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Sanitation and Hygiene Influencers Making the Difference

By: USAID Water Team
William Musoni during one of his workshops encouraging members of his community to adopt improved WASH practices including handwashing
William Musoni regularly encourages members of his community to adopt improved WASH practices including handwashing. Photo credit: Theophile Harushyamagara, Water For People in Rwanda/USAID Isoko y’Ubuzima

William Musoni spends his days working as a laborer. When he’s not working, he educates communities in Rwanda’s Eastern Province on good hygiene practices, with a special focus on handwashing. As a mobilizer for community savings and loan associations, he also encourages people to invest in and use proper sanitation facilities and products.

“Because I have built a relationship with local leaders, if I request a space to speak about sanitation and hygiene, they always grant my wish,” William said.“ I estimate that I have reached between 6,000 and 7,000 community members during community gatherings and association meetings.”

In Rwanda, where there is a vibrant culture of community service, William is one of 1,200 people from 10 districts across Rwanda who was trained in the Isoko y’Ubuzima — “source of life” — program, implemented by a consortium led by Water For People in Rwanda and funded by USAID. The program goals are to improve WASH governance, improve drinking water services, and improve sanitation and handwashing services and products.

William emphasizes the importance of handwashing at the right times and how to clean their food and utensils. If they don’t have a handwashing facility in their household, he helps them build one and then demonstrates how to properly wash their hands. This removes accessibility and affordability barriers that resulted in poor sanitation and hygiene practices. “They were mostly aware that they must wash their hands after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet and before breastfeeding. But handwashing after using the toilet has not been a common practice and that is changing,” said William.

Early on as a community mobilizer, William found the communities he served associated new practices with additional financial costs. But, over time, he and other community mobilizers have seen behaviors and attitudes change.

To make sure people can practice what they learn, the community savings and loan associations promote a culture of saving money so they can purchase and use latrines, soap, and menstrual hygiene products. Association members are linked with product suppliers and, if needed, microfinance institutions.

Vestine Mukantwaza uses a homemade handwashing facility after using the toilet.
Vestine Mukantwaza and her family use a homemade handwashing facility after using the toilet. Photo credit: Theophile Harushyamagara, Water For People in Rwanda/USAID Isoko y’Ubuzima

Vestine Mukantwaza is a member of a savings and loan association in her neighborhood where Isoko y’Ubuzima trained community mobilizer volunteers. “I realized our latrine didn’t meet basic standards…I applied for an RWF 50,000 [about $47] loan,” Vestine said. “I improved the latrine concrete, bought cement to improve the shelter, and bought a Sato pan.” With William’s lessons in mind, she added a handwashing facility.

With her improved latrine, the frequency of flies entering Vestine’s kitchen and landing on the utensils that she and her family use to eat has greatly decreased. Her family feels safer, and these household improvements have benefits beyond health: “I tell my neighbors that improved latrines dignify you,” she said.

Vestine’s investments and behavioral changes show that William’s efforts are valuable. “I have to be persistent and stay motivated because I am convinced that if I change the minds of two or three people, they too can be a positive influence in their communities.”

To learn more about how USAID is increasing access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, products, and facilities, read USAID’s Plan in support of the 2022 U.S. Global Water Strategy.

By Amy Dempsey, Communications Specialist; Harushyamagara Theophile, Communications and Outreach Specialist at Water For People

Sanitation and Hygiene Influencers Making the Difference was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


An Audacious Plan to Deliver Safe, Reliable Water to All of Rural Benin… Profitably.

By: USAID Water Team

Can an ambitious public-private partnership lead to the successful delegation of rural water supply management to small businesses for an entire country in sub-Saharan Africa? Benin offers a test case.

In a 2020 article, Dr. Rob Hope and collaborators in Oxford University’s REACH program described aspects of scale, demand, institutions, and finance that make rural water economics so fundamentally different (and more challenging) than urban water supply.

Recognition of these kinds of obstacles motivated the government of Benin to engage in a decade-long effort to first test and then scale a novel policy approach to delivering rural water supply services, with support and technical assistance from the World Bank. In this approach, known as regional affermage, the government assumes the capital costs for water infrastructure and formally delegates responsibility for the operation and maintenance of rural water supply services. Private sector contractors competitively bid to manage very large consolidated service areas. In Benin’s case, the rural areas are divided into three service areas of approximately three million inhabitants each.

To explore the potential of the Benin experiment, the REAL-Water podcast (available on Anchor, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, among other platforms) recently invited Thierry Barbotte and Mikael Dupuis of UDUMA to drill down into the details. UDUMA is part of a consortium that was awarded two out of the three regional affermage awards for Benin.

Providing sustainable water access in rural Africa: addressing a vital need. Credit: UDUMA

Affermage contracts supplying large service areas were meant to address several of the challenges laid out in Hope’s article: “the economic logic of one supplier to avoid duplicating costs (storage, treatment, delivery, waste, billing, customer services) makes it a natural monopoly, which can reduce costs and raise standards for consumers, if properly regulated. Rural water at the community level lacks scale and provides a lower-quality service due to the physical time and effort required to collect water from off-site supplies, such as handpumps or kiosks.” Consolidating service areas should, in theory, increase economies of scale and pool risks (particularly financial risk).

The Benin regional affermages were also intended to “crowd in” commercial investment for rural water supply, using both development finance and public finance strategically to attract private sector financing. UDUMA is convinced that end-user tariffs for reliable, high-quality water supply can cover the costs of operating rural water supply systems (including the costs of capital maintenance) and even generate a modest return for investors. Importantly, the costs of capital are assumed by the government or by development finance via concessional loans or grants.

Thierry and Mikael describe what led to the creation of UDUMA — a rural water service provider — out of Vergnet Hydro, a company that manufacturers and supplies pumping and conveyance hardware. Initial pilot efforts in Burkina Faso offered evidence for the potential of private sector models for rural water supply system operation (again, conditioned on co-investment by government or development institutions). Incorporation of UDUMA as a service provider followed, with expansion first into Mali and now Benin.

Podcast quote. Credit: Vanessa Guenther

Just getting to the contracting stage represents years of legal and institutional reforms in Benin, the culmination of which was the competition for the three contracts and resulting awards. The contracts are only now being finalized, but over the coming years, the financial performance of UDUMA’s consortium (as well as another consortium led by Tunisia’s SONEDE International) and the operational performance of the hundreds of water supply systems for which they are responsible will provide an indication of if and how these regional affermages can bring reliable water supply to Benin’s rural communities.

By the REAL Water team

An Audacious Plan to Deliver Safe, Reliable Water to All of Rural Benin… Profitably. was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Inclusive Development in India: USAID Partners with Local Transgender Community on WASH

By: USAID Water Team
USAID WASH team conducts a monitoring visit at the fecal sludge treatment unit in Cuttack.
USAID WASH team conducts a monitoring visit at the fecal sludge treatment unit in Cuttack. Photo credit: RK Srinivasan, USAID.

Challenge 1: All over the world, including in India, transgender individuals are targets of discrimination and often lack legal recognition of their gender identity and access to essential services such as education, employment, as well as safe and stigma-free health care.

Challenge 2: In India, stress on water and sanitation services is growing, with more than 60 percent of India’s population currently living in urban areas and a rapidly increasing urban population.

