Visit the conference website here. Send your proposals for oral presentations by Wednesday, July 15th, 2020. More info and details here.
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During the High-Level Political Forum, a side-event will be hosted on 7 July on the 10th Anniversary of General Assembly Resolution 64/292, which recognized human rights to water and sanitation. … Read more
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The Hand Hygiene for All is a call to action for all of society to achieve universal hand hygiene and stopping the spread of COVID-19. On Friday WHO and UNICEF … Read more
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The recommendations set out in this new policy brief emphasize the practical and principled importance of ensuring inclusive, people-centred approaches that leave no one behind. It emphasises the importance of … Read more
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The CDP Global Water Report 2019 analyses the data disclosed through CDP by 2,433 companies in 2019. It finds that companies are not doing enough to tackle water pollution – … Read more
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This blog was written by Cartocritica, as a contribution to the Community of Practice on Water and Open Government.
Access to water is a right that affects various aspects of life: environmental, social and political. It is essential for the conservation of biodiversity, to maintain hygiene, and to support health and livelihoods.
In Mexico, water is considered the property of the nation and the government is responsible for guaranteeing the right to its access, its availability in sufficient quantity and quality, and access to safe sanitation. However, what can be seen in Mexico is desiccated landscapes, polluted aquifers, and communities that lack water access. Even in cases where water is available, quantity and quality are often inadequate. Much water is lost or polluted by excessive toxic discharge, large concessions for industries, and irregular system operation.
When one tries to review official data on volumes of water available, extracted, licensed under a concession, or polluted, it becomes clear that there is little or no information available, and that most of what is available is in restricted access.
Such opacity prevents interested users, especially territory and human rights defenders, from accessing key information that would allow them to know what the state of water resources is in their localities or to promote citizen participation in water management.
This is why more transparency and accountability in the water sector are urgently needed. Incorporating water-related commitments in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process is a means to address this and enable dialogue between government and civil society.
Mexico has been a member of the OGP initiative since its creation in 2011. It has to date adopted four National Action Plans. While the second National Action Plan (2013 – 2015) included the governance of natural resources as one of its commitments, it was not until the third National Action Plan (2016-2018) that water was specifically included as a thematic focus. This has to do with the fact that this action plan was intended to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The objective of the water-related commitment in the third National Action Plan was:
Its principal line of action was described as:
To act on the commitment, the National Water Commission (Conagua) launched a website where documents on water quality were published, although not in line with the original objective (see evaluations on compliance with third plan here and here) and only till early 2018. Documents were then replaced by a link to a web platform featuring a real-time map of installed water meters in the country, including information on volume extracted at each measurement point, but not on the volume of granted concessions or of discharges. However, the option for downloading open data was difficult to use and the platform ceased to be updated in March 2019.
Unfortunately, the implementation and monitoring of the commitments made in the third Plan were interrupted in May 2017, following allegations of espionage directed at journalists and human rights defenders, some of whom were active participants in the OGP process. The Núcleo de Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil (Nucleus of Civil Society Organisations, NOSC) then decided to withdraw from the OGP coordination board, known as the Tripartite Technical Secretariat (STT), on the grounds that there was a lack of trust and no enabling environment for the promotion of dialogue needed to continue the process. The government tried to get support from new CSOs to continue with the implementation of the third Action Plan but did not succeed.
In mid-2018, presidential elections were held in Mexico. The opposition won the election, taking power at the end of that year. In this new scenario, the OGP process was resumed in 2019, with the publication of the fourth National OGP Action Plan on December 10th, 2019.
Following the transition process into the new administration, the Ministry of Public Administration contacted members of civil society and academia (including UNAM, CartoCrítica, Agua para Todos) to review the most relevant issues on their agendas and consider them for future commitments. At that time, transparency and accountability in natural resources management had not shown many signs of improvement. Several civil society organisations were thus making efforts to promote access to natural resource data.
During this new round of meetings, CSOs pointed out that the situation in Mexico was characterised by over-exploitation and pollution of aquifers, vulnerable communities having little access to drinking water, a lack of transparency regarding the volume of granted concessions and of real extraction, and a lack of information on fees paid by private entities and by the real beneficiaries of those concessions.
Such a lack of access to information on the state, management, and protection of water limits the possibilities for constructive public debate and inclusive citizen participation. This lack of access to information also hinders the improvement of public policies that promote equity, efficiency, and sustainability in access to and use of water resources.
