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Before yesterdayWASH OFXAM Blogs

No one should be too poor to drink clean water

28 August 2018 at 15:39

For World Water Week Louise Medland reflects on the stark global inequalities in access to water and sanitation, and outlines some of the Oxfam programmes which are improving services for the poorest.  

Women using a water ATM in Turkana County Kenya, James Origa/Oxfam, 2018

Women using a water ATM in Turkana County Kenya, James Origa/Oxfam, 2018

Equal access to sufficient safe and affordable water, and adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene, can mean the difference between prosperity and poverty, well-being and ill-health, and even living and dying’

United Nations (2018). Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation

It’s the time of year again when professionals working on water and sanitation around the world convene in Stockholm for World Water Week. The theme this year is ‘water, ecosystems and human development’, which recognises that water is critical for human development, but at the same time we have to remember that the water resources we use and the ecosystems we’re all part of are vulnerable to many challenges like climate change, increasing pollution and over-exploitation.

Inequalities in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are at an all-time high and affect almost every country. The richest in society have the best access to services and can in some cases actively prevent the poorest from achieving even basic levels of access. Having access to safe and affordable water and sanitation has been recognised as a human right but we’re still in the situation where less than 1% of GDP globally (Gross Domestic Product) is spent on water and sanitation services.

Leaders at the World Economic Forum have identified water crises as the top risk of global concern over the next 10 years and it’s not just about having too little water available, it’s also about having too much, like we’ve seen recently with flash floods in Spain, France, Canada, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Only 62 per cent of people in the least developed countries have access to a basic drinking water service compared to 89 per cent of the global population. The situation for sanitation is even worse, only 32 per cent of those in the least developed countries have access to safe sanitation facilities. Fragile countries are further behind than more politically stable countries, and rural communities lag behind urban ones. Ethnicity is also a critical factor over whether you have access to WASH services or not. Indigenous and tribal people comprise more than 15 per cent of the world’s poor, but account for less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, which means in many places they are being unfairly marginalised and denied access to even basic services. 

Only 62 per cent of people in the least developed countries have access to a basic drinking water service compared to 89 per cent of the global population.

So, what are we doing about it? Sustainability, affordability and equity of services are at the heart of all our approaches. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we’re working on providing sustainable access to water and sanitation in some of the most difficult to reach areas. DRC has abundant water resources, but decades of conflict have led to infrastructure being destroyed and a chronic lack of investment, leaving many people without access to clean water. Oxfam is working with partners on new, more professional, ways of maintaining the infrastructure installed. We’re supporting water network users’ associations which manage water supply systems in semi-urban areas. The management teams are comprised of local people who receive a salary and the associations also employ local craftsmen for operation and maintenance of the water system.

In Kenya, through the SWIFT programme, we’ve worked with local private water utility companies to improve their services to their customers and increase their financial transparency. As a result, they were able to keep delivering safe and affordable water even during one of the most severe droughts Kenya has ever experienced. This makes a life-changing difference to people like Regina Aemun from Nakwamekwi, and the other nine members of her household, she told Oxfam:

‘We were getting water once in a while from a local water point, it wasn’t once a day – more like once a week. So we often had to go to the river to collect water. Now, we don’t have to go far’

In Myanmar, Oxfam is working with government municipalities and Ernst & Young Enterprise Growth Services to develop a tiered pricing model for faecal sludge collection and management. We’ve demonstrated that the municipalities can increase revenue collection and expand their services to the poorest using the tiered pricing model. The growth in revenue can fund improvements in health and safety.

In the year between now and the next World Water Week our key priorities are to keep developing new partnerships and pushing our work on sustainable services forwards, even in the most challenging contexts. We firmly believe that no one should be too poor to drink clean water or use a safe toilet.

Author
Lousie Medland

Lousie Medland

Louise is the WASH Resilience Advisor at Oxfam. She has a particular interest in the long term sustainability of water and sanitation programme interventions and in bridging the divide between humanitarian and development activities.

