World Toilet Day recognized by UN: US network spreading word.

collaboration, community, homeless, international, sanitation, toilets, united nations

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Today – 19 November 2013 – is World Toilet Day. World Toilet Day is being officially recognized by the United Nations this year, and a host of organizations are simultaneously working on sanitation efforts worldwide.

Why is World Toilet Day important? Many people both in the United States and around the world have no safe places “to go.” Sanitation saves lives on a daily basis and in disaster situations, and those most oppressed encounter largest challenges around access. Statistics are stark. 2.5 billion people have no adequate sanitation. Preventable sanitation-related illnesses kill 1.5 million children each year. Around 1.7 million people in the US do not have indoor plumbing. Another 1.5 million people in the US live outside. This is a problem that affects many people in many places.

What is the history of World Toilet Day? The amazing Jack Sim, aka Mr. Toilet, started the World Toilet Organization 19 November 2001. He used the acronym WTO (think World Trade Organization) to raise awareness about the lack of sanitation globally. World Toilet Day was inaugurated the year after the anniversary of WTO founding. Starting in 2013, the UN designated 19 November World Toilet Day. Jack Sim is traveling to NYC for a myriad of celebratory events.

What can you do? What can you learn? Many admirable organizations are involved in sanitation. PHLUSH compiled a massive list of information and advocacy tools from many of them here. There are UNICEF posters and a Toilet Trek game, an interactive website by WASH United, and much more. Two US grassroots organizations – west-coast PHLUSH and east-coast The POOP Project – are also trying to raise awareness about US toilet issues. See ToiletsUSA : Why We Need to Speak Out on the PHLUSH website. Take The Pooper Pledge on The POOP Project website. Finally, if you are so inclined, you can follow #ToiletsUSA, #WorldToiletDay, #CelebrateTheToilet, #LiftTheLid, or #wecantwait on Twitter. May every day be World Toilet Day.

“A nation is judged by the compassion it shows its weakest citizens.” – Bruce Springsteen

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Empowerment and Gender Equality in Water and Sanitation: What does it mean? What does it matter?

collaboration, community, development, general, homeless, international, ngo, participatory management, sanitation, united nations

If you know of work done by non-profit or governmental organizations globally, you have likely heard the words –  empowerment and gender equality. Groups worldwide use these terms in apparent pursuit of more equitable water and sanitation projects ranging from entrepreneurship to provision. When first exposed to these terms during my master’s studies in 2010, I became intrigued with understanding how empowerment and gender equality related to more participatory water and sanitation projects. Yet after conducting research for my master’s project [Empowerment and Gender Equality for Water and Sanitation in Rural India: Two Case Studies], it became clear these terms were used by organizations very differently. While some organizations might imply a borewell for water results in empowerment, others said participating on a decision-making committee results in empowerment (and so on).

Amidst this array of disparate definitions, it appeared to me such terms still might have some capacity to be somewhat useful conceptual approaches for more equitable water and sanitation projects. So when I received the opportunity this past summer to attend two different workshops focusing on empowerment and gender equality, I took the chance. In July, I attended a United Nations program in Geneva to see how different UN entities employed (or failed to) these concepts. In August, I traveled to UCLA for another workshop focusing on empowerment in public health.

After attending the UN Graduate Study Program, I began to wonder if there might be better discourse for equitable water and sanitation projects globally. Study program participants heard over twenty seminars from UN agencies – International Labor Organization, International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN High Commission for Refugees, UN Human Rights Council, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Office at Geneva, UN Secretary General Envoy on Youth, UNAIDS, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNFPA, and UNICEF. Many of these organizations talked about how they focus on women internally and externally, but it was often difficult for them to describe how they incorporated a true gendered-approach into their practices (e.g. focusing on power differentials between all people not just looking only at women). It appeared some of them were stuck in a paradigm of second-wave feminism when more transnational feminist approaches are now critical. What this means in basic terms is that most UN agencies use a “universal woman” approach (i.e. a “western woman” approach) instead of looking at larger nation-state and economic structural disparities.