Around the time of the meetings, a group of CSOs (Causa Natura, Reforestamos Mexico, the Fund for Environmental Communication and Education, and CartoCrítica) were already working on the design of a Natural Resources Transparency Index (ITRN in Spanish), a tool to measure transparency of public information regarding the management of forests, water, and fishing resources. In this work, recommendations were made for the development of commitments on open government.
Proposals were then made to develop a commitment for water resources, to be integrated in Mexico’s fourth National Action Plan (2019 – 2021). The commitment would identify areas of opportunity to promote openness and dissemination of information in efforts to achieve SDGs (6, 14, 15 and 16), with the joint participation of three parties – government, civil society and the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (INAI). An OGP Coordinating Committee replaced the STT and promoted meetings with the CSOs developing the ITRN, as well as with the government entities involved in natural resource management. In the water sector, these were Conagua and Semarnat (Ministry of the Environment).
The meetings resulted in an agreement to include the Index in the fourth OGP National Action Plan, under commitment number 10: Strengthening transparency in forest, water, and fisheries management. The commitment covers two main developments: the implementation of recommendations from the transparency assessments carried out through the ITRN, and the creation of a participatory mechanism called Transparency Monitoring Groups (Grupos de Monitoreo de la Transparencia), to follow up on the progress of this commitment.
The ITRN involves an analysis of transparency in the forestry, water, and fisheries sectors, through indicators for three types of data -categorised as active (required by law), proactive (voluntary, useful and available online) and reactive (requested). The ITRN examines these in three axes, or areas, of resource management:
The indicators are assessed based on a set of variables (required data) according to their availability and usefulness. A set of variables (and their components) is foreseen for each data or transparency category (Active, Proactive, and Reactive), in each area of management (concessions and permits / subsidies / inspection and surveillance). In order to identify these variables, both officials and users from each sector were involved. Vulnerable groups with direct links to the resources, who are defenders of territories and the main users of the data, in particular women, indigenous peoples and small-scale producers, were also involved in this process.
To date, the variables identified are in the process of being evaluated. For example, one of the variables identified in the Active Transparency category and related to permits and concessions is: information on concessions for the exploitation and use of national surface waters. This variable is broken down into various components such as type of use, concession volume, validity period and location of the authorised point of extraction. A value of 1 is assigned to the variable if the components are available online, 0.5 if incomplete, and 0 if not available.
With the results obtained, specific recommendations will be made for each sector to improve transparency and information access. The commitment made in the OGP Action Plan is to implement these recommendations.
A roadmap was developed to ensure implementation and follow-up of the commitment. This roadmap contains key actions that make it possible to identify the state of the commitment process at any point in time. The creation of the Monitoring Groups is a milestone in this process. These groups are public, inclusive, and have an open follow-up mechanism. They include participants who are also decision makers, and who verify and ensure that recommendations are implemented. They also provide feedback for the future, including new needs, new participants, and new commitments to be monitored.
In the ongoing ITRN assessment of variables related to water resources, several issues have already been identified in terms of transparency and accountability. There is for example too little updated data on quality, extraction volumes granted and effectively withdrawn, and availability of environmental flows.
After this first assessment, it is expected that not only will the information gaps identified be filled and that data will be made available in official websites in a timely and reliable manner and in open formats, but also that this data will be usable by different stakeholders: for a researcher studying the behaviour of a basin as well as for users defending their territories, and their rights.
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The death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in the United States of America has thrown a spotlight on the systemic racism and discrimination that affect the lives of Black people every day, across the world.
The Water Integrity Network is not blind to the role that structural arrangements play in producing racially disparate access to adequate water and sanitation. The persisting and often invisible legacy of white supremacist institutions like slavery, apartheid, and Jim Crow segregation entail that race still serves as marker of service delivery in many countries.
WIN is committed to exposing and fighting against the ways in which Black communities and communities of colour – particularly in the Global South – bear the brunt of climate change induced environmental disasters. Now more than ever, we are committed to exposing and fighting against the corrupt forces which contribute to inadequate water and sanitation provision.
Dignified and adequate access to clean water is a matter of life and death and a human right. The Water Integrity Network is dedicated to a world in which equitable and sustainable access to clean water and decent sanitation are not threatened by corruption, greed, dishonesty and wilful malpractice. This world cannot be achieved until Black lives are given equal weight to all other lives.
Racism and injustice breed inequalities to access to water and sanitation, impacting on the health and well-being of Black communities, and on their ability to enjoy equal economic and social opportunities compared to other communities.