Pushing for peace in Gaza

6 August 2018 at 11:40

Life-saving aid destined for water, sanitation and health care is being blocked from reaching Gaza. Alison Martin reflects on the impact of new restrictions as explained in our joint agency briefing.

Families receive around only 4 hours of electricity daily. An 11-year-old in Gaza has never experienced a full day of electricity. Photo: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam.

Families receive around only 4 hours of electricity daily. An 11-year-old in Gaza has never experienced a full day of electricity. Photo: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam.

Last time I was in Gaza I was seven months pregnant and I left hoping that by the time my son was born, things might be better for babies born in Gaza – because it was hard to imagine they could get any worse.

That was over a year ago and in July the Israeli government announced what has been described as a death penalty for Gaza’s economy: a further tightening of Israel’s unlawful blockade on Gaza, shutting down the Strip’s main commercial crossing, stopping urgent fuel and gas imports and forcing vital donor-funded construction to a standstill.

The Israeli government imposed these measures in response to individuals and groups sending flaming kites and balloons out of Gaza. However these measures punish everyone in Gaza – civilians, children – people who have done nothing to deserve it.

The closure also means farmers can’t export their produce, which will now go to waste, and Israel has further reduced the permitted fishing zone – already a fraction of what was decreed under the Oslo accords – so it’s even harder to make a decent catch. Eleven-year-old Ghaleb recently told Oxfam his father used to catch ten or twenty kilograms of fish, now it’s just one or even a half kilogram. “It becomes scary,” Ghaleb said. “Whoever goes out deeper into the sea will be arrested and they will confiscate their equipment.”

Every day that Gaza’s crossing is closed means many children wait even longer for access to safe water and toilets – basic rights that we take for granted.
Every day that Gaza’s crossing is closed means many children wait even longer for access to safe water and toilets – basic rights that we take for granted. At least 97% of the water in Gaza is undrinkable and nearly one quarter of the population is not connected to a sewage network- the combined result of 50 years of Israeli occupation compounded by recurrent conflict. Water-related diseases are the primary cause of child morbidity and estimated to account for over a quarter of illnesses in Gaza. And the Israeli government’s latest restrictions threaten to exacerbate this already grim situation. In the water sector alone, projects currently being blocked include: a major desalination plant in Gaza city that would provide water to 200,000 people, water tanks and a water booster system that would provide water to over 190,000 people, and facilities that would treat wastewater for hundreds of thousands of households and reduce the sewage contamination currently being pumped into the sea.

The crossing was partially reopened on 24 July 2018 to allow some fuel and gas, however the ban was reinstated from 2 August. The only items currently being allowed into Gaza are food, medicine and animal fodder on a case-by-case basis.

A fishing trip Southern Gaza. Photo: Hussam Salem/Oxfam.

A fishing trip Southern Gaza. Photo: Hussam Salem/Oxfam.

Does anyone care?

Maybe. But the question is, does anyone care enough to hold the Israeli Government responsible for the man made humanitarian disaster that continues to intensify in Gaza? The answer – at least for the moment – feels to me like ‘no’.

The closure means that no items are permitted to enter even via the internationally-funded Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), established by the UN to facilitate the entry of construction materials and a range of items classified by Israel as ‘dual use’ and therefore heavily controlled (as Israel asserts these items may also have a military application).

The UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia are still funding the mechanism but have failed to effectively hold Israel accountable to allow construction and economic development at the pace needed to help Gaza. Although initiated as a temporary mechanism, the GRM remains in place today.

Water, health and sanitation projects amounting to tens of millions of US dollars, funded by international donors, are currently being blocked by Israeli government-imposed restrictions. And that’s just one of several vital sectors impacted by the blockade.

Millions of litres of sewage are discharged off the coast of Gaza every day. Photo: Sami Alhaw/Oxfam.

Millions of litres of sewage are discharged off the coast of Gaza every day. Photo: Sami Alhaw/Oxfam.

What can we do about it?

A lot.

If you were paying millions of dollars to build infrastructure, wouldn’t you push for accountability to ensure it was done?