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Above Photo: Author of blog post is located in left front row in white short-sleeve button-down. UN Photographer.

Studying at the UCLA Global Health and Empowerment workshop provided a chance to dig more into the theory behind empowerment in various disciplines. We read everything from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Naila Kabeer’s Resources, Agency, and Achievements, and Jane Parpart’s Lessons from the Field. See entire syllabus here. This course covered a variety of critical and conservative empowerment theories in global health and global development (that word again) literature. My final grant-proposal project focused on sanitation and health issues in the US for two reasons: 1) the global north/global south binary is highly disconcerting to me, and 2) we have dire sanitation needs here that also demand attention. One of those sanitation needs is sanitation with/for those living outside in many cities in this wealthy nation. My proposal “Together for WASH: Pilot Program for Participatory and Gender-Sensitive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene with Unhoused People in the United States” is currently undergoing final review. Here’s a sneak peek:

The long-term goal of this proposal is to improve measurable public health outcomes linked to WASH among unhoused people (men, women, and children) living in group camps furthering their upward social mobility and capacity to participate in social change. The objective of this proposal is to pilot low-cost and scalable WASH solutions coupled with participatory WASH programs in two group camps in two US cities. This pilot program is gender-sensitive using gender-specific solutions (e.g. eco-urinals and a menstrual hygiene management program) and gender-sensitive participatory techniques (e.g. community dialogue about gender burdens of WASH and representative participation). This pilot program uses an arts-based approach to give unhoused people a venue to highlight vulnerability in water and sanitation while communicating with policymakers to influence greater social change. This pilot program will lead to engagement in both individual and collective processes of empowerment resulting in critical consciousness among unhoused people in the realm of WASH.

So the jury is still out on water and sanitation development sector usage of terms like empowerment and gender equality.  It is not that empowerment and gender equality approaches are incompatible with true participatory water and sanitation programs. It is just that: 1) empowerment water and sanitation projects should be bottom-up instead of the top-down, 2) empowerment and gender equality definitions should be clearly outlined prior to development of water and sanitation programs, 3) larger structural frameworks and power structures have to be taken into account (e.g. examining how someone can experience empowerment on a local scale while being disempowered on the global economic scale), 4)  it is critical to consider scale when thinking about empowerment and gender equality in water and sanitation, 5) empowerment as part of international-development discourse might actually reinforce oppressions, and 6) alternative conceptual approaches for examining and participating in equitable water and sanitation programs could include liberatory or autonomous frameworks.

Author’s Postscript: If you would like to read more about empowerment theories from multiple disciplines, please check out this shared Google Drive list put together by colleagues and myself.

Abuello Grillo vs. The World

film, general, international, water justice

Words aren’t needed when watching this animation convey water justice issues using universal languages of imagery and sound. This animation was created at The Animation Workshop by a group of animators from Bolivia, a French director, music from Bolivia, and others from Mexico and Germany. It features Abuello Grillo (or Grandmother Cricket). Her melodic voice causes the rain to fall filling rivers and feeding crops. One day on a trip away from the countryside, she is kidnapped. Her captors make her sing on stage while they fill water trucks to sell the water to villagers.

The ability of a wordless film to tell an intricate story reminds me we can communicate globally without language barriers. This film was able to make me remember many people in the Global South face extremely high water prices when companies purchase and sell municipal water, wonder about the legality of extracting massive amounts of water for bottled water sales, and inquire about the nuances of the definition of human right to water. What does it tell you?

#wwweek Talk Brief: Gender, Water, and Food Security

conference, gender, international, sanitation

The second event I tuned to was the Concrete Actions: Advancing the Integration of Gender, Water, Food Security talk. The theme of this seminar was exciting because I had previously grappled with developing a tool for measuring gender equality and empowerment in water and sanitation. And as Hon. Bigombe so eloquently said, “If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.” This talk focused on gender, water, and food security with a feature on the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) Gender Strategy. The AMCOW Gender Strategy is a model that could be adapted by other regions because it addresses gender equality in “water-livelihood spheres” while identifying minimum targets for gender, water, and food security. The aim of the talk was to have multiple experts review methods of gender, water, and food security measurement to find common measurement tools. As I have experienced, measurement of gender equality and empowerment for water can difficult because gender and water cover multiple scales (household, community, political) and multiple dimensions of interaction (access, planning, and management). So I was excited to learn from these women.

