Category archives: World

#WEDC41 Part 4: The wider system and the role of religion

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology. This is the fourth in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits. You can see the earlier posts about (the lack of) government support for container-based sanitation businesses here, about WASH failures here and about behaviour change toolkits here.

Nothing exists in a bubble. Sanitation is no exception. Sanitation is a social issue and any sanitation process will be affected by the communities, businesses, governments, NGOs and a host of other stakeholders that interact with them. Understanding that sanitation is part of a wider system and how that system works is a vital part of successful projects.

WASH Catalysts Malawi and Engineers Without Borders Canada held a workshop on systems mapping. The aim of systems mapping is to understand the stakeholders present and how they relate to each other. Armed with that information, it is easier to identify potential blockages to sustainable projects. The example that was given was an NGO looking at a withdrawal strategy from Malawi. They had set up a borehole management system that was working well but were concerned that when they left the system would break down. A systems mapping exercise was carried out and it was seen that the NGO acted as a go-between in several critical relationships. By identifying this early, it was possible to look at how the system needed to change so that it would continue to operate after the NGO withdrew.

Later in the conference, I attended a presentation by Nathan Mallonee of Living Water about the role that religious organisations play in sanitation provision. In Africa, 90 % of people identify as either Christian or Muslim and religious organisations play a major role in their lives. That means that religious organisations can be powerful stakeholders in community systems. Yet only in a small number of cases are religious organisations involved in the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. Water plays an integral role in virtually every major world region (think about Muslims washing before prayers or Christian baptisms) but WASH programmes rarely consider in detail the implication of religious ideas and religious practices on programme delivery and outcomes. This is an oversight that people are starting to realise needs addressing. To halt the spread of Ebola earlier this year, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, the Health Minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), identified churches as one of the “best allies to carry public health messages that require communities to change age-old habits and challenge their traditions”. Wilf Mwamba, a Senior Governance Advisor at the Department for International Development (DFID) is passionate about working better with faith organisations and other powerful non-state stakeholders.

In the WASH sector, we are getting better at engaging with communities and recognising the value that community engagement brings to programmes. However, we need to get better at looking at the wider system and all of the stakeholders in it, and understanding the nuances of how they interact. For most communities in Africa, one of the important stakeholders is probably a church or a mosque and too often we overlook the value that such organisations could add to WASH programmes. Many faith based charities understand that, but perhaps it is time for all of us to look a little deeper at religion and the opportunity that it may offer for better water and sanitation in Africa.

#WEDC41 Part 1: The challenges of the world’s number 2 business

In July, I spent two weeks in Kenya at the 41st WEDC conference in Nakuru and visiting sanitation companies, Sanergy and Sanivation, and the newly-established sanitation research group at Meru University of Science and Technology.  This is the first in a five-part series of blogs about that conference and those visits.

Sanivation and Sanergy are two companies making changes to the state of sanitation in Kenya.  The two companies provide container-based sanitation services to residents in Nairobi and in Naivasha and are using the collected poop to make a product that they can sell.

Sanergy uses a combination of black soldier fly larvae processing and composting to create animal feed and fertiliser.  Sanivation dries faecal material to produce briquettes that replace the charcoal used for cooking across Kenya.  Despite treating faecal waste to produce different products, the two companies face some similar challenges.

Both companies pointed out that it has taken longer than they expected to develop the businesses to where they are today.  Currently, both companies are reliant on donor funding to allow them to cover costs and have not yet reached profitability.  It is a challenge that is common for sanitation businesses, particularly those aimed at sanitation provision for the poorest people in society.  This was highlighted in SOIL’s latest report about their container-based sanitation work in Haiti.

Part of the challenge is that sanitation companies in LMICs are held to higher account than those in HICs, by donors and governments.  In Kenya, sanitation companies are often expected to provide sanitation services from scratch with no involvement from the government.  But compare that to the UK, where most wastewater treatment companies inherited sewage treatment works and sewer networks that had been built through government funding.  Even new infrastructure projects benefit from huge amounts of government support – look at the Thames Tideway Tunnel for example, billed as London’s new super sewer, which has been provided with a government support package which transfers liability to the taxpayer if certain risks materialise.

If companies are to provide sanitation services with no support from government and turn a profit, then they have to focus on the most profitable sections of that service.  For example, both Sanivation and Sanergy treat faecal material but the urine from their urine diversion toilets is sent to the public sewer (in the case of Sanergy) or stored, diluted and allowed to infiltrate into the ground (in the case of Sanivation).  Why?  Urine simply does not have the concentration of nutrients to make urine processing a financially viable process.  This is something that donors are not always keen on.  They want to see a full service for the world’s poorest.

Providing sanitation solutions to the poorest people in society requires alternative sources of income, and sustainable sanitation through processing faecal material into valuable and saleable resources can offer part of the solution.  However, wherever in the world sanitation businesses are based, if they are to succeed, we need to recognise the huge value that comes from the support of institutions such as governments.  We need to understand that whilst private companies play an important role in providing sanitation for all, we cannot expect them to do it alone.

Start 2018 right: pledge to actively support diversity!

Following the #WDP36 list of women in drowning prevention, I posted on how to be an ally to under-represented groups.  Soon after that, I was approached by SOBRASA, a Brazilian drowning prevention organisation,.  They wanted to encourage individuals and organisations to take the five steps towards diversity that were listed in that blog.  Together we came up with the graphic below and already, drowning prevention organisations across the world have pledged to actively support diversity.

