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.

Open letter in support of all-gender restroom demand by UC Student-Worker Union

collaboration, community, gender, sanitation, toilets

[Forgive my dearth of  Water for the Ages posts. I have been studying water and sanitation issues in a sociology program at University of California Santa Cruz. I am a teaching assistant and taking courses there. Our current student worker contract expired November 2013. One of our demands – besides calling for a living-wage, etc. – is all-gender restrooms. Below is my public letter in support of that demand. If you also support this demand, please visit this online petition.]

This letter is in support of the all-gender restroom demand by the UC Student-Worker Union. At least one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom should be installed in each UC campus building. This is a human right. This is a worker’s right.

I am second-year graduate student enrolled in the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. I am also a Teaching Assistant for a sociology course here. I started focusing on global water and sanitation issues around five years ago in both work and research, and safe access to toilets and hygiene is a demand people around the world take seriously. Given the recent recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN and also by the state of California, to say nothing of the obvious benefit to various users, this is a demand the University of California should take also seriously.

Did you know that California was the first state in the nation to designate water (for “sanitary purposes“) a human right? Governor Brown signed the historic bill in September 2012. He made this move after the ground-breaking UN resolution for an international human right to water and sanitation in July 2010. In fact, this year the UN is officially dedicating November 19th as World Toilet Day? They said “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Sanitation is a question of basic dignity for people in the Global South and in the Global North. And we (UC students, faculty, staff, and visitors) are not exempt. The average adult urinates up to eight times a day and defecates up to three times a day. Still not all people in the UC system have equal access to restrooms. Families with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals often walk by restrooms thinking “is it safe to enter?”

LGBTQ individuals are especially burdened with possible harassment and bullying in gender-segregated restrooms. A 2001 San Francisco Human Rights Commission survey found “41% of transgender respondents reported direct harassment or physical violence in gender-limited public bathrooms.” The Transgender Law Center states “many transgender and non-transgender people have no safe places to go to the bathroom – get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women’s and men’s rooms.”

Workers on campus are doubly impacted. With limited time constraints, they might not be able to leave their building to find an all-gender restroom before their section starts or during class breaks.

The UC system should follow the lead of other places providing these essential sanitation rights across North America. Portland, Oregon adopted public restroom design principles calling for all-gender and single-user facilities in public spaces when designing the Portland Loo. All-gender and single-user restrooms designed by an American Restroom Association president won awards in La Jolla, California. The University of Alberta recently converted all single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. Penn State University converted 80 single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. The majority of restrooms at New College of Florida (Sarasota Campus) are all-gender facilities. These are just a few of the many success stories.

In summary, the UC system is especially well-poised to ensure these critical sanitation rights are met for all workers (and all people) on campuses statewide per Governor Brown’s recent legislation requiring water for “sanitary purposes” for all people and the international recognition of sanitation as a human right. Workers with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals deserve a working environment that meets their sanitation needs. A minimum of one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom in each UC campus building is a both a human right and a worker’s right. I ask that you honor these rights during UAW 2865 bargaining agreements.

Talking Poo with You: World Toilet Summit 2012

general, sanitation, south africa

It seems a little progress is being made in getting the world to talk poo. Some people know that 2.5 billion humans lack safe access to toilets and over 4,000 kids die each day from diarrhea illnesses linked with poor sanitation. Fewer people understand toilet issues affect everybody either in natural disasters or through types of sanitation systems (h20 or non-h20) used. But there is more work to be done to ensure all people have a humane place to go and to design sanitation systems that protect the natural environment. The annual summit started by the World Toilet Organization is where such conversations are started. As a volunteer for a grassroots group working on toilets in North America, I’ve been nominated to present PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human) efforts there.

So PHLUSH – and by default Water for the Ages – is heading to the World Toilet Summit next week in Durban, South Africa. Local event sponsors are the South African Toilet Organization and the Foundation for Professional Development. Leading toilet experts from around the globe will be in attendance. The list is invigorating. Bindeshwar Pathak an Indian sociologist and founder of Sulabh International, Dr. Kamal Kar a specialist in social and participatory development in sanitation, Barbara Penner whose current project is studying the history of h20-based sanitation expansion amidst high economic and environmental costs, Hannah Neumeyer a senior legal manager of WASH United, Piers Cross with a background in social anthropology and public health who helped organize AfricaSan, and more. The agenda is packed!