Empowerment Measurement Meinzen-Dick
Above Photo: Domains of Empowerment for Water by Dr. Ruth Meinzen-Dick, IFPRI

The esteemed speakers presented ways for understanding and measuring gender equality and empowerment. Dr. Dikito-Wachtmeister from GWP said the AMCOW gender mainstreaming process gathered comments from stakeholders and developed key targets. Their approach honors qualitative data and participatory action. Dr. Sisto from FAO outlined four national gender-sensitive indicators: 1) management of land/water, 2) access to paid employment, 3) access to education, and 4) institutional empowerment. FAO also developed a checklist for organizations to use while mainstreaming gender in agriculture. Dr. van Koppen from IMWI identified gender-sensitive indicators for different water realms including livelihoods, uses, control over technologies, and control over resources. Her talk is featured on YouTube here. Dr. Meinzen-Dick from IFPRI reviewed a WEAI tool to measure empowerment in agriculture within five domains: 1) productive decisions, 2) control over resources, 3) control over income, 4) leadership opportunities, and 5) adequate time. She made comparisons of these domains to the water sector (see above image). Overall, I’m excited to scour the presentations again to improve my understanding of gender equality and empowerment measurement in water and sanitation. Scalable is important – yes, but socioeconomic conditions have to inform any model. I’m curious to see if “a one size fits all” approach is practical.

#wwweek Talk Brief: Sanitation and Water for All

conference, general, international, measurement, politics, sanitation

The first event I tuned to was the Sanitation and Water for All: Global Decision-makers Unite on WASH talk. Volunteering with PHLUSH, I wanted to get some info on global sanitation initiatives, and I liked the way this group includes sanitation first in their title. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership is over 80 country and organization partners with a goal of universal, sustainable sanitation and water through mutual trust and accountability. They believe in three avenues for action: 1) political prioritization, 2) evidenced based decision-making, and 3) robust planning. They meet alternate years at a High Level Meeting (HLM), and over 400 sanitation and water commitments were made in 2012 with cross-cutting themes of open-defecation, equity, private-sector engagement, and climate change.


Above Photo: SWA

This talk hosted multiple presenters who work with the partnership. They emphasized the value of monitoring HLM commitments, “a big problem in the sector is monitoring and real-time results related to services.” But each country is responsible for measuring such independently. One presenter, Baker Yiga from ANEW, says countries in his region act on commitments by coordination at the national level, sector working groups, and popularization of commitments with civil servants. Another presenter, Bai Mass Taal from AMCOW, says it’s important to bring sanitation to the highest political level and ensure ministers translate commitments on-the-ground. One Twitter comment called for more “tangible examples related to WASH monitoring like Waterpoint Mapping.” For more info on the talk, Twitter comments from this session at #sw4all were compiled into Storify. If you have any updates, send me a message.

God dag! from Water World Water Week

conference, international

Greetings from World Water Week in Stockholm via my computer, that is. This week, August 26 to 31, is the highly-regarded water conference held each year by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). This event is a “unique forum for the exchange of views, experiences and practices between the scientific, business, policy and civic communities” in global water and sanitation arenas. This year’s theme is Water and Food Security, and here is some food for thought. Water is used to grow food, land rights often determine who has water access, and water-intensive food diets are becoming more common. With around 850 million people w/o enough food and 780 million w/o safe water, it’s essential people get together to talk water and food. This year’s conference is hosting a number of neat workshops to allow for knowledge sharing.