Challenge 3: Sanitation workers and urban poor communities face the most severe consequences of poor sanitation. Less than fifty percent of India’s urban population has access to safe sanitation and sewage treatment services, and virtually no urban communities have a reliable, clean water supply.

To address these challenges, in India, USAID’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs increase access to safe water and sanitation, improve public sanitation services, train skilled professionals on septage management, and increase access to safe drinking water and sanitation services for India’s poor and underserved communities. Ultimately, this work results in improved livelihoods and better health for urban communities.

Throughout its work in WASH and other sectors, USAID values and promotes inclusion. USAID India promotes community-managed sanitation infrastructure, which fosters both ownership and sustainability. Engaging populations in vulnerable situations through livelihood opportunities within the sanitation sector is crucial for their empowerment and progress. USAID promotes the rights and inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented populations in the development process, including indigenous and tribal peoples, LGBTQI+ people, women and girls, scheduled castes, persons with disabilities, and youth.

For example, in 2021, USAID partnered with India’s WASH Institute, the Odisha state government, and the Odisha Water Academy to provide skills training for local self help groups formed in the community to address local issues in more than 1,000 cities and towns to learn how to operate and manage fecal sludge treatment plants. Importantly, the program targeted youth, women, and transgender individuals.

The transgender groups were considered during the COVID-19 lockdowns given many transgender individuals had lost their earnings from working at bus stands and railway stations as travel in the country was curbed. In August 2021, USAID trained more than 30 members of the “Bahuchara Mata Transgender Self Help Group” to develop their leadership skills and technical skills in fecal sludge treatment, disposal of treated wastewater, reuse of sludge for agriculture, and monitoring the quantity and quality of effluent. Thanks to the training, the State Government of Odisha deployed the team to operate the Pratapnagari Water Treatment Plant of the Water Corporation of Odisha (WATCO) in Cuttack.

The operation and management of fecal sludge treatment plants by the self help groups supporting transgender individuals was a watershed moment. These efforts not only empowered a population that routinely encounters socio-economic exclusion, they also helped created a template for strengthened approaches to sanitation elsewhere in the country.

These efforts boosted the confidence and dignity of the group who are now looked upon more highly as role models in their community. Thanushree, a training graduate and head of the self help group, said that members stopped begging in public places during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to lockdowns. The training helped participants to get jobs and earn a monthly salary of approximately 14,000 to 15,000 INR ($177-$189). “We use this as an opportunity to educate ourselves and move on to better things,” shared Thanushree. Additionally, because the training program imparts knowledge about government benefits, some members of the group were able to get government-issued cards allowing them access to free and subsidized food for low-income citizens.

USAID host a training for transgender self-help group members on fecal sludge and septage management in Cuttack, India.
USAID trained transgender self-help group members on fecal sludge and septage management in Cuttack, India. Photo Credit: Praveen Nagaraja, WASH Institute

Notably, the engagement of transgender people in the operation and maintenance of fecal sludge treatment plants became a country-wide best practice when the Bahuchara Mata Transgender Self-Help Group received the ISC — FICCI Sanitation Award 2021 for its outstanding work in fecal sludge management.

Importantly, this initiative provides a model for expansion, and is inspiring other towns to adopt similar methods. As of June 2022, the state of Odisha has established 104 fecal sludge treatment plants, with more than 32,000 existing self help groups for youth, LGBTQI+ persons, and others, across 111 towns and cities, community engagement for operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities holds enormous potential.

Expressing a strong commitment to promoting a world in which all people are treated with respect and dignity, Mark Tegenfeldt, Director, General Development Office, USAID/India said, “Transgender individuals and other gender minorities exist in every society and culture around the world, and throughout history, and their accomplishments and contributions are wide ranging and impressive. Despite facing unique challenges and adversity on the basis of personal identity and expression, it is heartening to see transgender people and communities coming forward on this WASH initiative.”

USAID has supported WASH programs in India for decades, beginning in the 1990s and continuing today. For example, USAID supported the Government of India to achieve its goal of becoming open defecation-free by 2019 by helping to improve sanitation services throughout the country. In 2020, as a result of USAID’s joint work with the Government of India, more than 573,000 people gained access to sustainable basic sanitation services, which was even more critical amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated existing challenges.

To advance locally-led development initiatives, USAID supports the Government of India’s flagship programs, Swachh Bharat Urban Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, and Jal Jeevan, to improve the provision of safe water services and move the country toward sustainable sanitation standards. USAID’s work with the Government of India has also helped leverage the strengths of the private sector, bringing in their expertise and resources to achieve improved quality assurance, governance, finance (approximately 4 million USD in 2020), operations and maintenance of essential services. This support has been critical as India moves beyond ensuring basic sanitation to providing sustainable and holistic household access to clean drinking water and sanitation, and addressing water pollution.

WASH practitioners tour a fecal sludge treatment unit.
USAID WASH team conducts a monitoring visit at the fecal sludge treatment unit in Cuttack. Photo credit: RK Srinivasan, USAID.

By RK Srinivasan, USAID/India Water and Sanitation Project Management Specialist

Inclusive Development in India: USAID Partners with Local Transgender Community on WASH was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


H2O Maghreb Empowers Moroccan Women to Play New Roles in Sustainable Water Management

By: USAID Water Team

When Saadia started working as an engineer for a public water utility in Morocco, she was always “the only woman at the table,” she recalls.

Today, as a trainer at the International Institute of Water and Wastewater (IEA) in Rabat, she helps prepare young people — including many young women — to join her in a sector that has traditionally been dominated by men.

In line with USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s call for more inclusive development, H2O Maghreb and other USAID activities have helped partners in many countries break the bias against women and girls in the water and sanitation sector.

H2O Maghreb, for which Saadia served as a trainer, was at the forefront of efforts to boost women’s employment in water and sanitation in Morocco during the project’s four-year duration. More than three-quarters of the 112 young people who enrolled in the project’s training course in sustainable water management from November 2018 to February 2022 — and 78 percent of its 91 graduates — were women.

A former H2O Maghreb trainee carrying out a practical water management exercise in Morocco. Photo Credit: H2O Maghreb, UNIDO

The status quo

A World Bank study that collected data from 64 water and sanitation service providers in 28 countries found that, on average, only 18 percent of the utilities’ workers were women. In Morocco, a study commissioned by H2O Maghreb in 2021 revealed that the number of women entering the sector is increasing, but only a quarter of the employees in the government’s three main water and sanitation agencies were women.

Moroccan women’s representation in technical jobs was even lower. For example, at the country’s largest water utility, the Office National de L’électricité et de L’eau Potable (ONEE), about 17 percent of employees and less than one percent of technical enforcement agents were women.

Salma Kadiri, Project Management Specialist with USAID/Morocco, explains that employers usually avoid hiring women for technical jobs because of traditional expectations about women’s place in society. “For security reasons and because of social norms here in Morocco, they prefer not to give women jobs when they have to travel and go to the clients,” she says.

The best candidates

H2O Maghreb students and trainers in Morocco. Photo Credit: H2O Maghreb, UNIDO

Conducted at ONEE’s IEA training hub, H2O Maghreb’s six-month courses offered trainees a mix of theoretical learning and hands-on experience, including practice responding to emergencies through a virtual water treatment plant created for the project by its private sector partners, EON Reality and Fesco Didactic. USAID and its implementing partner the United Nations Industrial Development Organization also partnered with ONEE and several Moroccan government ministries under this project.