To share their [the above toilet aficionados] knowledge with the world, I’ll liveblog and livetweet the event. Check out PHLUSH liveblog starting December 3 for updates. Follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages for livetweets using conference hashtag of #WTS2012. All talks to be covered are listed below this post. And it would be great to hear issues you want me to cover at the World Toilet Summit. Please make your voice heard using the poll below. This amazing opportunity is made available by a sponsorship from the World Toilet Summit and donations from many supporters. In the honor of service at the World Toilet Summit next week, it’s time to talk poo and share it with you.

December 4, 2012
Keynote Address by Dr. Bindshwar Patak from 10:45 to 11:00 (10:45 to 11:00 PST)
African Toilet Design from 11:00 to 11:15 (1:00 to 1:15 PST)
Sanitation for All by Piers Cross from 11:45 to 12:00 (1:45 to 2:00 PST)
Achievements and Challenges of CLTS in Africa by Dr. Kamal Kar from 12:45 to 13:00 (2:45 to 3:00 PST)
Sanitation and Human Rights by Hannah Neumeyer from 14:30 to 16:00 (4:30 to 6:00 PST)

December 5, 2012
Sustainable Health and Hygiene Practices by Therese Dooley from 10:00 to 10:40 (00:00 to 00:40 PST)
Gender in Sanitation by Maxie Matthiessen from 11:30 to 11:50 (1:30 to 1:50 PST)
Mobile Communal Sanitation by Christopher Muanda from 15:30 to 16:30 (5:30 to 6:30 PST)

December 6, 2012
Green Buildings Recovery of Water and Nutrients by Jan-Olaf Drangert from 10:45 to 11:00 (00:45 to 1:00 PST)

Celebrating World Toilet Day 2012 Locally and Globally

animation, sanitation

Water and toilets are inextricably linked, but toilets sometimes take a backseat to water problems occurring worldwide. But if you don’t have water, you can’t have some styles of toilets or proper hygiene and around 200 million tons of human defecation pollutes waterways each year causing illnesses. Even though over 800 million people do not have safe drinking water and around 2.6 billion people do not have safe sanitation, water projects often receive more funding and media coverage. It’s essential to think about toilets locally and globally. World Toilet Day created by the World Toilet Organization is an opportunity to talk about the hidden problem of sanitation. To celebrate World Toilet Day 2012, Water for the Ages is raising awareness in US cities about emergency sanitation with PHLUSH and sharing information about toilet initiatives happening globally. Sanitation saves lives!

Sharing Emergency Sanitation in the US
PHLUSH believes toilets are a human right. The organization [where I volunteer] works on sanitation issues in North America: 1) public restroom design, 2) emergency sanitation, and 3) ecological sanitation. PHLUSH has had success in adaptation of an emergency toilet model used in Christchurch, New Zealand. This Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet helps families deal with lack of sanitation, and it’s ecologically friendly. Partner organization MDML created the Sewer Catastrophe Companion which provides detailed instructions in the event of long-term sewer disruption. These two organizations seem to be leading the nation in long-term emergency sanitation solutions. For World Toilet Day 2012, PHLUSH is sharing this emergency toilet model with several cities across the country. Please see open letters to Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz below. For more information, please contact info@phlush.org and follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages.

Emergency Sanitation Letter Seattle
Emergency Sanitation Letter San Francisco
Emergency Sanitation Letter Santa Cruz


Above Photo: Twin Bucket Toilet by Carol McCreary

Supporting Sanitation Efforts Worldwide
Lack of toilets globally is a huge issue, and related illnesses are the second biggest killer of children under five. Regions with worst access are West and Central Africa (36 percent coverage), South Asia (37 percent coverage) and Eastern and Southern Africa (38 percent coverage). Improving toilet coverage will allow girls to attend school, help save lives of small children, create a safer environment for women, and is the first step towards empowering communities. Many organizations are working to raise awareness on World Toilet Day 2012. The World Toilet Day website encourages people to get involved by tweeting and signing a petition. Water Aid created an awesome video to let people know 1 in 3 women do not have safe places to go. A great article called Thinking Outside the Stall was written featuring WASH Advocates. Water.org has an interactive website where you can “share your voice for World Toilet Day” by allowing them to link to your twitter and Facebook accounts. And Water for People has nifty e-cards that you can send to your friends. Please take a few moments today to learn a little something about those many humans without toilets. It could help save lives!

