The Declaration on Open Government and Water and Sanitation is an international call to bring together water and open government reformers and mobilize ambitious action that strengthens implementation of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) service delivery. It outlines targeted recommendations that leverage transparency, participation, accountability, and anti-corruption measures in the Open Government Partnership and other WASH forums to increase collaboration and realize the human right to water and sanitation.
Adopting open government reforms can help governments strengthen their institutional capacity, facilitate coordination and trust among stakeholders, and resolve information asymmetries. These reforms can also ensure that civil society organizations and direct citizen engagement have a role in shaping government commitments to transparent, responsive, and accountable WASH services, free from corruption.
At this pivotal moment in time, we have the opportunity to galvanize political will and leverage open government strategies to transform our shared values for clean water and sanitation for all into a reality.
A broad coalition of civil society and international organizations worked to co-create the Declaration.
You are invited to endorse the Declaration to send a clear message on the importance of addressing WASH through an Open Government lens, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Declaration is open for endorsement from open government and water advocates through September 2021.
Or contact Elizabeth.Moses(at)wri.org or WaterOpenGovernment(at)siwi.org with questions about the Declaration.
The Water and Open Government Community of Practice (CoP), is supported by Fundación Avina, Stockholm International Water Institute, Water Integrity Network and the World Resources Institute, and aims to strengthen water and sanitation (WASH) services for all and ensure the needs of vulnerable, marginalized communities are considered.
Earlier this year, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) released a report on the state of large water storage dams. The report provides an overview of … Read more
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launches a new Water Report “Guidance on realizing real water savings with crop water productivity interventions”, that includes clear and … Read more
The International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR) launch the inaugural IAHR Online Forum, a new series of virtual events aimed at bringing together the community of hydro-environment professionals … Read more
Universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, a human right enshrined in the 2030 Global Goals, can only be reached if countries monitor and address affordability, according to … Read more
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), Global Water Partnership (GWP), UNICEF Water and WaterAid co-convened a Climate Webinars Series to strengthen knowledge of and capacity to integrate water, sanitation and … Read more
On 22 April, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) host the webinar “Joining efforts to turn satellite water data into actionable information for farmers”. Achieving food security in the future … Read more
During the month of April, Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is organizing 3 webinars to strengthen partners’ knowledge of and capacity to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene and climate … Read more
Humanity is emitting too much CO2 and using ever-increasing amounts of energy and water. The human population is set to swell for the foreseeable, requiring both more food and the water to grow it. At the same time, climate change is threatening progress across the board.
These trends have spurred a new way of thinking about the health of humans and our world: planetary health. First articulated in a Lancet commentary in 2014, the concept was expanded upon in a 2015 Lancet Commission, which defined planetary health as “the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. This emphasises the interconnectedness of societies and ecosystems. Climate change understandably dominates planetary health discourse, but its other major themes include soil/food, water resources, and biodiversity.
How does planetary health relate to WASH?
WASH services, particularly sanitation, contribute to pollution of water and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, predominantly methane. On the other side of the coin, WASH services are likely to be harmed by climate change and other environmental degradation. I tried and failed to find an existing conceptual framework combining this “cause and consequence” perspective, so made my own (Figure 1).* Click here for a higher resolution version.
All of the consequences are likely to have knock-on impacts on human health, quality of life and livelihoods, which is part of the point of planetary health. Another angle is that better WASH services, including having multiple options available, can make people more resilient to shocks. However, in this post I focus on the consequences for WASH services to keep things manageable – this paper provides a useful review including some of the climate-related health consequences. I have seen little work explicitly applying the planetary health concept to WASH, though reams of it touches on the issues without using the term. Notable exceptions are this report on sanitation and planetary health, and this feature on planetary health approaches for dry cities.
Taking the climate aspect of planetary health first, sanitation is an important contributor to GHG emissions via methane (and nitrous oxide) from wastewater treatment and pit latrines. Methane emissions contribute to about a third of today’s anthropogenic warming, because it is about 30 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2. Wastewater contributes about a tenth of all anthropogenic methane emissions globally. This is likely to grow (emissions more than doubled over 15 years in China), but the relative contribution of methane emissions from pit latrines and septic tanks remains unclear.
In considering the impact of WASH services on climate, recall that infrastructure development of any kind currently uses fossil fuels and concrete. Operating water supply and sanitation assets also uses energy. Turning to other aspects of planetary health, human urine and faeces also contain phosphates and nitrates which contribute to eutrophication if discharged untreated, potentially harming biodiversity.