This public-private partnership designed the training course to help meet a critical need for state-of-the-art capacity in sustainable water management at a time when Morocco’s limited freshwater resources are under pressure from population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and climate change. Morocco is also facing the worst drought in decades, meaning sustainable water management is more important than ever.

USAID also saw the project as an opportunity to expand the inclusion of women, and H2O Maghreb actively recruited female trainees. The 2021 study found that providing safe accommodations and meals at the IEA made it possible for young people from all regions of the country to participate in the training, and they may have been the deciding factor for young women considering participation.

Ultimately, however, the predominance of young women among the trainees reflected their performance on the entrance exams, notes Kadiri. “There were some actions that encouraged female participation,” she says, “But also the transparency and open competition of the hiring process for H2O Maghreb helped to select the best candidates, which happened to be women.”

Mentors and role models

Practical water management training at H2O Maghreb and exposure to the water cycle in Morocco. Photo Credit: H2O Maghreb, UNIDO

The experiences of the first group of women trainees aided subsequent recruitment efforts, as these graduates returned to speak to other trainee classes and spread the word among their peers that H2O Maghreb is an environment where women can thrive. To create that environment, the project recruited women to serve as trainers, raised awareness of gender issues during the training of both trainers and trainees, used gender-neutral language, and featured women in training videos and printed materials.

Kadiri emphasizes the importance of mentoring, particularly by the two women trainers, who are “very encouraging and supportive of young female students.”

Women who had achieved success in water management positions, including engineers, technicians, trainers, and managers, also served as role models by participating in workshops to share their experiences with the trainees. Those discussions, Kadiri says, were “really eye-opening for the young students and helped them to project themselves in the water sector.”

For Saadia, the training was an opportunity to share her own experiences as an engineer and her love of the field with young people, especially young women. “Our training programs go beyond just teaching the right techniques,” she says. “We motivate our students to be passionate about what they do.”

A new generation

H2O Maghreb trainee experiencing virtual reality-supported training on water management in Morocco. Photo Credit: H2O Maghreb, UNIDO

The H20 Maghreb project ended in February 2022, but the approach it pioneered continues. The project collaborated with Mohammed VI Polytechnic University to adapt the curriculum for a new degree program in sustainable water management. The Ministry of Education has accredited the H2O Maghreb curriculum, and Morocco’s Office of Professional Training and Work Promotion plans to offer vocational training based on the curriculum in the Beni Mellal region.

Seventy-five percent of the 91 students who completed the H2O Maghreb training found employment within six months of graduation (before the COVID-19 pandemic, when hiring slowed). Overall, about 68 percent were employed at project completion.

The placement rate of women trainees was even higher (79 percent pre-COVID), particularly in the public sector, where female recruits excelled in the merit-based hiring system — including a written test. “Women have more chances to succeed in these tests, rather than in the private sector, where it goes through interviews and interpersonal relations and networking, where women are less privileged or less well placed than men,” Kadiri says.

Saadia is proud that many of the women who graduated from H20 Maghreb are now her colleagues. “When I joined ONEE, a female water technician network didn’t exist; it was a job for men,” she says. “It’s a real revolution.”

By Kathleen Shears, Science Writer, FHI 360. FHI 360 is a partner on the Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management Activity supported by USAID’s RFS Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene.

This story is the second of a series highlighting USAID’s work to promote gender equity and women’s empowerment. Read the first blog on Menstrual Hygiene Management.

H2O Maghreb Empowers Moroccan Women to Play New Roles in Sustainable Water Management was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


A New Law, a Billion Dollar Loan Fund, and the Path to Better-run Water Utilities

By: USAID Water Team
Vietnam — February, 2011. Credit: Aquaya Institute

As of 2020, Vietnam had the highest levels of rural water coverage among any country of comparable economic level, with coverage equivalent to countries with two to three times its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We were curious: what was the contribution to this success by the billion dollar Asian Development Bank Water Sector Investment Fund (“the Fund”)?

To answer this question, we invited Hubert Jenny, formerly of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and now consulting for UNICEF, for a conversation on the REAL-Water podcast (available on Anchor, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, among other platforms).

Hubert designed and oversaw ADB’s ten-year, $1 billion loan fund initiated in 2010 to support Vietnamese water companies’ measures for improving performance. Set up as a Multitranche Financing Facility, the program was meant to support institutional reforms, most notably a 2007 central government decree mandating that Vietnamese public service providers achieve full cost recovery.

Quote from Hubert Jenny formerly of the Asian Development Bank and now consulting for UNICEF. Credit: Aquaya Institute

On the REAL-Water podcast, we consider questions of rural water supply through the lenses of governance, financing, and innovation. We asked Hubert how the Fund he managed came into being and what lessons the recent Vietnamese water sector experience can offer rural water supply development.

With respect to governance, we were struck by the role of champions — both key stakeholder institutions and individuals with commitment, motivation, and skills to make transformative change. The Vietnam Womens’ Union and the Vietnamese Fatherland Front both command enormous influence in the country, so persuading each group of the value of the Fund for improving water utility performance was instrumental to the Fund program’s embrace by government officials and communities. During 18 months of preparation, Hubert and his colleagues convened public stakeholder workshops (open to the media) every three months which, together with their regular contacts, turned these key groups into the Fund’s biggest supporters.

Individual champions can also play a critical role: Hubert pointed specifically to Truong Cong Nam, the President and Director of the Thua Thien Hue Construction and Water Supply Company (HueWACO), in central Vietnam. HueWACO, in which the Fund invested, is among the best performing provincial water utilities in Vietnam. We were fascinated to learn that Mr. Nam has been mentored by the acclaimed Cambodian engineer Ek Sonn Chan, who won international accolades for transforming the Phnom Penh Water Supply Company from a utility in ruins into one of the best performing in Asia.

Personnel of HueWACO surveying a conveyance expansion in a new rural water supply system for whom they were assuming operation and management responsibility. Photo credit: Aquaya Institute.

Critically, strong governance builds trust in institutions, and this trust is essential when introducing the increases in monthly water fees that are often required to help the water utility break even. Hubert notes the commitment of water suppliers to raise fees with care, working with ADB to ask consumers what they are willing to pay for the service and conduct affordability studies to estimate the kinds of increases poor and marginalized customers could absorb.

In one remarkable account, Hubert describes the position of ethnic minorities in rural Vietnam who were legally not required to pay water fees. The responsible water service providers would not expand coverage to reach those communities because they would not be able to recover their costs, so the communities themselves made the case that they actually wanted to pay, knowing that this would make reliable water service possible.

Meanwhile, Hubert highlighted that full cost recovery by water service providers — while an essential management objective — can also represent a hazard to the public interest, insofar as it may remove the incentive to improve systems and expand coverage.