Above Photo: World Water Week, SIWI

If you’re like me and can’t travel to Stockholm, you might be wondering how to get more info about World Water Week happenings. The SIWI folks have made it pretty easy this year. They created a Social Media Hub with a stream of select conference seminars at www.watermedia.org. They also have a YouTube channel with videos and interviews. I like the inspiring video feature of the WASH Media Award Winners there. In the Twittersphere, they created an event hashtag at #wwweek. You watch the #wwweek chatter on Twitter or online to learn more and meet new people. I created a #wwweek stream on the lower right-hand side of this blog, if you’d like a sneak peek. My experiences attending World Water Week virtually have been pretty awesome so far. I’ve tuned into two talks, and brief summaries will be posted shortly. Hejdå.

‘Transparency in the Water Sector’ Live Broadcast Review

international, ngo, video, water events, workshop

This morning, I was energized to listen to a live broadcast of the “Transparency in the Water Sector” panel discussion hosted by Water for People. This talk featured a variety of professional development practitioners, and viewers were tweeting about the event at #waterhonesty. I’m not an expert on water-project transparency, and this talk was a good opportunity to learn more.


First, a primer on transparency in the water sector.

Before the broadcast, I tried to find a good definition of “transparency in the water sector” online. Transparency International indicates transparency leads to accountability which leads to integrity which leads to less corruption. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain “. IRC says integrity and honesty lead to less corruption in the water sector. Transparency is defined as “sharing information and acting in an open manner”. SIWI states “Transparency, accountability and integrity are critical governance components without which corruption issues cannot be successfully addressed.” So in lay terms – transparency in the water sector leads to accountability, honesty, and integrity which leads to less corruption. This is good because corruption has been identified as the major barrier in meeting the Millennium Development Goals including MDGs focused on water and sanitation.

Now, the goods of the talk.

Much of the talk centered around defining water-project transparency in practice. The talk broached several subject areas, and I attempted to compile a few main points on water-project transparency below. If you have any updates to this review, send me a message. Water for People will host another live broadcast in the future, and – with Portland PHLUSH – one idea for a topic is emergency sanitation. Nonetheless, what a great way to open up global dialogue on water and sanitation issues. Hats off to Water for People and all presenters today!

Water-project transparency components:
Transparency in funding essential. USAID dashboard good example.
Other project components need transparency: design, construction, and long-term use.

Water-project transparency challenges:
Indicators for success not working. Indicators for Millennium Development Goals not applicable.
Many tools for evaluating transparency, but no streamlined system.
Lack of long-term monitoring for water and sanitation systems. Many donors not supporting longevity of WASH systems.
[Lack of analysis of project failure to promote learning and adaptation for future project success.] – See comment by Paige.

Water-project transparency solutions:
Indicators of project success developed unique to location. Cultural systems incorporated.
Low-cost monitoring tools, like Akvo Flow, used.
Transparency tools and frameworks compiled and streamlined. WIN site to compile tools.
Different responsible roles created for monitoring, evaluating, and learning.
Long-term monitoring and evaluation emphasized to donors. Sustainable funding source ensured for project, monitoring, and evaluation.
[Analyze project failure in detailed methodological way to be accountable to funders and incorporate lessons for future improvement.] – See comment by Paige.

Water-Art Activism Hits New York City

architecture, art, community, drinking water, international, water availability, water events

It always strikes me how a small but creative idea can spread spurring people around it to see the world in a new way. Or its ability to influence individuals to engage in positive change. Word Above the Street is one such idea.

Mary Jordan wants to “draw attention to Water as a precious resource by transforming 300 rooftop water tanks in New York City into works of art”. These works of art will focus on bringing awareness to water scarcity and water sanctity around the world. Professional artists, emergent artists, and youth have been asked to submit art ideas for the tanks.


Above Photo: Word Above The Street

Positive effects of this art project will be far-reaching. Over 8.4 million NYC residents, 5 million tourists, and millions of virtual visitors will be able to see the exhibition during the summer of 2012. This may be the first time many of these people have thought about water as an important issue, and this project may inspire others to further create positive change. Right on Word Above the Street!