Aid agencies in Gaza are calling for immediate action to address the causes of the deepening crisis, including demanding the reversal of recent restrictions on imports and exports. We condemn violence against civilians on all sides, including the shooting of Palestinian civilians by Israeli snipers, and indiscriminate rocket fire and incendiary kites and balloons sent from Gaza. Both Palestinians and Israelis deserve peace and to live in dignity without fear of violence or oppression.

Israel’s ‘dual use’ list must be urgently and continuously challenged and essential items to support the water, electricity and health sectors should be immediately removed from the list. Israel must be held accountable to allow the entry of items essential for the provision of basic services to protect public health in Gaza.

Oxfam supported Hoda Hassan, mother of 6, with an entrepreneurial course which helped her open a shop in what used to be her children’s bedroom in Gaza. She hopes to use the profits to build an extension so her kids no longer need to sleep in the living room. Unemployment among women in Gaza is 71%. Photo: Adeline Guerra/ Oxfam

Oxfam supported Hoda Hassan, mother of 6, with an entrepreneurial course which helped her open a shop in what used to be her children’s bedroom in Gaza. She hopes to use the profits to build an extension so her kids no longer need to sleep in the living room. Unemployment among women in Gaza is 71%. Photo: Adeline Guerra/ Oxfam

These are the initial urgent steps we recommend are taken towards fully ending the blockade.

Until that happens, international assistance – including funding directed toward economic development – will be severely hampered by the blockade. In the context of an unlawful blockade, aid remains vital however is vulnerable to political and often punitive measures imposed unilaterally, with devastating and immediate impacts on civilians.

Until accountability is prioritized, babies will continue to be born into homes without safe water, at risk of disease and death, as people are prevented from supporting themselves and even international aid can’t make it through the blockade.

Download the briefing

Author
Alison Martin

Alison Martin

Alison is Oxfam's Policy and Campaigns Manager for the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.

10 tips for working with communities on Ebola response

31 May 2018 at 12:15

Following the news of an Ebola outbreak in the DRC, here’s a summary of lessons learned from Oxfam’s community engagement during the 2014–15 Ebola response in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Community Health Volunteers receiving training in Clara Town, Liberia, November 2014. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Community Health Volunteers receiving training in Clara Town, Liberia, November 2014. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The Ebola response in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea demonstrated that community engagement is critical in responding to epidemics. This was not always a guiding principle in an outbreak, which initially prioritized biomedical and militarized responses.

After the 2014-15 epidemic Oxfam organized an inter-agency workshop to share experiences and learning. The following guidelines for public health practitioners and programme teams were informed by this workshop, with input from various agencies involved in the Ebola response, as well as a literature review. For more information download the full Guide to Community Engagement in WASH.

  1. Understand diversity and varied vulnerabilities within communities

Resources must be devoted to understanding community perspectives and advocating for community-focused interventions. Specialists, such as anthropologists and epidemiologists, may be required for information to be collected, documented and used effectively.

  1. Avoid one-size-fits-all models of community engagement

It is better to recognize the potential capabilities of communities in each situation and provide context-specific support. This allows communities to take action to protect themselves using a ‘menu’ of different strategies, developed using a community-led approach. To do this effectively, key groups (e.g. male and female leaders, traditional healers, religious leaders, older people, youth and children) need to be identified.

  1. Ensure advocacy is inclusive and represents communities

Advocacy efforts should be directed at promoting inclusive and representative ideas, including the concerns, questions and solutions of communities, and ensuring that only useful and practical information is given to communities by humanitarian actors.

  1. Prioritise providing information about protective action and monitor uptake

The information given to communities must be prioritized to ensure that the crisis affected population understands and uses the most effective protective actions (e.g., in the case of Ebola, early isolation and referral, and not touching the dead). The uptake and use of these specific actions must be monitored, and rumours about diseases and treatment processes should be documented in order to track progress.

  1. Ensure medical and burial processes are transparent and understood by communities

It is important to work with others (from all sectors) to increase the transparency of medical and burial processes, especially where there is a lack of understanding and/or trust in the healthcare system. This can include step-by-step guides for referral or burial management, and showing videos to illustrate what to expect.