In the domain of innovation, Hubert pointed to research that Aquaya conducted as part of the Fund, examining the possibility of HueWACO assuming responsibility for rural water supply systems throughout Thua Thien Hue province, including the deployment of novel water treatment technologies (such as hollow-fiber ultrafiltration and in-line chlorination). This management change is an example of the kind of consolidation of multiple rural water supply systems that is now gaining credibility as a way to increase efficiencies, allowing for a cross-subsidy to support those systems for whom full cost recovery may continue to be a challenge. Vietnam’s 2021–2025 five year plan mandates its Ministry of Construction to integrate rural and urban water supply, in connection with the regulation of newly privatized large utilities.

Committed individual champions, securing the trust of influential civic organizations, supporting tariff reforms with reliable data on affordability and willingness-to-pay — all of these contributed to the success of ADB’s $1 billion water fund, and are lessons that can be tested in other settings. More broadly, however, widespread trust in institutions increased the ease with which these reforms could be implemented.

By the REAL Water team

A New Law, a Billion Dollar Loan Fund, and the Path to Better-run Water Utilities was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Keeping it REAL for the Future of Rural Water Services Delivery

By: USAID Water Team

Keeping it REAL for the Future of Rural Water Services Delivery

Providing safe, reliable water supply to rural populations is among the most difficult challenges of international development. Water represents a fundamental human health need as well as a critical factor for maintaining household hygiene, enabling food production, and supporting the industries that allow societies to flourish.

While a formidable undertaking, there has certainly been progress. More than 40 years have now passed since the beginning of United Nations’ International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1980–1990), and between 2015 and 2020, the proportion of rural populations covered by safely managed drinking water services did increase — by an average of 7 percentage points per year, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP)’s most recent progress report.

Still, as of 2020, less than a third (28 percent) of the rural population of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has access to safely managed drinking water services. In sub-Saharan Africa, barely over one in ten rural households (13 percent) were served by safely managed supplies in 2020; indeed, less than half of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa enjoyed access to even basic services, defined by JMP as drinking water from an improved source with under 30 minutes of collection time, including queuing. Worldwide, of the estimated 800 million people who lacked basic drinking water services in 2020, roughly 80 percent lived in rural areas, and half of those were in LDCs.

APAC, UGANDA — May 14, 2021: A group of people collecting water from a handpump in Northern Uganda. Photo: Edinah Samuel, Aquaya

What policies, programs, and systems can accelerate and sustain the provision of safe water to rural populations? One of the ways that USAID seeks to answer this question is through its new centrally funded research project, Rural Evidence and Learning for Water (REAL-Water). Staffed by a consortium of academic researchers, practitioners, and sector analysts, as well as a global convening organization, REAL-Water will spend the next five years building the evidence base for increasing the performance of rural water supply systems, including protection and management of the water resources on which they depend.

Fifteen years after the end of its first declared water and sanitation decade, the United Nations pronounced the ten years between 2005 and 2015 the “Water for Life” decade. During these two celebrated water-focused periods, the dominant paradigm for rural water has shifted. Coming into the 1980s, central governments were commonly expected to build and operate rural water supply systems (even as sovereign budgets were nowhere near sufficient to meet that responsibility). Over the course of the 1990s and into the Water for Life decade, the notion of community involvement and management gained support, and along with it, an honest recognition of the limited capacities of rural populations to successfully and sustainably run their own water supply systems in the absence of financial and technical support. Of late, the community management imperative has begun to give way to the concept of service delivery. This directs focus past capital construction of pumps and pipes toward the professional operation and maintenance of water supply systems over time, along with the financial reserves required to support it. For example, the recently concluded USAID-funded Sustainable WASH Services Learning Partnership (via its partners IRC and Whave in Uganda, Fundifix in Kenya, and IRC in Ethiopia) made a convincing case that professionalized scheduled maintenance and repairs can substantially improve performance of rural water systems.

The REAL-Water project focal areas and the relationships between them. Design: Harold Lockwood, Aguaconsult; Vanessa Guenther, Aquaya

Building in part on the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership, REAL-Water consists of three main research domains. The first, led by Aguaconsult, Ltd., asks how government oversight, professionalized support to community-managed rural water services, and alternative management models can be employed to increase the sustainability, quality, and reach of rural water services.

The second domain, led by Aquaya, focuses on the models and factors for improving routine drinking water quality monitoring and drinking water safety in rural, resource-poor environments.

The Centre for Social and Environmental Innovation (CSEI) at India’s Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) leads research in the third domain on water resources planning, seeking to identify and overcome its most important obstacles at scales relevant to rural water service authorities in low- and middle-income countries.

To test our research hypotheses in real-world conditions, REAL-Water is fortunate to include one of Africa’s premier academic research institutions –Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) — as well as two consortium partners that build, operate, and maintain rural water systems: Water Mission and Safe Water Network.

Making sure that REAL-Water asks the most important rural water supply questions in the most sensible ways requires effective engagement with both local and global water sector actors. The Skat Foundation’s Rural Water Supply Network, with thousands of members worldwide, will be instrumental in this regard.

REAL-Water podcast co-hosts Ranjiv Khush (left) and Jeff Albert (right). Photo: Kiki Photography

In addition, we are pleased to introduce the REAL-Water podcast. Tune in and check out the welcome episode now. Project Director Ranjiv Khush and Deputy Director Jeff Albert will co-host conversations asking the most important questions on rural water supply, featuring practitioners, analysts, government officials, and donors. The podcast will provoke discussions intended to “keep it REAL” by challenging our underlying assumptions, including scrutiny of the potential for research and evidence to drive big changes in policy and practice. The REAL-Water podcast will probe rural water challenges through three lenses: financing, governance, and innovation.

With respect to the first of these lenses, we must be sober about the reality that rural water supply systems are rarely financially viable. As Oxford University’s Rob Hope and colleagues have recently written, the economics of rural water are fundamentally different, because of the dual challenges of scale (low numbers of sparsely located customers) and uneven demand (a function of rural customers shifting their multiple water sourcing behaviors seasonally). The REAL-Water podcast will explore who currently pays for rural water supply services, whether they pay enough, and what service tariff “affordability” means. Under what circumstances are the collected tariffs sufficient for reliable service, where they are not, and how can we make up the difference? What do we know about how to direct public and donor funds in ways that maximize not only accountability, but also efficiency and performance?

The governance lens will probe how government institutions are equipped to deliver basic services. It will explore what kind of management arrangements are optimal in different contexts, from community-based management to public utility service provision, public-private partnerships, and delegated professionalized maintenance.

Finally, the innovation lens will examine what novel technologies and institutional arrangements can lead to better cost recovery, more consistent water quality monitoring and treatment, and ultimately more reliable rural water system performance.

We at REAL-Water are excited about this journey and hope you will join us!

Listen to the REAL-Water Podcast on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music.

By the REAL Water Team

Keeping it REAL for the Future of Rural Water Services Delivery was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Using Wastewater Surveillance to Monitor COVID-19

By: USAID Water Team
November 2020- Hana Muhaisen, a lab Technician at Water Authority of Jordan Labs, is processing a sample into the Refrigerated Centrifuge equipment which was supplied by USAID. Photo credit: USAID Jordan Water Infrastructure Activity

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many national and local governments are turning to a surprising source of data to track the latest surge of the virus: pathogens in the wastewater in their sewage systems.

This approach has long been used to help monitor the spread of diseases such as polio and typhoid, notes Joe Brown, an associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and principal investigator of the Maputo Sanitation (MapSan) trial.