Most planetary health consequences for WASH services are felt through water resources. The relationship between climate and water resources is reviewed in the World Water Development Report 2020, and this paper provides a useful WASH-specific review. Impacts are likely to vary by geography, but will be felt via changes in: (i) levels and intensity of precipitation (with snow melt also being crucial in some regions, e.g. South Asia); (ii) extent of aquifer recharge and surface run-off; and (iii) sea levels. These factors will interact on a local basis and may not reflect the standard newspaper image of dried-out mud. For example, groundwater is less vulnerable to changes in rainfall than surface water, and availability may be resilient in some areas, depending on precipitation-recharge relationships.
There are three major WASH-relevant areas of impact from these changes, taken in turn below.
Availability and quality of groundwater and surface water
First is the availability and quality of groundwater and surface water, and thence the amount of usable source water for water supply. Considering piped water systems, the further that source water is from being of drinkable quality, the more extensive the treatment processes needed. The less the surplus of water production potential over demand, the higher the risk of “day zero” (see Cape Town and Chennai). Users relying on point sources (e.g. wells, springs) may see changes in water quality or quantity making their lives much more difficult. The lower the water availability, the less likely handwashing becomes. The sanitation consequences of such fluctuations are discussed below.
Considering other areas of planetary health, the ways in which agricultural practices impact on water and soil can in turn affect the availability and quality of groundwater and surface water (e.g. contamination with fertilisers, impact of soil degradation on run-off and suspended solids). Less obvious is that greater biodiversity (e.g. in algae) can be beneficial for water quality. Also, despite most planetary health consequences for WASH being felt through water resources, climate can have a direct impact, for example through higher air and water temperatures affecting treatment processes.
Floods, droughts and storms
The second area of impact is through increases in extreme events like storms, floods, and droughts. The high flows and carried debris resulting from storms and associated abnormal rainfall can damage infrastructure, particularly for sanitation and drainage but also water supply. Storms can also interrupt power supply and in turn the operation of infrastructure. The onset of flooding can be rapid or slow, but either kind can contaminate water supplies and/or increase loading of suspended solids to levels exceeding the capacity of water treatment plants. Floods and pit latrines are not a good mix – contents can be inundated from above, or rising water tables can flood them from below. Droughts have obvious consequences for water supply, discussed above, but can also negatively affect sanitation, for example if there are insufficient water flows for sewerage operation. More detail on sanitation is provided in a WHO discussion paper.
Sea level rise
The third area of impact via water resources is sea level rise. This can affect source water availability and quality by saline intrusion. Longer-term sea level rises threaten to overwhelm existing water and sanitation infrastructure in coastal regions. Consider that the majority of Lagos, Nigeria, is only a few metres above sea level and the mega-city already suffers from flooding.
We live in the anthropocene, the epoch in which humans are putting huge pressure on the planet, threatening our own health and survival. WASH services are part of the problem, to the extent that wastewater treatment and pit latrines contribute to GHG emissions. However, better WASH services are part of the solution in that they make people more resilient to shocks. Climate change is important but it is not everything. Other aspects of planetary health such as biodiversity have important interactions with WASH services both as a cause and consequence. Furthermore, in many of the poorest countries, there is likely to be more strain on water resources and WASH services from population growth, urbanisation and economic development than from climate change. Regardless of climate change, people’s lives will be improved if we make WASH services more resilient, whether to existing variability in water availability and quality, or to existing extreme events. Taking a planetary health perspective can help with this.
*In this post I focus on the implications of planetary health for WASH services and vice versa, taking the impacts on health as given. I have also left out of the discussion (and diagram) how water demand might change in response to the trends described, e.g. through patterns of migration, urbanisation, population growth etc. Demand will also be affected by changes on the supply-side, including those influenced by planetary health factors. The diagram does not claim to be a complete picture of the relationships at play, just to capture the main ones. I also don’t consider this an area of much personal expertise. The main work I’ve done in this area was a three-country study with ODI focused on risk and options appraisal for climate adaptation in WASH. Therefore, I would welcome corrections or recommendations of things to read!
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 calls for universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for all people wherever they are, including those living in urban areas. In the … Read more
The Hand Hygiene for All Initiative (HH4A) sets out to accelerate progress towards hand hygiene for all by 2030 and supporting the most vulnerable communities to protect their health, including … Read more
In labour economics, human capital is a worker’s stock of knowledge and skills which contributes to their productivity and earnings. Human capital accumulation is a process of developing skills within and beyond cognitive domains, in which the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucial.
In a note on this topic available here, I present a conceptual model (shown above) for the relationship between improvements in WASH services and increased human capital. Three pathways are proposed: early childhood development; all-age health capital; and school.
The early childhood development pathway is likely to be most important, due to its far-reaching and long-lasting implications for human capital. I also review some recent evidence linking sanitation and early childhood cognitive development published since the last systematic review on this topic.
[I’ve started writing longer “notes” like this on certain topics, which are not quite working papers but longer than blogposts. Feedback/critique is most welcome!]