The World Cup, Water, and Sanitation – PSA-a-thon Series

africa, community, drinking water, international, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sanitation, south africa, video, water availability

Many around the world have just finished watching the USA vs. Algeria game in South Africa. USA won the match (1-0) and will be able to continue to play in the 2010 World Cup. I’m happy with the final score (sorry, Algeria) but not so happy about something else. During the time of each World Cup match, around 140 children in Africa will die from diarrheal illnesses related to dirty water and a lack of toilets.

One organization, Wash-United, hopes people will become more aware of these issues during the 2010 World Cup. They have enlisted football greats like Didier Drogba, Nwankwo Kanu, and Stephen Appiah and created Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to help the spread the world. Enjoy these PSAs as part of the PSA-a-thon Series, and keep watching and rooting for your favorite teams.

Football Greats for Safe Water and Sanitation

Desmond Tutu for Safe Water and Sanitation

Can’t get enough? The other five PSAs in the series cover rainwater harvesting in India, the LA Tap Project, a water-conservation campaign in Denver, the Tap Project 2009, and Charity Water.

Water and Sanitation Crisis at the White House

conference, international, sanitation

“The White House was given a shocking makeover by international charity WaterAid and global campaign group End Water Poverty. The makeover took place to mark the first ever High Level Meeting on Sanitation and Water in Washington on 23 April. Gone are the immaculate White House lawns, in their place a squalid otherworldly scene where children collect water from a filthy rubbish-strewn water hole and long queues form at the standpoint. Except that this isn’t another world. Having to use a contaminated and potentially fatal water source is a daily reality for 884 million people. Then there are the 2.6 billion who have no access to a toilet. At this meeting Ministers and policy makers from 30 developed and developing countries had the opportunity to commit to financial and political action to tackle this forgotten crisis.”

Sanitation Solutions: Three African Entrepreneurs

africa, international, investments, sanitation, water awards

Most people should know the facts: almost 2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to basic sanitation and over 6,000 children die each day from dirty water and poor sanitation. Adequate sanitation, hygiene, and drinking water are essential to keep people healthy. So it’s great to hear via Water Advocates about three innovators taking steps to improve sanitation conditions in Africa.

Toilet Mall
David Kuria, founder of the company Ecotact, builds free-standing bathroom facilities in Kenya. These facilities are compared to malls because they have a place for shoe shines, food vendors, phones, eight toilets, a water kiosk, a baby changing station, and showers.

Iko Toilet in Nairobi. Image Courtesy: Water Advocates
Above Photo: Iko Toilet in Nairobi. Water Advocates.

Cows to Kilowatts
Dr. Joseph Adelegan, of Nigeria, developed a large bio-recator to convert waste from a 1,000-cow slaughterhouse into bio-gas (energy). This bio-gas is sold at reduced prices to the poor and used for cooking or electricity. Plus his business has prevented the slaughterhouse from dumping cow waste into the nearby river that is also used also for cleaning and bathing.

Large-Scale Biogas Facility in Africa. Image Courtesy: Water Advocates.
Above Photo: Large-Scale Bio0gas Facility in Africa. Water Advocates.

The Clean Shop
Trevor Mulaudzi started this business in South Africa after “he found children skipping class and defecating in the open because their school’s toilet was piled with feces.” He and his 300 employees clean up and repair previously unusable toilets. The clean toilets give users a sense of pride about their facilities and encourages them to keep the facilities clean.

A dirty toilet in a South African School. Image Courtesy: Water Advocates.
Above Photo: Dirty Toilet in South African School. Water Advocates.