“For about 100 years, we’ve been looking for pathogens in wastewater as a way of informing public health response,” he says. “And the data can complement clinical data in a variety of ways — for example, to generate data on infections that are primarily asymptomatic and therefore may be underestimated in other health surveillance.”

COVID-19 often goes undetected because it leads to mild or no symptoms in many people, and thus can spread quickly. The rise of the highly contagious Omicron variant has swamped testing resources in countries throughout the world, widening the gap between reported and actual cases.

Monitoring of COVID-19 in wastewater can inform health authorities by providing community-level data on trends in infections. The SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is shed in people’s feces, offering a source of data that does not depend on access to testing, healthcare-seeking behavior, or timely reporting of results.

Wastewater surveillance can identify COVID-19 hotspots, provide early warning of new outbreaks, and confirm trends in clinical data. Given these considerations, USAID launched a new activity under the Jordan Water Infrastructure project to enhance the Jordanian government’s capacity to conduct wastewater surveillance for COVID-19.

Wastewater surveillance systems offer the possibility of earlier detection and rapid response to spikes in COVID-19 and new variants. In many cities, the surveillance data are being used to monitor the trajectory of the Omicron surge and determine when it has peaked. And some governments and universities have used these data to target testing services, refine health messages, and forecast clinical resource needs.

A global map maintained by the University of California Merced showed that by the end of March 2022, wastewater was being monitored for the virus in at least 3,393 sites in 64 countries. Almost two-thirds of those sites are in high-income countries, but wastewater surveillance can be even more useful in settings with limited resources for clinical surveillance, notes Brown, who is working with Mozambique’s national sequencing laboratory to add wastewater monitoring to its surveillance of COVID-19 variants in the city of Maputo.

Most households in Mozambique and other low- and middle-income countries are not served by sewer systems, but this lack of infrastructure may not be an insurmountable obstacle to community-level monitoring of COVID-19 and other pathogens, Brown adds. “What we need to do now is to adapt tools that can be applied at scale,” he says. “That means using these same methods on fecal sludges, impacted surface waters, drains, and other environmental matrices that are not wastewater but still contain fecal contamination.” A pre-COVID study among clusters of households participating in the MapSan trial suggests this approach holds promise for pathogen surveillance.

November 2020— Hana Muhaisen, lab Technician at Water Authority of Jordan Labs, and Rawan Abu Eita, CDM Smith representative, processing samples taken from a sewer manhole to test for genetic material in wastewater. Photo credit: USAID Jordan Water Infrastructure Activity

In Jordan, where more than 60 percent of the population is connected to a sewer system, Water Authority technicians began testing for SARS-COV-2 genetic material in wastewater in June 2020. However, they did not have a monitoring plan and lacked the necessary capacity for speedy processing of large numbers of tests.

USAID’s Jordan Water Infrastructure project worked with the Water Authority and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to develop that capacity. Conducted from August 2020 to March 2021, this pilot project resulted in a doubling of the Water Authority of Jordan’s capacity to process wastewater samples for COVID-19 measurement.

The pilot began with the development of a plan for COVID-19 surveillance in the Ain Ghazal sewer system, which serves more than 2 million people in the city of Amman. The plan identifies locations for obtaining wastewater samples, outlines different levels of monitoring to be conducted based on clinical data, and includes actions to be taken when COVID-19 is detected at one of the monitoring locations.

USAID purchased the equipment and supplies required to improve testing sensitivity and efficiency at the Water Authority’s virology laboratory. Through practical training, the project developed the skills of the Water Authority technicians in all aspects of wastewater surveillance, from sample collection to analysis and reporting.

Water authority staff involved in the activity also received training in COVID-19 health and safety protocols to ensure safe handling of wastewater samples. (Although the virus shed in wastewater has not been shown to be infective, the use of personal protective gear and other precautions are recommended).

November 2020 — Islam Asi, sample handler from Water Authority of Jordan Labs, and Bashar Khalil, CDM Smith representative, collecting samples from a sewer manhole outside the Ain Ghazal Pump Station Photo credit: USAID Jordan Water Infrastructure Activity

The lessons from the Ain Ghazal pilot project were shared during a virtual workshop on March 10, 2021. USAID and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation convened 50 experts from Jordan’s water sector, the Ministry of Health, the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, funding agencies, and academia to discuss how to use wastewater surveillance data as a supplement to clinical data on COVID-19. A member of USAID/Jordan’s water team explains that “Wastewater surveillance can identify COVID-19 hotspots, provide early warning of new outbreaks, and confirm trends in clinical data’’.

The project also used these lessons to develop a “road map” for expanding Jordan’s surveillance system to cover everyone in the country who is served by sewers. The road map, which is part of the project report, emphasizes the need to define specific public health actions to be linked to the wastewater data.

National testing can complement clinical testing data and help allocate critical public health resources to manage the spread of COVID-19. And because many other human pathogens can be measured in wastewater, development of wastewater surveillance capacity in Jordan will also be helpful for management of outbreaks of diseases — both known and unknown — other than COVID-19.

By the Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management Activity supported by USAID’s RFS Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene

Using Wastewater Surveillance to Monitor COVID-19 was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


10 Ways USAID is addressing Water Scarcity in Iraq

By: USAID Water Team

Abdi Ali, a farmer in Ninewa, proudly shows off a recently harvested pepper. USAID equipped Ali’s farm with a solar panel to pump water from his well, which helped him better irrigate his crops. Photo Credit: ICRI Ta’afi for USAID.

In Iraq, rising temperatures, reduced rainfall, and dropping water levels are all increasing the risk of drought and desertification. Growing water scarcity across the country threatens the health and livelihoods of at least seven million Iraqis. As water resources dry up, so too do the chances of long-term stability and prosperity.

Despite this harsh reality, hope remains where there is action. From rehabilitating wells and water treatment facilities to upgrading water networks to improve efficiency and increase water loss, here are ten ways USAID is helping to address water scarcity across Iraq.

  1. Upgrading Water Treatment Plants in 11 Provinces. USAID improved operations and maintenance of 70 water treatment plants across the provinces of Anbar, Babil, Baghdad, Basra, Ninewa, Wasit, Najaf, Diyala, Muthanna, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah, helping over 8 million Iraqis gain improved access to clean water.

A technician from the Ifras Water Center in Erbil adjusts the water intake settings according to the new operations and maintenance protocol introduced by USAID’s IGPA/Takamul project. IGPA supports water directorates across Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region better respond to citizens’ needs for potable water by improving water systems workflow and operations. Photo Credit: Maria Lourdes Luces, IGPA/Takamul Project for USAID.

2. Bringing Clean Water to Basrah. In 2018, after decades of overuse, pollution, and reduced rainfall from climate change, Basrah’s main water source became severely contaminated, sending 118,000 residents to the hospital due to water poisoning. In response to the water crisis, USAID rehabilitated nine of Basrah’s major water treatment plants to ensure they meet both local and international standards. The renovated treatment plants are bringing safe, clean water to more than 625,000 residents.