Water and Toilets for Humans w/o Homes

architecture, community, drinking water, homeless, sanitation

On a recent trip to my hometown, I traveled two hours north to visit a close family member living on the streets. He is chronically homeless, and it deeply saddens me he is unable to accept housing assistance. Someone chronically homeless is an “individual with a disabling condition who has either been continually homeless for a year or more or who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past 3 years.” There were around 650 thousand people homeless one night and 1.59 million people spent one night in a shelter in 2010, and about 17 percent were chronically homeless. Reasons such as high unemployment and/or substance abuse problems contribute to homelessness, but people without homes still have basic human needs. Basic needs that include water for drinking and washing and toilets to pee and poop.

Before the trip, I gathered basic living provisions for Nate (pseud.): backpack , raincoat, shoes, water bottle, and soap. But I worried “where would he fill his water bottle?” and I wondered “where would he use his soap?” While buying him lunch, I gingerly asked if he ever uses shelters. He doesn’t. He echoed what numerous other people feel, “shelters are dirty, dangerous, and packed.” This older ethnographic report by Hill and Stamey found the same sentiment. Nate essentially has nowhere to get water, take a bath, or use the bathroom. I was distraught to probe further, and I didn’t want to insult his dignity. But I now wonder more than ever before. What are US communities doing to provide water and toilets for humans without homes?


Above Photo: Leroy Allen Skalstad on Wikimedia Commons

There are few water and toilet options for individuals experiencing homelessness. For water, folks may use a public drinking fountain [not always nearby], sinks in a public bathroom [not always nearby], drinking fountains at a shelter [often not open during daytime], sinks in a private bathroom [could be kicked out], or ponds and streams [possibly contaminated]. For toilets, folks may use a public toilet [not always nearby], a toilet in a shelter [often not open during daytime], a private toilet [could be kicked out], or go outside [could be arrested]. It’s a challenging situation for those on the streets. I didn’t tell him I noticed when we took him to lunch, but the first thing Nate did was use the restaurant bathroom.

US cities need to do a better job ensuring ample public drinking water, hand-washing, and toilet facilities for those experiencing homelessness. There are organizations and cities addressing the issue, but more research needs to be done to inventory, categorize, and prioritize options nationwide.

Here are a few brief examples. The I am Waters Foundation provides bottled water to shelters, missions, and community homeless organizations. Central Oregon Veterans Outreach gives 5-6 gallon containers to homeless camps and returns to fill them with water weekly. Some shelters such as this one in Arizona host bottled water drives during summer months. Portland built six innovative Portland Loos. Another organization in San Francisco is proposing similar small bathrooms except with toilets that separate solid from liquid wastes. Several cities like Grand Rapids and San Diego installed portable toilets in the past.

The handful of water and toilet projects listed above are steps in the right direction, but sadly few of these options are available in Nate’s town. In addition, some are short-term solutions to long-term problems. It gives me hope that one academic architecture program is realizing the importance of design for those without homes hosting a Rethinking Shelter event, but it’s up to all of us to better understand water and toilet options available for those without homes and to advocate for appropriate solutions. In conjunction with PHLUSH, we’ll compile more information on this issue in future posts.

#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.

We all poop. We all live downstream.

sanitation, sustainability, technology, urban areas, water availability

It’s World Toilet Day, and it’s no joke. Around 2.6 billion people worldwide lack toilets and every 15 seconds a child dies from sanitation-related illnesses. But we can smile that World Toilet Day was designated by the World Toilet Organization to organize groups for positive sanitation change.