Water Justice Movement Gearing up for the 5th World Water Forum

drinking water, drought, groundwater, international, outreach, water availability, water conflict, water events

The water justice movement is gearing up for the 5th World Water Forum to be held during World Water Week from March 16th – 22nd in Istanbul, Turkey. They will host a Counter Forum during the event to educate people about the water justice movement, the problems with privatization of water supplies, and the importance of water as a human right.

peopleswaterforum

The Counter Forum will host the following events (from the Wash News International blog):

10-13 March: Water Tribunal – Four cases to be heard in a similar format to the Latin American Water Tribunal conducted during the 4th World Water Forum.
14-22 March: Global Week of Actions for Water Justice.
14 March: Demonstration in central Istanbul.
15 March: Demonstration in Kadikoy Square.
16 March: Official opening of the World Water Forum -activists organizing press conferences and protests against WWF.
17-18 March: Platform workshop event at TMMOB Taksim Square office.
17 March: Evening, Public Water Event organized by international activists – featuring UN representation and others – (unconfirmed).
19-20 March: Platform plenary events at MKM Congress Center.
19 March: Demonstration planned.
20-22 March: Campaign’s Alternative Water Forum – Bilgi University.
22 March: Closing of official WWF and World Water Day.
23 March: Solidarity delegation to Diyarbakir region of Turkey.

Please visit the Peoples Water Forum website for a list of updated events. Here is an excerpt from the Call to Action:

This 5th World Water Forum, as with the previous 4 World Water Forums, is being organized by the World Water Council, a body created and controlled by the global private water industry and which continues to promote water privatization, destructive dams, commodification and commercialization, projects and policies proven to harm people and communities; local food systems, livelihoods and indigenous resource base.

For more information on the water justice movement, check out this website created after the 4th World Water Forum in Mumbai or this webpage created by the Transnational Institute with a list of links and documents pertaining to water justice.

Water from Air: Alchemy or Reality

drinking water, general, india, international, technology, water availability, water treatment

Now, I do not state my support for this new water technology, but Air-Water Corp – a Florida-based outfit – claims to have created a machine that will effectively extract humidity from the air to produce 25 to 5,000 liters of water each day, if the conditions are right. These machines need high humidity (above 55 percent) and high temperatures (above 65 degrees) to operate. Air-Water Corp just delivered their first village-based unit to Jalimudi in Andhra Pradesh, India. The unit cost Rs. 3 lakh, that is 6,156 US dollars. It is unclear how much electricity this machine needs to operate, but it might be able to produce up to 1,000 liters of water each day.

Jalimudi Village Water Supply
Above Photo: Jalimudi Air-Water Station

Really, the concept is nothing entirely new because people have known how to take water from the air for centuries. Rainwater harvesting is used in areas with limited surface water or ground water sources. More recently, people have started to use fog nets to collect condensed water from the air. Some fog nets are able to collect up to 200 liters of water each day.

So, is it worth it to buy a machine for 6,000 US dollars that uses an unknown amount of electricity to create water from the air?

We will have to wait and ask Jalimudi village a year from now. But, one thing is for sure, the fact that Air-Water Corp is pursuing a 2 million dollar lawsuit against a sub-contractor that built these units for “repeated deliveries of faulty and sub-standard machines to Air Water’s customers” is a bit scary.

YouthNoise DROP Campaign

drinking water, international, outreach, sustainability, water availability

Lately, I’ve been so busy with grad school that I’ve neglected my blog. Luckily, there are people like those over at the Youth Noise Drop Campaign still working tirelessly to improve global water and sanitation conditions.  Previously, I let you know that they were hosting a summit in NYC for young activists to learn more about global water issues. Well, they hosted the summit and have posted the video on their website.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Plus, the Drop Campaign website is super cool. They offer monthly tips on water conservation and water actions, have links to a whole community of other individuals interested in global water, and encourage people to be more aware of global water issues.

Happy New Year from Terre des hommes Foundation

drinking water, general, international, outreach, sustainability

A beautiful happy new year image from Terres des hommes Foundation (Tdh).  Tdh works to “defend the rights of children, in times of war or natural catastrophe, or in less publicized situations of distress.”  This includes working on issues of water and sanitation for children, especially in emergency situations. They are currently collecting donations for the children in the Gaza Strip.

tdh_happy-new-year_20091