3. Modernizing Water Management. USAID is providing the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources with a state-of-the-art water management system to help the Ministry make strategic decisions on water conservation and counter the impacts of climate change, such as drought and flooding. As a symbol of its steadfast partnership, USAID just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Iraq to promote its ongoing commitment to ensuring more sustainable water management.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew H. Tueller signs a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and the Government of Iraq at the International Water Conference in Baghdad in early March 2022. The Memorandum of Understanding reinforces the ongoing partnership between USAID and the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources. Photo Credit: IGPA/Takamul for USAID.

4. Rehabilitating Critical Water Infrastructure in West Mosul. When the Old West Water Project’s eight water pumps started failing, over half of West Mosul residents struggled to access enough water for their daily needs. USAID provided eight new water pumps and repaired the pump station building, which increased the Project’s pumping capacity, helping more water reach the 30 neighborhoods connected to the network.

A snapshot from a recent USAID-supported outreach activity in Mosul to raise awareness on the importance of water conservation. Photo Credit: ICRI Ta’afi for USAID.

5. Ensuring Safe, Potable Water in West Anbar. Western Anbar is one of the driest regions in Iraq. By rehabilitating water treatment plants and local distribution networks, USAID helped provide over one million Anbar residents with reliable access to safe, clean water.

6. Increasing Water Access in Soran. Soran is a city located in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region of Iraq and is home to about 125,000 residents. USAID and Coca-Cola, through the Water and Development Alliance (WADA), partnered with the Soran Water Directorate to improve water management practices, resulting in approximately 100 million liters of water saved annually and improving water access to 35,000 residents.

The team in Soran installs new water pipes across the city as part of the USAID-supported Water and Development Alliance, in partnership with Coca-Cola and the Soran Water Directorate. Photo Credit: WADA for USAID.

7. Saving Water in Five Governorates. USAID support to water directorates in Anbar, Babil, Baghdad, Basrah, and Ninewa have helped detect, document, and repair water losses more effectively and efficiently, resulting in up to 30 percent water savings.

8. Empowering Government Entities. The ISIS occupation left the water supply networks in Ninewa and Western Anbar seriously damaged and unable to meet residents’ needs. As a result households were forced to rely on expensive, unreliable, and low-quality water deliveries. USAID worked with the water directorates and equipped them with new water pumps, which increased the water supply to over 680,000 people across 46 residential areas.

USAID equipped the Ninewa Water Directorate with 8 low-flow water pumps, which increased the Directorate’s capacity in pumping water to residential areas. The head of the directorate confirmed, “After USAID support, the water station supply of water had increased from 5,000 m3/h to 9,000 m3/h”. Photo Credit: ICRI Ta’afi for USAID.

9. Boosting Awareness for Sustainable Consumption. Many Iraqis are not aware of how their personal water use can impact overall water scarcity. USAID launched a national online campaign with a series of educational videos to raise awareness of Iraq’s ongoing water crisis and promote more responsible water consumption. Since the start of the campaign, the videos have been viewed by over one million Iraqis. (See example below)

10. Pumping Up Irrigation to Farmers. Between climate change reducing rainfall and wells damaged by ISIS, farmers returning home to Ninewa and Western Anbar struggled to restart their activities. USAID fully operationalized 87 irrigation wells, which helped over 350 farming families start back up their farms and earn incomes for their families.

By Clara McLinden, Senior Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID in Iraq.

10 Ways USAID is addressing Water Scarcity in Iraq was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Closing the Equity Gap: Water and Sanitation Data Can Help Us to Ensure No One is Left Behind

By: USAID Water Team

New data revealing disparities in access to water and sanitation by ethnic group offer a powerful tool to help policymakers, program managers, and advocates take action to leave no one behind — the transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a central focus of USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s vision for inclusive development.

USAID is making water and sanitation equity data from the 2021 report on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) available on the Global Waters website to encourage their use. “We want to elevate this dataset so it can be used to address the gaps that marginalized people face,” says Brian Banks, WASH Analytics and Data Advisor with USAID’s Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene.

What is the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)? The MPI uses globally comparable data from national surveys in more than 100 developing countries. The surveys assess each person’s experiences with poverty across 10 indicators including health (nutrition, child mortality), education (years of schooling, school attendance), and standard of living (drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel, electricity, housing, assets).
Learn more and access the full database.

Multidimensional Poverty Index data now spotlight inequities

The MPI measures poverty using 10 indicators of deprivation, including lack of access to improved drinking water and sanitation (see Box 1). For the first time, this annual report from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) disaggregates all of those indicators by ethnic group, race, or caste (available for 41 countries).

Figure 1. This map shows the 41 countries where MPI water and sanitation equity data are available. Explore the full map.

Drinking Water Equity Map

Most of the surveys included similar questions about ethnic group or tribe (e.g., Senegal), enhancing comparability, but a few focused instead on racial categories (Cuba), caste (India), or a combination of ethnic group and native language (Paraguay) (see Figure 2).

Examples of different categories of data available in various countries

The ethnicity of the head of household was assigned to all members of a household because every survey collected that information but very few surveys collected individual ethnicity data. UNDP Statistics Specialist Cecilia Calderón, who performed the disaggregation by ethnicity, notes that reliance on information about heads of households is a potential limitation of the data. However, the results of a sensitivity analysis conducted for four countries that did collect data for all household members found that both approaches yielded similar results.

Identifying equity gaps

Catarina de Albuquerque, the Chief Executive Officer of Sanitation and Water for All, says the water and sanitation equity data help fill a need for more accurate, reliable data on who is being left behind. “Many countries don’t know who is being excluded from accessing water and sanitation services or why they are being excluded,” she says. “It’s very easy to focus on averages, because they allow you to [ignore] entrenched discrimination against certain population groups.”

Banks notes that the sector has made progress in understanding how marginalization affects access to water and sanitation, looking at differences by gender and urban versus rural areas, for example. However, having data disaggregated by ethnicity makes it possible to understand who is marginalized with greater precision (see Box 2).

“It opens the door for more people to think about whether their programs are actually addressing marginalized communities, because they can examine more substantive dimensions of marginalization,” Banks explains. “And that creates opportunities to reduce some of the systemic factors that have led to lack of access.”

The disaggregated data reveal the degree of disparity in access to water and sanitation among ethnic groups in each country. Data visualizations created by USAID’s Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene show that the national “equity gap” between those who are most deprived of access to drinking water and those who are least deprived ranges from 84% to 1.7%; for sanitation, the range of national equity gaps is 78% to 1.4% (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Highest and lowest drinking water and sanitation equity gaps

A chart showing the highest and lowest drinking water and sanitation equity gaps

Explore more comparisons across countries and regions.

Using data to drive change

USAID is using visualizations like these to promote the use of the dataset in program design, implementation, and evaluation. Moving forward, the Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene will support USAID missions to use the data to design programs that help improve equitable access to services.

“We’re excited to collaborate with the broader sector to close equity gaps,” says Banks.

Banks emphasizes another way these data can help USAID realize the Administrator’s vision of inclusive development. “They can be used for policy making, but also to make sure marginalized people are represented and consulted about plans and decisions that affect their communities,” he says.

De Albuquerque says the dataset is an important advocacy tool that should be used by international and bilateral organizations, human rights advocates, and journalists to encourage policymakers to address inequalities through their policies, plans, and budgets.