Our local World Toilet Day event in Portland, Oregon was the First Flush of a third Portland Loo built by the City of Portland. As quoted on Commissioner Leonard’s Blog, the Loo “is a modern, public urban toilet that pushes Portland into the future by making public restrooms available, safe, hygienic and sustainable.” Its sleek design makes it hip, solar-powered lights make it eco-friendly, and 24-hour status make it useful to those that need a location to use the bathroom.


Above Photo: Anna DiBenedetto

This event was supported by an exceptional organization called PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human). Carol McCreary, co-founder of PHLUSH, spoke at the grand opening. PHLUSH – a group that I now volunteer with – is formed of inspiring and knowledgeable people who support sanitation for marginalized populations, research ecological-sanitation methods, and promote innovation for sanitation. We all poop. We all live downstream. Happy World Toilet Day!

Don’t Let it Drop – PSA-a-thon Series

drinking water, film, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sanitation, united nations

Are you ready for your daily dose of H20 packaged into a handy-dandy Public Service Announcement? Well, I hope so. Today’s PSA is from WaterAid. It was created to encourage world leaders to make toilets a priority at the upcoming UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in September 2010. Musicians playing at Glastonbury Festival were featured in the PSA.

Ten years ago, United Nations member states agreed to achieve eight MDGs by 2015 to end global poverty. MDG No. 7 includes a target to reduce – BY HALF – the number of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation. See the recent MDG Report 2010 for more information on the status of all targets.

More PSA-maddness can be found covering rainwater harvesting in India, the LA Tap Project, a water-conservation campaign in Denver, the Tap Project 2009, Charity Water, and The World Cup, Water, and Sanitation.

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.”

Drink Tap Water to Give Kids Clean Water

donation, drinking water, outreach, sanitation, unicef

As the rainy season wanes in the Pacific Northwest, our water-focused student club at Oregon State University has decided to promote the UNICEF Tap Project. The Tap Project, which began in 2007, is held during World Water Week from March 21st to March 27th. The aim is bring awareness to and collect donations for water and sanitation challenges faced by children around the world. Nearly 4,100 children die each day from water-related illnesses. Through the Tap Project, restaurants collect one dollar for each glass of tap water usually served for free and provide these donations to UNICEF.


Above Photo: Tap Project volunteer looking for participating restaurants.

We spent a couple of days walking around encouraging restaurants and coffeehouses to get involved. Four restaurants and two coffeehouses have agreed to participate. This is the first year of the Tap Project in our area. Restaurants are a great venue to reach a diverse group of people. The campaign might present the opportunity for someone in the United States to think about a young child in Zambia (or Bangladesh, India, Sudan… ) and their lack of water and/or sanitation. And, with the UNICEF Tap Project, we are giving people the chance to help alleviate the suffering of children worldwide.

If you want to engage your city in the Tap Project, visit the UNICEF Tap Project website at www.tapproject.org.

World Toilet Day 2009

outreach, sanitation

Today is World Toilet Day. And – if you giggle at this funny-sounding name – you might not realize the vital importance of proper sanitation.

Over 2.5 billion (about 40 percent of the world population) urinate and defecate outside. Open defecation, or OD as it is commonly known, spreads diseases and results in the poor health or DEATH of many people. Around 2 million children die each year from sanitation-related illnesses (more than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined).

But it’s difficult for numbers to tell the true story. During visits to villages in South India with Arghyam, some people told me their stories of OD. A story of how OD speeds the spread of diseases. A story of skin rashes, boils, and infections resulting after using the main OD area in a village (sometimes without shoes). A story of what it feels like walking down a trail covered in human feces during the rainy season to use the main OD area in a village.

Here is a small snippet of an interview of my friend interpreting a woman’s description of an OD area (in an undisclosed village). The interview is graphic. Please listen at your own risk.

Now, if after reading this blog post, you want to make a difference. Here are some ways:

Talk about it. One problem is that people do not want to discuss what they think is a dirty subject. The WTD website has some great ideas for spreading the word.

Donate. Water Aid, a well-known water and sanitation NGO, has an option where you can buy a family a toilet online.

Attend an event. Water Advocates is having a special event in Washington DC today, and there are other such events around the world. Check them out!