  1. Support staff to deliver community-centred approach

Support, training and supervision for newly recruited staff are vital to ensure responses are community-centred, effective and accountable.

  1. Co-ordinate with other actors to put community engagement first

Community engagement supports every other aspect of a response (e.g. testing and treatment, safe burials, etc). Therefore, active coordination and planning with other sectors is crucial at the local and district levels, as well as with national collaborators.

  1. Organize inter-agency daily debriefs

Programme managers should actively support and foster regular information exchanges between programme teams within and between organizations (e.g. daily debriefs).

  1. Encourage self-help, not fear

Using fear to encourage changes in behaviour can be counterproductive. It is better to promote self-reliance and self-help among affected populations.

  1. Apply these lessons to all WASH programmes

Many of the lessons from the Ebola response can be applied to Oxfam’s WASH programmes, especially cholera responses. Equally, Oxfam’s experience with public health promotion (PHP) and WASH interventions means that it is well placed to support and develop capacity in community engagement and social mobilization.

 

Download Oxfam’s Guide to Community Engagement in WASH, based on lessons from Ebola

 

Oxfam’s response to Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Oxfam has launched a public awareness drive to help keep the Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, DRC, under control. Oxfam is providing door-to-door information to the most vulnerable people, working with communities and carrying out mass awareness activities including film screenings and working with local community radio stations. It also plans to work with religious and traditional leaders.

Oxfam is installing chlorinated water points in hospitals, health centres, schools and ports, and helping to disinfect houses in which Ebola cases have been detected. It also provides disinfection kits and hygiene kits to communities.

Author
Marion O'Reilly

Marion O'Reilly

Marion is the public health promotion team leader for Oxfam's global humanitarian team. She has worked for Oxfam since 1995, first in Angola and then in Oxford. She focuses on community mobilisation and health and hygiene promotion in humanitarian crises. Marion has worked in community and public health in relief and development programmes in the UK, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America and is the co-author of two books: Hygiene Promotion: A Practical Manual for Relief and Development and Humanitarian Programmes and HIV and AIDS: A Practical Approach to Mainstreaming.

Author
Eva Niederberger

Eva Niederberger

Eva is a public health promotion adviser at Oxfam working on humanitarian response, and co-author of Oxfam's Guide to Community Engagement in WASH.

Author

Suzanne Ferron

Suzanne Ferron is a public health programme consultant and co-author of Oxfam's Guide to Community Engagement in WASH

Gaza is dying in front of everybody

23 May 2018 at 12:49

Tim Holmes reports back on his recent visit to Gaza and reflects on the challenges people living there face in their daily lives.

Oxfam and our partners' humanitarian and development work helps around 350,000 people in Gaza impoverished by the Israeli blockade. Credit: Iyad al Baba

Oxfam and our partners’ humanitarian and development work helps around 350,000 people in Gaza impoverished by the Israeli blockade. Credit: Iyad al Baba

A powerful smell hit me as I entered Gaza a fortnight ago. Not the smell of burning tyres from the ongoing protests, or the tear gas that has been used in response, but the smell of raw sewage. As I walked the few hundred meters through the wire cage corridor from the Israeli border security across the ‘access restricted area’ to the Palestinian border control, I crossed over a small stream of sewage slowly oozing from the Gaza Strip, under the huge turreted border wall, into Israel.

Why is this happening? Well, a bunch of reasons. Without sufficient electricity or fuel, sewage treatment plants cannot function. What is left of the sanitation infrastructure that wasn’t destroyed by the last Gaza war in 2014, was designed for far fewer people than are now living in this small enclave. Expansion, operation and maintenance is difficult when there are multiple and severe Israeli restrictions on goods, including spare parts, entering Gaza. The financial resources available for authorities responsible for sanitation in Gaza are woefully inadequate.

If people only had to cope with the smell of sewage and a collapsing sanitation system, perhaps life in Gaza would still be bearable. However, many people I met didn’t even refer to the sewage problem – there were too many other challenges to talk about.