If you want to help your organisation grow by becoming more diverse and inclusive, pledge here.

Actively support diversity

In my personal work and that of my organisation, I will actively support diversity by:

1. Recognising I am not the right person for every opportunity and sharing those opportunities with others.
2. Finding ways to involve women and people of colour who can also benefit from opportunities I am offered.
3. In collaborative work, giving full credit to the people who did the work.
4. Using my position of power to push for diversity and actively including under-represented groups in my work.
5. Challenging other people when I see or hear discriminatory action.

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In my personal work and that of my organisation, I will actively support diversity by: 1. Recognising I am not the right person for every opportunity and sharing those opportunities with others. 2. Finding ways to involve women and people of colour who can also benefit from opportunities I am offered. 3. In collaborative work, giving full credit to the people who did the work. 4. Using my position of power to push for diversity and actively including under-represented groups in my work. 5. Challenging other people when I see or hear discriminatory action.

 

How to be an ally

Following on from the publication of the #WDP36 list two weeks ago, some men have asked what they can do to support women around them and increase the representation of women in leadership positions.

Old rich white men dominate drowning prevention. Young black people dominate the drowning fatalities. If the drowning prevention community wants to achieve a significant global reduction in drowning, then the community needs to be more inclusive and more diverse. It needs to listen to voices from different countries, diverse backgrounds, different genders, and different experiences.

The fact that people are asking how they can support that is testament to their commitment to improve diversity. The question is what that commitment should look like. Let’s start by defining the problem:

Think about the positions that you hold on committees, in working groups and in leadership positions. In many cases, you have that position of power or responsibility because you were in the right place at the right time. Maybe someone who knows you and thought you would do a good job put you forward for the role. After all, it’s not what you know but who you know? That’s the problem – not everyone knows the right people so then what happens? They never get a chance at that position you hold. It’s important to understand that your status as a man and particularly as a white man gives you access to certain opportunities that women and people of colour may not get. That is not to say that you are not a suitable candidate for those roles, but you are not the only suitable candidate. Other suitable candidates never get the opportunity to take on those roles because they are not in the right place at the right time because they don’t know the right people.

Diversity needs active supporters, allies if you will and a large part of that role is recognising how opportunities can be shared to a more diverse group of people.

Here are five steps to becoming an ally, whether to women, people of colour or other groups underrepresented in leadership.
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Reflections on FSM4

I spent last week at the 4th International Faecal Sludge Management Conference in Chennai, India. It was a packed week of presentations, workshops, meetings and networking with over 1000 people with an interest in addressing the challenges of global sanitation. I have slowly been processing the things that I heard, saw and learnt and I have summarised some of my most important points below. Read more

Going travelling? Take a scarf!

A towel, [the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’] says, is about the most massively useful thing that an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” I travel a lot, though admittedly so far only on Earth and I have my own version of the towel. Wherever I go, whether it is a long-haul flight to somewhere exotic or a local weekend away with friends, I pack a large lightweight scarf in my hand luggage. On recent trips, I have come to realise how massively useful it is. Here are a few of the things you can do with a scarf:
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Trump vs Women Round 1: The “A” bomb

One of President Trump’s first acts in the White House was to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, or “the global gag rule”.  The policy is reinstated and revoked every time the White House changes from Democrat to Republican and back.  That’s because the subject of the policy, abortion, is a highly politicised topic in America.

The policy means that NGOs that receive US foreign aid funding are not allowed to provide or promote abortions.  It was first instated by Reagan in 1984 and it essentially exports the US debate on abortion.  Sadly, that has dramatic negative effects on the health of women the world over.  NGOs that provide family planning services now have a choice to make.  Either they need to drop abortions from the suite of family planning options that they discuss, or they lose all US foreign aid funding.  It’s important to note two things:
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Development research: Access all areas?

Alexandra Elbakyan is in hiding, possibly in Russia. Elsevier, the publishing giant, have filed a legal case against her for sharing millions of academic journal papers on the internet. Her actions are a protest against the paywalls that so many scholarly articles are hidden behind.

If you work in a research environment, these paywalls are all too common in your daily work. When looking for journal articles about international development sanitation earlier this week, I was dismayed to discover that the vast majority were locked away behind pay walls. Having working in research for a number of years, I am familiar with the frustration of finding what looks from the abstract like it might be exactly the paper you have been searching for, only to discover that to access the full text you will need to fork out an extortionate sum because it is published in a journal that your institution does not have a subscription for.
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Greed 1, Flint 0

Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals is Clean Water and Sanitation.  One of its targets is universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.  With the number of celebrities and companies donating bottled water to Flint, Michigan over the last month and a half, I would suggest that America is currently failing.

Flint is a city of 102,000 people, and is less than 70 miles from the banks of Lake Huron, the third largest fresh water lake on earth.  Despite this, human greed and arrogance have conspired so that every resident of Flint has been affected by lead poisoning from their water supply over the last two years.
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#TraditionallySubmissive: An open letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

I was appalled to hear your comments about the “traditional submissiveness of Muslim women” that have been so widely shared and ridiculed on social media.  I have lived and worked in a number of countries, including those that are predominantly Muslim and, in my experience, your comments could not be further from the truth.  The Muslim women that I have met are invariably strong women who realise that, in many ways, the world appears to be stacked against them and yet I have found that this never prevents them from doing the best they can for their families, their communities and society at large.  Whilst I understand that anecdotes are not the same thing as data, let me share with you some of these women. Read more