNICEF, USAID and other donors. Donate to RSPN

Save the Children, called the largest U.S.-based NGO in Pakistan with a presence for 30 years, Save the Children has partnered with the World Food Program to provide emergency food rations to 400,000 children with a goal of 2 million. Save the Children's highest priority for the coming weeks is to rush food, water, shelter materials, medical care and other essentials to affected communities to save children's lives. The organization will address children's longer-term needs with shelter, health, nutrition, education, child protection, and support to families to regain incomes and farming capacity. Donate to Save the Children

The U.S. Fund for UNICEF - UNICEF, a presence in Pakistan since the country's inception, is supported by 36 national committees and works in over 150 countries. UNICEF has received US Government funding to prevent waterborne diseases by providing safe drinking water in for 360,000 in KPk, Sindh, Baluchistan, and Punjab provinces. UNICEF has set up nine medical camps providing medicine, water treatment tablets, nutritional supplements, hygiene kits and jerry cans. Beyond playing a leading role in coordinating NGOS providing water and sanitation, education and nutrition, UNICEF is known for its work to protect children from exploitation and trafficking during emergencies and conflicts. Donate to the US Fund for UNICEF

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Business, Less Charity: Fast Company, Alice Korngold

Great piece from friend Alice Korngold on Fast Company regarding an emerging and soon-to-be-best practice in 'charity.'

Quick commentary: This is not a controversial piece that Alice has penned. If an initiative/project/program is not making ends meet financially, it is not sustainable. Period. It doesn't matter whether the initiative is nonprofit, for profit, or a hybrid. The traditional dichotomy is lost on me. An effort is either built to last, or just a nice thing to do that won't fix the problem over the long run.

More Business, Less Charity

BY FC Expert Blogger Alice Korngold
Tue Sep 7, 2010

There's a new trend emerging among a small number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations, used in reference to global nonprofits). Here's what it looks like in comparison to the traditional nonprofit approach:

Traditional: NGO raises charitable dollars. Hires expert staff to send abroad. Expert staff sets up offices and the necessary facilities (clinic, school, etc.). Expert staff proceeds to provide services. NGO counts and reports on the number of people it helps abroad. NGO continues raising money to fund the staff it has established in its international offices. Or, in some cases, the expert staff moves on to another community, and there is no infrastructure at the local level to ensure ongoing services and implementation, nor any external system for monitoring and reporting.

New School: NGO raises charitable dollars. Hires expert staff--most often local--to work on programs. NGO leverages its dollars to raise funds from the local community and local government, thereby forming a three-way partnership to achieve the goal--whether that's to establish a new health clinic, school, or access to clean water, etc. NGO provides expertise to help local government and community to achieve the goal, train people from community or region to provide the ongoing service, establish a viable revenue model for a sustainable business model, and perhaps establish a local business enterprise to provide long-term services. NGO counts and reports on the number of people it helps abroad. More importantly, NGO monitors the project to ensure longer term success--making sure services are being provided over time, not just after the project is finished. NGO moves on to other communities, thereby increasing its impact. NGO seeks to have their models spread virally by being replicated by others, beyond just the areas where it works.

A good example of "New School" is Water for People. The challenge they address is the lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (known as WASH) in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, "Around 1.1 billion people globally do not have access to improved water supply sources whereas 2.4 billion people do not have access to any type of improved sanitation facility. About 2 million people die every year due to diarrheal disease, most of them are children under 5 years old."

Building Sustainable, Business Solutions

Ned Breslin, CEO, Water for People, advocates for business-oriented solutions that are community-wide, serving homes and schools in developing countries. In a private interview, Breslin explained to me that his organization leverages its investment to involve the local government and community in partnering to establish the WASH infrastructure and revenue model.

Furthermore, Water for People uses its know-how to help establish a locally owned business that will service the community's WASH needs for the long-term. Breslin says his organization's position can be controversial among NGOs. Comparing the local WASH business to telephone service, Breslin explains that setting up a community water and sanitation service is useless unless it is regularly serviced. "The outcome will have to be a combination of sanitation coverage without donor dollars, high user satisfaction with the service, and a price point that does not prohibit the poor from participating but is still profitable for the service provider."

Sustainability is the true test, according to Breslin. That is, "How many people did you help five years ago, and what percentage of these people still have water today?"