Exploring these data allows WASH actors to understand new facets of equity in WASH services, and begin asking new questions, such as why some countries have such big differences in equity between water and sanitation (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Difference between access to water and access to sanitation in Latin America

A chart showing the difference between access to water and access to sanitation in Latin America

Explore more comparisons across countries and regions.

While USAID works on WASH programming in many of the countries covered in the report, USAID has designated 21 high priority countries for FY 2022 and more than one-third of them have data available in the report. Figure 5 shows the drinking water and sanitation equity gaps for the high priority countries where MPI equity data are available. As USAID continues to strengthen transformational programming in these countries, the new data can help ensure programs do not leave anyone behind.

Figure 5. Water and Sanitation Equity Gaps: FY 2022 USAID High Priority Countries

Water and Sanitation Equity Gaps: FY 2022 USAID High Priority Countries

The data are a stark reminder, de Albuquerque adds, that countries will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of safe water and sanitation for all by 2030 without bringing people who have been marginalized to the forefront. “The data reinforce the urgent need to accelerate progress, in particular, for the most marginalized and the most vulnerable,” she says.

By Kathleen Shears, Science Writer, FHI 360. FHI 360 is a partner on the Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management Activity supported by USAID’s RFS Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene.

Closing the Equity Gap: Water and Sanitation Data Can Help Us to Ensure No One is Left Behind was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Clean Hands Save Lives

By: USAID Water Team

Sustaining Positive Handwashing Behavior Change During COVID-19 and Beyond

When the world was thrown into the unknown at the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, one thing remained true: handwashing is our first line of defense against the spread of infectious diseases. With nearly 2.3 billion people worldwide lacking access to clean water and soap in their homes, efforts to support communities and health facilities access handwashing resources became more important than ever.

In Indonesia, handwashing stations represent an important resource to reduce disease transmission. Photo credit: USAID/IUWASH PLUS

Healthcare providers and public health professionals have continued to reiterate the message that handwashing can help prevent illness. With such a focus on improving hygiene behaviors to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many communities have been able to improve handwashing to prevent not only COVID-19 infection, but other infectious diseases as well.

USAID has been a critical part of the effort to improve handwashing in homes, communities, and health care facilities worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

More than 11,000 households in 40 districts across Ethiopia have purchased handwashing stations as a result of Transform WASH’s (T/WASH) COVID-19 response interventions. Photo credit: Kedir Hassen, T/WASH

As part of USAID’s COVID-19 response efforts in Ethiopia, local partnerships with manufacturers of home handwashing products and a robust marketing campaign resulted in more than 11,000 handwashing stations purchased by households to date.

A woman washes her hands with a Generation One handwashing station in Benin. Photo credit: Sanitation Service Delivery (SSD)

In Benin, USAID’s Sanitation Service Delivery program teamed up with the Government of Benin’s COVID-19 task force, led handwashing campaigns within municipalities, and facilitated the delivery of handwashing systems, soaps, and hand sanitizer to homes. Through this partnership, USAID program staff worked alongside local authorities to launch COVID-19 awareness campaigns.

Access to handwashing resources in health care facilities is essential to provide quality, equitable health care but globally, globally, 42 percent of health care facilities do not have access to handwashing resources, and one in four health care facilities lack basic water services.

At a health post in Nepal, patients are required to wash their hands before entering to help limit the spread of infections, including COVID-19. Photo credit: DevWorks International

In response to COVID-19 and with USAID support, local committees in Nepal installed water drums and handwashing stations at health posts for patients to effectively wash hands with soap and water before entering. In addition, USAID built fully functioning water supply systems in 57 health posts across Nepal to assist health workers and patients in limiting the spread of infectious diseases through proper handwashing.

Handwashing education and COVID-19 awareness campaigns are a critical part of USAID’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Cote d’Ivoire, USAID supported a nationwide handwashing education campaign with the Ministry of Sanitation in markets, hospitals, and public places in 50 localities, reaching more than 10,000 people. USAID also partnered with 15 local radio stations, broadcasting more than 14,000 radio messages on the importance of safe hygiene practices.

In Indonesia, USAID worked to reduce the spread of the virus by partnering with community health clinics to share messaging about safe hygiene habits through mediums such as radio jingles and social media posts.

Women in Kaduna, Nigeria access water from a newly installed water source. Photo Credit: Donna Hobson, USADF

As part of Nigeria’s National WASH Response on COVID-19, USAID partnered with local telecommunication firms to share messaging about handwashing with millions of Nigerian cellphone users.

In order to build back better, sustained handwashing behaviors can help to limit the spread of all types of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, to keep communities healthy and thriving.

By Stephanie Mork, a Communications Analyst in USAID’s Bureau for Global Health

Ibu Eko and her son enjoy newly installed piped water services from the Sidoarjo District water utility, made possible through USAID support. Photo Credit: USAID/Indonesia

Clean Hands Save Lives was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head on in the Philippines

By: USAID Water Team

Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head On in the Philippines

“With new and improved data-driven analyses capabilities and better, more frequent reporting accompanied by resonating public communication campaigns, local actors may be motivated — even compelled — to improve water resource management that can benefit all Filipinos.”

What does climate change look like? Here, one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan, approaches the Philippines in a November 2013 composite image incorporating data captured by the geostationary satellites of the Japan Meteorological Agency (MTSat 2) and EUMETSAT (Meteosat-7), overlaid with NASA’s ‘Black Marble’ imagery. Photo credit: JMA/EUMETSAT

A changing climate is forcing a reckoning across the Philippines — a sprawling island nation spread across more than 7,500 islands in the western Pacific where water is virtually everywhere and informs every facet of daily life. As the Philippines finds itself on the front lines of climate change, the country’s proximity to water is both a blessing and a challenge. With government officials and water resource managers navigating complex and interwoven climate challenges — such as shifting precipitation patterns, intensified cycles of flood and drought, coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and stronger typhoons — it has become crystal clear that water poses a pressing national security threat.

The USAID-supported Safe Water Project aims to improve access and levels of service from communal faucets to piped services. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

Decision-makers in the Philippines increasingly view water and its sustainable management as foundational in any successful long-term effort to build a more resilient country capable of withstanding — and indeed thriving in the face of — future climate shocks. To support the Philippine government’s water security efforts, USAID, through its five-year, $18.4 million Safe Water Project (SWP), has been working with national and local government partners, community leaders, municipal officials, water service providers, businesses, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other partners around the country since 2019 to strengthen the country’s Philippines’ water security and climate resilience. Implemented in the provinces of Negros Occidental, Sarangani, and Palawan, the project provides new sustainable water resource management technology and techniques, improves access to a reliable, resilient water supply, and incentivizes more accountable, sustainable, and financially-disciplined water sector governance.

On the Front Lines

The effects of climate change on the Philippines have been anything but subtle. The extraordinarily powerful Typhoon Haiyan that made landfall in November 2013 registered as one of the strongest tropical cyclones in recorded history and caused widespread devastation. A severe drought in 2015 led many cities and provinces to declare a state of calamity due to serious water shortages. More recently, Typhoon Vamco brought intense and sustained rainfall to the islands in November 2020, threatening dams and triggering devastating flooding of large and small downstream farming communities.

With its high degree of vulnerability and exposure to various climate change impacts, the Philippines has renewed its commitment, through a whole-of-government approach, to better plan for and respond to future natural disasters.