Gandhian Thoughts on Gender, Water, and Sanitation

asia, ngo, participatory management, rural, sanitation, sustainability, water justice, water management

An eight-hour overnight train journey leaves me waking up just before arrival to Dindigul Junction as the engine rumbles to a stop. For my final field visit in South India, I have come to Gandhigram Trust to see how their recent water and sanitation interventions, funded by Arghyam, have affected women and men in rural villages as part of my studies on gender, water, and sanitation.

Gandhigram began with the encouragement of Mahatma Gandhi. He supported his two friends, Dr. Soundram and Dr. Ramachandran, in starting an organization for local development in rural areas. Since 1947, Gandhigram has engaged in a number of activities to empower those in rural communities through promotion of local industries to strengthen economies, building low-cost health centers, providing housing for abandoned children and the elderly, creating schools for youth to study, and – lately – assisting villages in developing water and sanitation systems.

Kasturba, Gandhi, Soundram, and Ramachandran
Above Photo: Dr. Ramachandran, Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi, and Dr. Soundram.

My interest in Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) excites me for this visit. I am curious to see how such principles are incorporated into Gandhigram’s water and sanitation activities. What’s more, gender equality and Gandhian philosophy have much in common as they both advocate equality for all people regardless of socio-economic backgrounds and bottom-up, participatory social structures.

Upon arrival, I visit with the Secretary of Gandhigram, M.R. Rajagopalan. He claims not to be a scholar, but his shelves are filled with the writings of Gandhiji and other books on Gandhian thought. He authored a paper entitled “Gandhi – A Divine Environmentalist.” In this paper, he argues if all people are able to embrace Gandhian principles, the world (people, plants, animals, and inanimate objects) will be a kinder, more holistic, and more sustainable place. He says:

“Gandhiji would have wanted us to follow the path of the robust left – of the – centre social democratism where empowerment of women and the weaker/poorer sections of our society was guaranteed. Secondly, he would have liked us to link environmentalism with some basic social, economic, and ethical tenants.”

With this in mind, how does Gandhian thought translate to Gandhigram’s mission to assist villages in access, planning, and managing water and sanitation systems? Further, how does Gandhian thought overlap with reaching gender equality for water and sanitation systems?

By raising awareness about the importance of the use of toilets in reducing the spread of diseases, renovating community standposts and other water structures, and providing micro-credit for the construction of toilets, Gandhigram is creating better access to water and sanitation resources for some women and men in villages. If all people are able to garner equal access (a gender equality and Gandhian goal), less people will fall ill or have to relocate to urban areas (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). Access to water and sanitation resources for many women in these villages is improved by the creation and renovation of community standposts, which reduces their time fetching water, and the construction of toilets, which provides a place for them to manage their menstrual cycle (a gender equality goal).

Renovated Standpost
Above Photo: A renovated standpost in village.

Gandhigram assists with the formation of community groups in villages. One group, called the Village Water and Sanitation Committee, consists of village elders, government leaders, religious leaders, and others of influence. Another group, called the Water Users Group, consists of women in the villages. Both of these groups are intended to facilitate a bottom-up, participatory approach to water and sanitation planning and management (a gender equality and Gandhian goal). But these participatory management structures for planning and management are still evolving, and there are subtle caste, economic, political, and gender disparities which result in unequal participation in planning and managing water and sanitation resources in these villages.

Even in the presence of these existing hierarchical social structures which detract from true equitable and participatory systems, Gandhian principles provide valuable guidance for fair and just access, planning, and management of water and sanitation systems. Other scholars, like Amartya Sen, argue that Gandhian thought is not the answer for global environmental problems. Yet, seemingly, few would contend that fair and equal access, planning, and management of water and sanitation resources is a negative aspiration. It is my belief that equity and empowerment must also come from within each individual. It is up to every one of us in our daily lives – whether in a village or in a city – to incorporate gender equality and Gandhian principles (non-violence, simplicity, empowerment, equality, localism, and others) into our routines in order to create and maintain equitable systems for water and sanitation resources.

“Success attends where truth reigns”- Gandhi’s last phrase for Gandhigram.

Author’s Postcript:
I am living in India for an internship with a water-focused NGO called Arghyam. Along the way, I will document my journey. Please see the Water in India page above for more information.