WIN supports the call to dismantle systemic racism, discrimination, and stigmatization wherever it occurs. Meaningful change must challenge existing structures that privilege whiteness and deconstruct barriers facing Black people. In this, we commit to ensuring that the processes that we facilitate with governments and civil society are inclusive. We commit to ensuring diversity in our staff and governance structures, amplifying Black voices and providing a platform for contributions from the Global South.
Radical systemic social change is required for the eradication of the racial injustices Black people face. Through our work, we strive toward a world in which Black lives mattering is a lived reality.
Safe water, improved sanitation, waste management, and electricity are prerequisites for infection prevention in health care facilities. However, the dire state of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in health care facilities globally, both rural and urban, is a neglected problem — and never more critical than now as COVID-19 tears its way around the world.
Swachchhata, which means cleanliness in Nepali, is a $4.9 million, five-year USAID WASH project (2016–2021) in rural Nepal. In light of COVID-19, the importance of cleanliness is clear. Nepal is a USAID priority country for water, and this project’s goal is to get sustainable WASH into health care facilities where there is little to none.
I had the opportunity to travel with SNV USA, now known as DevWorks International and the prime implementing partner for Swachchhata, into the rugged middle mountains of Nepal to see the activity’s innovative improvements and community engagement firsthand. As it would turn out, this trip took place at the exact time COVID-19 was silently brewing next door in China.
In Nepal, USAID is funding groundbreaking work to improve the foundation of safe health care, at a cost of just $11 per person. USAID is building and renovating small-scale drinking water, sanitation and waste management systems, as well as solar-powered electrical systems in 80 health care facilities in Provinces 5 and 6. Now, 57 health posts have fully functioning water supply systems, separate female latrine facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities, and solar electrification. Now with COVID-19, a number of local committees are installing 500-liter drums and handwashing stations at the entrances of their health posts for patients to wash hands with soap and water before entering. Swachchhata has also provided critical infection prevention and control (IPC) commodities for 140 facilities, and trained health care workers on IPC in 147 facilities. When the project is completed, 147 health care facilities and the nearly 430,000 people they serve are going to have far more effective IPC, and dramatically improved safe, dignified, and sustainable health care now and for years to come.
Not only is this USAID activity creatively solving urgent infrastructure challenges in 147 health care facilities, Swachchhata is also providing essential technical assistance and training to community-based health care facility management committees. Nepal’s national government mandates these local oversight committees to create a sense of local pride, ownership, and financial buy-in. It’s an innovative approach to the Achilles heel of WASH the world-over: sustainability.
Around the globe, WASH suffers from a lack of funding, coordination, preventive maintenance and repairs, and training. The result is a global graveyard of busted pipes, pumps, wells, faucets, sinks, toilets, and more that plague health facilities by the hundreds of thousands across low- and middle-income countries (Joint Monitoring Programme 2019). It is in these dilapidated facilities that women give birth, emergencies are treated, and diseases need to be prevented and contained, including COVID-19.
In Nepal, though, these community management committees are comprised of local people — businessmen, elected leaders, health workers, health volunteers, and others — who, while dedicated and passionate, are by no means experts in how to meet the special needs of running a health care facility. Swachchhata is working with each committee to create long-term capacity and training in finance, funding needs, record keeping, supply chain, self-assessment, preventive maintenance, repair capabilities, and IPC, so they’ll have the resources and know-how they need to support safe — and sustainable — health care.
USAID is also working with health facility staff on effective hygiene inside facilities, and how to influence hygiene behavior in patients’ homes. Effective hygiene also includes training cleaners, who often go unseen and unacknowledged. Which brings me to an unexpected, heated discussion I witnessed.
I found myself standing between a cleaner and the ward chairman who also chairs the facility management committee (akin to a town mayor). Though I don’t speak Nepali, this cleaner made it abundantly (and loudly) clear that she wanted specific changes to the facility so that she can clean to the best of her ability. In a rural society that maintains strict social hierarchy, and men dominate, she was not to be deterred. I’d put my money on her getting what she wants, and the patients and staff will be better for it.
For far too long, getting WASH into health care facilities has been neglected around the world. Swachchhata was in place well before the COVID-19 pandemic and WASH is vital to global health security and safety. We must continue to increase prioritization of WASH in global health. Getting sustainable water and sanitation into health care facilities requires cross-sector coordination. Swatchchhata’s innovative approach of combining specialized WASH design and construction with the provision of equipment, training, and local-level sustainability and governance interventions illustrates the potential, power, and impact of USAID WASH programming.