Water is a key issue. More than 96% of water from the coastal aquifer where Gaza gets most of its water is undrinkable due to salinity. To access clean water, people often have to pay private water truckers who distribute water from small desalination plants – this costs six times as much as the regular water supply.  Part of Oxfam’s work in Gaza involves providing safe water by rehabilitating damaged water systems, but the task is ongoing.

More than 96% of water from the coastal aquifer where Gaza gets most of its water is undrinkable due to salinity.

Electricity has been a problem in Gaza for many years, but now it is out for 20 hours a day. This could be dismissed as an inconvenience but just imagine the stress and frustration of having to live without lights, refrigeration, access to the internet, or elevators in apartment buildings, let alone the far more serious disruption to hospitals, clinics, schools and water and sanitation services.

I was struck that the streets were so much emptier than when I was last in Gaza five years ago. I was told that this was because those who have cars couldn’t afford fuel and anyway people didn’t have enough money to go out for shopping beyond the basics. The Economist has estimated that people in Gaza are 25 per cent poorer today than they were at the time of the Oslo Accords, 25 years ago. More than 80% of the two million people in Gaza are currently receiving humanitarian assistance.

I spoke to parents whose children are recent university graduates but they are sitting around at home getting more and more frustrated. According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza is at 44% – for those below 29 years, it is at a staggering 60%. Oxfam is working with local partners to help people have better access to livelihoods, and with local farmers and producers to improve the quality of their produce and help them get it to market to improve their incomes. I spoke to the owner of a dairy processing unit that Oxfam has supported as part of its work to improve the dairy sector across Gaza.

I was told that the years of occupation, wars and blockade, combined with a new low in the economic and humanitarian situation in recent months, has meant that this is ‘now the worst time in our history’. The level of despair and the lack of hope in the future was also striking in many of the conversations I had, and was much more pronounced than on my previous visits. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to learn that United Nations medical staff have recently referred to an ‘epidemic of psycho-social conditions’ in Gaza.

The people I spoke to shared with me their anger that the world is doing nothing to help them. I was told that even when help does come it is only in the form of insufficient albeit needed humanitarian assistance, rather than a resolution to the conflict, the end to the protracted occupation, the end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and having their right to self-determination fulfilled which is what people in Gaza really want.

The people I spoke to shared with me their anger that the world is doing nothing to help them.
Human rights organisations in Gaza told me of their exasperation that the Government of Israel and other parties to the conflict are not held to account under international law by the international community. People I spoke to explained that because of this apparent impunity and the lack of alternative options, and despite the large number of deaths and injuries, they were generally supportive of the current protests continuing. Some specified that they would only support non-violent demonstrations. I was told that ‘people in Gaza are doing their best to survive’ but that, despite this, ‘Gaza is dying in front of everybody’. Read more about our work in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel

 

Oxfam’s policy positions on Gaza in general and regarding the recent protests:

  • The blockade – now in place for more than a decade – has devastated Gaza’s economy, left most people unable to leave Gaza, restricted people from essential services such as healthcare and education, and cut Palestinians off from each other. Israel must end the blockade on Gaza, which is collectively punishing an entire civilian population.
  • There must be a long-term solution to the crisis. The international community needs to redouble efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace based on international law, that brings security and development to all Palestinians and Israelis.
  • Oxfam condemns the deaths and injuries of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza. Unarmed Palestinians have the right to make their voices heard and the right to freedom of assembly and expression. Israel must abide by its obligations under international law to protect life and exercise the utmost restraint in accordance with law-enforcement standards on the use of force.
    • According to OCHA, 104 Palestinians, including twelve children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the Gaza demonstrations since March 30. As of May 14, the latest rounds of protests at Gaza border resulted in 60 fatalities (including 8 children) and 2,770 injuries as a result of live fire. The number of injuries since the beginning of the protests has been 12,600. Fifty-five per cent of these have required hospitalisation. One Israeli soldier was also lightly injured.
Author
Tim Holmes

Tim Holmes

Programme Portfolio Manager at Oxfam GB

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