Businesses as partners

My enthusiasm about working in CSR for 20 years is that the smartest companies and NGOs/nonprofits join their expertise to solve global challenges. Water for People's experience with ITT is an excellent example. As Breslin explains about companies as partners and donors, "businesses are creative. They understand experimentation and risk, as well as the need for rigor and monitoring." Breslin says that companies don't just provide funding but they also help find solutions. The partnership with ITT is one example. Additionally Breslin explains that "when we look at how to move spare parts for toilets in developing countries, a business like Pepsi or Coca-Cola is an expert resource, given their experience as a global distribution and service model."

I'll be blogging from the Clinton Global Initiative for my third year during the week of September 20. Stay tuned here to read about innovators who are addressing global challenges.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sept 15 Washington DC event, and exciting news stories from Stockholm

Event – September 15: Clean Water and Sanitation in Africa

Constituency for Africa and its partners will host a Forum on Clean Water and Sanitation in Africa at Shiloh Baptist Church, 1500 9th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 15th between 9:00 a.m. and noon. This will be the first concerted effort to involve African-American church leadership in making safe drinking water and sanitation an integral part of the African-American experience. Please respond to Rev. Yolanda Giles at yogiles (at)

And some related news items from World Water Week:

ITT Expands ITT Watermark program
ITT Corporation announced on September 7 at World Water Week that it has pledged $10.5 million over three years (2011-2013) to provide one million more people around the world with access to safe water and sanitation. This announcement marks a significant expansion of the company's signature corporate citizenship program, ITT Watermark.  

PepsiCo Releases Inaugural Water Report
PepsiCo, Inc. published on September 7 its inaugural water report titled “Water Stewardship: Good for Business. Good for Society.” The report details the company’s efforts to conserve and replenish water use in its operations and expand access to clean water across the globe (three million people by 2015).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why Do IQ Scores Vary By Nation?

Just making sure you have seen this very interesting piece in Newsweek recently.  It's a controversial issue, and the reporting is about national averages, but this makes a lot of sense intuitively: safe water, sanitation and hygiene lead to higher IQ:

Why Do IQ Scores Vary By Nation?

by Katie Baker
July 26, 2010

Global differences in intelligence is a sensitive topic, long fraught with controversy and still tinged by the disgraceful taint of pseudosciences such as craniometry that strove to prove the white “race” as the most clever of them all. But recent data, perplexingly, has indeed shown cognitive ability to be higher in some countries than in others. What’s more, IQ scores have risen as nations develop—a phenomenon known as the “Flynn effect.” Many causes have been proposed for both the intelligence gap and the Flynn effect, including education, income, and even nonagricultural labor. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of New Mexico offers another intriguing theory: intelligence may be linked to infectious-disease rates.

The Idea

The brain, say author Christopher Eppig and his colleagues, is the “most costly organ in the human body.” Brainpower gobbles up close to 90 percent of a newborn’s energy. It stands to reason, then, that if something interferes with energy intake while the brain is growing, the impact could be serious and longlasting. And for vast swaths of the globe, the biggest threat to a child’s body—and hence brain—is parasitic infection. These illnesses threaten brain development in several ways. They can directly attack live tissue, which the body must then strain to replace. They can invade the digestive tract and block nutritional uptake. They can hijack the body’s cells for their own reproduction. And then there’s the energy diverted to the immune system to fight the infection. Out of all the parasites, the diarrheal ones may be the gravest threat—they can prevent the body from getting any nutrients at all. (emphasis mine)

The Evidence

Using data on national “disease burdens” (life years lost due to infectious diseases) and average intelligence scores, the authors found a striking inverse correlation—around 67 percent. The countries with the lowest average IQ scores—Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Mozambique, Gabon—have among the highest disease burdens. In contrast, nations with low disease burdens top the IQ list, with Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan, and Italy in the lead.

The study controlled for other potential causes of the IQ gap, such as the aforementioned education, agricultural labor, and income levels, as well as climate (colder lands tend to have higher IQ scores, and some theorists have proposed that lower temperatures may evolutionarily select for higher intelligence) and distance from humanity’s African cradle, which is the notion that unfamiliar lands might have forced migrating humans to become smarter. However, with the exception of this last theory—which has in any case been challenged—it turns out that “infectious disease remains the most powerful predictor of average national IQ.” The study’s findings may also help explain the Flynn effect, which can’t be accounted for by evolution (the IQ gains occur over time spans too short for natural selection). So what’s going on instead? As nations develop, they improve their population’s access to safe drinking water and to vaccines and medicine—all of which lower parasitic infection rates.

The Conclusion

If the study holds up, it could be revolutionary for our understanding of the still-bewildering variation in national intelligence scores—and also a pressing injunction to continue the fight against malaria and other developing-world diseases, which some global-health watchers have recently declared unbeatable.