Susan K. Barnett is a part of the Global Water 2020 initiative that focuses on issues of global water security. She is a former journalist with ABC News and NBC News networks and is founder of Cause Communications.
This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 3; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.
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Dharapani Village in Sindhupalchowk District is one of hundreds of communities devastated by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, which killed nearly 9,000 people and impacted hundreds of thousands more. The earthquake destroyed all 53 homes in the village and ruined crucial water and sanitation infrastructure, resulting in months of water scarcity.
Phurten Sherpa, a 53-year-old man from Dharapani, had hoped to build an earthquake-resistant house in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to replace his demolished home. Like most rural Nepalis, he planned to use locally available materials to do so, such as mud bricks or stone. But in order to bind these materials into a durable home, he would need large amounts of water — something that Dharapani severely lacked at the time. The village barely even had a dedicated drinking water supply, let alone any extra water to use for agriculture or housing reconstruction.
“The Government of Nepal provided grants to rebuild our houses,” Sherpa recalls. “But we still lacked water to aid with the construction. Buying water and bringing it up all the way to our village was costly as well as unmanageable.”
“The water problem persisted in our village and ruled out our dream of building a new house any time soon.”
“It was a tough time,” he adds. “We traveled half an hour and waited for an hour to fetch a bucket of water from a pond…. Even this 30-minute journey was painful for me because I have a bad back. The water problem persisted in our village and ruled out our dream of building a new house any time soon.”
In December 2015, less than eight months after the earthquake, USAID launched the Safaa Paani (“Clean Water”) program to help disaster-stricken communities like Dharapani restore access to safe water. To date, the program has improved water access and public health outcomes for more than 45,000 of the most vulnerable and earthquake-impacted Nepalis, increasing their self-reliance while assisting them on the long road to recovery. This included Sherpa and his neighbors who were able to complete the construction of their new, earthquake-safe homes thanks to an accessible water source.
To maximize the program’s effectiveness, upon launching, USAID used geographic information system technology to map water sources and determine where its assistance was most urgently needed. “We prioritized at-risk populations and people who are underserved, especially those located in difficult geographic locations,” says Pragya Shrestha, environmental health specialist at USAID/Nepal.
With this knowledge in hand, the program supported 200 villages to construct gravity-flow water systems outfitted with taps in villages throughout Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha districts in Nepal, including Dharapani. In each of the 200 communities that received a water system, USAID worked closely with residents to ensure they had the knowledge, skills, resources, and will to safeguard and maintain the infrastructure.
These water systems not only improved communities’ economic prospects, they strengthened their social fabric and eased the burden of women and children who are typically tasked with fetching water in rural Nepal. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, for example, women and children had to travel longer distances than usual to obtain water, and fights would frequently erupt once they arrived at their destination. “We had to travel in the early morning to fetch water,” remembers Binda Giri, a 42-year-old woman from Pathlehola Pokhare. “And if we reached it late…it was impossible to get water and the quarrels and conflicts would start at water points.”
“Before, it was difficult for me to manage water for my kitchen garden. Now, I am happy to see green vegetables growing on my own land. It’s a dream come true.”
Today, however, with water available locally once again, women have been able to make more productive use of the time once spent retrieving water. While the Safaa Paani water systems are mainly designed for supplying drinking water, they also provide water for productive uses such as growing vegetables. “Before, it was difficult for me to manage water for my kitchen garden,” says Ramila Thapa, a 32-year-old woman from Kupri village. “Now, I am happy to see green vegetables growing on my own land. It’s a dream come true.”
Others have taken advantage of the improved water supply to engage in promising new livelihoods to help support their families. One man, 29-year-old Raju Kharel from Sware Khani Gau Village, experienced a significant change in outlook since he began to use the newly available water to start up a lucrative vegetable trade. “Before I didn’t have any money to spend on my kids,” he remembers. “I barely had enough for household expenses and nothing to save. But now, I earn by selling vegetables and save for future investment.”
Safaa Paani’s water supply improvements also play a key role in safeguarding community health, since more than three-quarters of diarrheal diseases, including cholera, are linked to unsafe water supply, or poor sanitation and hygiene. To that end, the program focuses on implementing a range of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) improvements to help keep communities healthy.
The results have been cause for celebration. Sathimuri, a small village in Sindhupalchowk District that is home to the indigenous Majhi community, is experiencing both health benefits and improved educational access. “We have seen a reduction in waterborne diseases such as jaundice and diarrhea in our community,” says Sita Majhi, secretary of the local water user committee. “Children fall sick less frequently as a result of waterborne diseases. Most of them are seen attending school regularly.”
To improve WASH at the village level, USAID works with a number of public and private-sector partners. Safaa Paani successfully advocated for the Government of Nepal to include toilets in its post-earthquake reconstruction plans. USAID also engaged communities directly with the help of trained community mobilizers, who went door to door to educate families about proper handwashing, toilet use and cleanliness, point-of-use water treatment, and other key WASH topics. Safaa Paani’s robust public outreach also manifested itself in organized rallies, handwashing demonstrations, and dozens of other events to educate communities about how to safeguard their health.
Beyond its general hygiene campaign, USAID tackled the issue of menstrual hygiene management. Even today, religious and social stigma against menstruating women continue to pose serious threats to women’s health in Nepal. In many cases, menstruating women are barred from religious or socio-cultural engagement, and in some regions, they are even still forced to quarantine in isolated “chhaupadi huts” during their monthly periods.
To address such stigma, Safaa Paani trained school principals and staff from district education offices on menstrual hygiene and then provided classroom orientations to girls and boys with the aim of increasing their knowledge of menstruation and reducing stigma. “Now, girls can talk about menstruation and its management without hesitation,” said Nirmala Timalsena, a teacher at Ram Devi Secondary School in Sindhupalchowk District. Teachers also praise USAID’s approach of focusing on both boys and girls. Educators report that including boys has led to increased acceptance and understanding. As a result, boys have grown more sensitive and offer to help and provide moral support to female classmates rather than teasing them, as they did before.
Although USAID’s WASH interventions in rural Nepal have had a significant positive impact in many communities in the years since the earthquake, ensuring that water supply improvements remain viable over time is challenging. Nepal is prone to natural disasters, such as frequent landslides, that can strike with little to no warning and wreak havoc on infrastructure.
Sound construction, while important, is simply not enough — if the water systems are to truly stand the test of time, communities need to know how to maintain them and, if necessary, restore them if they incur significant damage.
USAID consulted extensively with local governments to select where the water systems would be built, recognizing that gaining local public officials’ trust early on in the process is an important determinant of whether or not infrastructure would remain viable in the future. Once the stakeholders weighed in on where to build each water system, USAID began working with community members to establish water user committees — associations of community members tasked with maintaining the local infrastructure. Safaa Paani involved each village’s committee in everything from pre-construction planning to post-construction maintenance, and provided training on topics such as financing the water systems, construction and maintenance, and water quality testing. “Strengthening governance is essential to ensuring infrastructure investments are sustainable,” explains USAID/Nepal’s Shrestha.
Thanks to this training, water user committees in each of the villages are now better equipped to fix problems that arise, and maintain the water systems. The training also gave community members marketable skills — such as financial management and revenue collection — and contributed to empowering women and members of diverse ethnic groups and castes. In fact, about half of all water user committee members are women, and women or members of diverse ethnic groups and castes hold more than two-thirds of leadership positions on the committees.
Beyond good governance, financing is an essential component of water system sustainability, as it helps facilitate community buy-in. When communities contribute financially to development initiatives such as water supply infrastructure, residents become more invested in the maintenance of those systems. For that reason, Safaa Paani required local governments and communities to co-fund their water schemes.
With many residents unaccustomed to paying for water, fee collection proved challenging at first. To combat this reluctance, Safaa Paani empowered the water user committees to educate community members about the need for pooling resources to cover the costs of maintaining local water schemes. The committees successfully mobilized families to donate an up-front fee to fund operations and maintenance of the water infrastructure. As a result, the project exceeded its cost-share target by more than 150 percent, collecting over 50 million Nepalese rupees, or more than USD $425,000 — providing extra funds for communities to maintain their water systems over the long term.
As a result of improved water security, many of the communities most impacted by the April 2015 earthquake are today looking toward the future with optimism rather than anxiety, thanks to the efforts of Safaa Paani. As the program prepares to come to an end later this year, it does so having made significant strides towards improving the quality of life in villages recovering from that devastating event.
While earthquakes, landslides, and other natural disasters may always lurk in Nepal’s future, hundreds of rural communities are now equipped with the WASH infrastructure, technical knowledge, and tools needed to remain resilient in the face of future threats. With this newfound self-reliance comes the confidence that no challenge will ever be too great for rural Nepalis to cope with and, eventually, overcome.
By Celia Zeilberger
This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 2; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.
Water Brings Communities Together in Post-Earthquake Nepal was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.