Residents inspect storm damage following the passage of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Photo credit: Sam Churchill

Adding further stress to the country’s overall water security is the fact that even during years of relative water supply abundance, water rights are often fiercely contested. Competing demands for allocating the country’s finite water supply are intensifying under the pressures of population growth, urbanization, and economic modernization. As if that weren’t enough, many people must contend with serious public health threats on a daily basis affecting tens of millions of Filipinos who lack reliable access to safe water and sanitation services.

“The Philippines faces a number of water-related challenges,” explains Lawrence Hardy II, Mission Director for USAID/Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia. “Recent studies show that the Philippines has the lowest water availability per capita among Southeast Asian countries [and] projections suggest the Philippines will continue to see a high degree of water shortages through 2040. About 12 million Filipinos do not have access to clean drinking water, while 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people are not connected to wastewater treatment services, [and] waterborne diseases remain among the top ten leading causes of morbidity in the country.”

“Challenges often present unexpected opportunities.”

In spite of the gravity of the Philippines’ water security and public health challenges, confronting and preparing for grave threats can also help open the doors to a more sustainable future. “Challenges often present unexpected opportunities for USAID to be adaptive, creative, and responsive in its interventions,” says John Edgar, Director of USAID/Philippines Environment Office.

Climate Is Water

While the relationship between climate change and water supply may not seem particularly obvious, the two are in fact deeply intertwined. Climate change can degrade water supply in a variety of ways.

The Western Pacific is particularly vulnerable to typhoon activity. Photo credit: NOAA

For example, the heavy sustained rainfall that accompanies typhoons can trigger landslides, accelerate riverbank erosion, and wash agricultural chemicals and other contaminants into waterways as storm runoff — degrading water quality and threatening the health of communities that depend on these same waterways for their drinking water supply. Closer to the coast, intensified storm surges, sea level rise, mangrove habitat loss, and coastal erosion can accelerate saltwater intrusion into aquifers, which serve as key water sources for many towns and cities. And prolonged droughts can cause surface water levels to drop, concentrating harmful pollutants and encouraging overreliance on groundwater as an alternative water source.

Regardless of the cause of water supply degradation, water service providers across the Philippines are bearing much of the expenses. They are struggling with both higher water treatment and infrastructure maintenance costs due to damage inflicted during extreme weather events whose effects are felt for months or even years. Mounting operating expenditures are one of the many reasons SWP has been working closely with cash-strapped water service providers, and conducting financial stress tests to help steer them onto the path of long-term fiscal health. This is particularly important at a time when many service providers are experiencing significant revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and postponing improvements and expansions as a result.

The Puerto Princesa Water District, Palawan Province’s biggest service provider, has in the past resorted to rationing during periods of drought because of limited water sources. The Safe Water Project will assist the Water District develop a new surface water source. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

Creating a Resilient Water Supply

Drawing on guidance from USAID’s climate risk assessment and planning tools, SWP has placed climate considerations at the core of its evidence-based interventions for creating a more resilient, reliable water supply. “Building on our past experience responding to the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan and severe droughts, USAID ensured that climate resilience is an integral part of SWP’s design,” Edgar says. “USAID applies climate risk assessment in all its projects to understand and mitigate risks from climate change. SWP benefited from USAID’s robust assessment of climate risks, making it well positioned to integrate resilience across interventions [including] integrating climate considerations in water-system engineering designs to ensure that systems can withstand impacts of typhoons and flooding.”

“Poor data availability, management, and accessibility have been hounding water sector planning and policymaking.”

Since its launch, SWP has been collecting climate and hydrological data to monitor and analyze the condition of watersheds that serve as critical drinking water sources. This ongoing effort to fill in longstanding data gaps will go a long way toward improving water management in the three project sites, as well as elsewhere across the country, according to Roderick Planta, Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Development of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). As the Philippines’ planning agency, NEDA leads and coordinates water sector programming and serves as SWP’s key implementing partner. “Poor data availability, management, and accessibility have been hounding water sector planning and policymaking,” he admits. “Through the collection and subsequent analysis of these various data, a more informed and sound, scientific recommendation or decision can be expected. While the data to be gathered under SWP are context-specific, the tools and methods that will be developed may be further enhanced and scaled up at the national level.”

This month, SWP will present that data for the first time in a series of hydrological studies that seek to shape decision-makers’ thinking about water and hopefully lay the foundation for more sustainable water management practices. “With new and improved data-driven analyses capabilities and better, more frequent reporting accompanied by resonating public communication campaigns, local actors may be motivated — even compelled — to improve water resource management that can benefit all Filipinos,” says Hardy.

The new data-rich hydrological studies will shed further light on the islands’ delicate water balance and serve as “baseline data for more accurate and reliable predictions in the future,” says Francisco Alolod, a manager with the General Santos City Water District. This information in turn will empower water officials like Alolod to more effectively manage water supply in a manner that can withstand climate shocks and extreme weather events.

Representatives from the Safe Water Project, Provincial Governments, civil society, and private sector partners sign Memorandums of Understanding during a livestreamed, multi-site participation webcast broadcast via the USAID/Philippines Facebook page during World Sanitation Day 2020. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

The studies “are crucial in establishing the baseline water security situation” of the three provinces where SWP is active, explains Alma Porciuncula, SWP’s director. “The reports include analyses of land cover and temperature and rainfall variations in the watersheds as factors impacting surface water runoff and recharge rates, establishing the current and projected conditions of the water resources. The findings of the studies will feed into policy actions, plans, and programs of the provinces.”

According to local SWP partners, better data can also go a long way toward shaping the design and implementation of more sustainable water management techniques and enhancing watershed protections. “Our local government will surely benefit from these hydrological analyses by using them as the basis for our future water-system projects and designs,” says Israel Delvo, an administrative officer in Alabel municipality. Delvo added that better access to hydrological data can help local officials — including emergency response personnel — identify patterns and more accurately predict and respond to future climate disruptions.

Facing Uncertainty, Well-Prepared

The path forward will not be an easy one, with all forecasts appearing to indicate rough weather ahead. “The Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the negative impacts of climate change,” points out USAID’s Joanne Dulce, who manages SWP. “Climate projections from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration indicate that increases in temperature, changes in rainfall, and extreme weather events nationwide will intensify between 2020 and 2050 and are likely to cause more droughts, floods, and storms.”

Despite the looming uncertainty, USAID’s partnerships in the Philippines are built for the long haul, drawing on a history of cooperation. After all, SWP “builds upon USAID’s previous successes that have promoted water security in the Philippines,” says Hardy. “Since 2013, USAID has invested $30 million to increase access to water supply and sanitation services for underserved communities alone.”

In the years ahead, SWP will continue to help better equip and position water managers across the Philippines to successfully respond to climate disruptions. Thankfully, the future looks bright. After all, Filipinos have demonstrated their collective resilience time and time again in response to a wide range of recent shocks, from typhoons and floods to droughts and COVID-19. “I have witnessed the Filipinos’ incredible resilience to bounce back from the wave of disasters that hit the country,” says Edgar. “While the economic recovery from the pandemic will be slow, I am fully confident that the Philippines will be able to adapt to a new and better normal.”

SWP and its partners are well-positioned to meet the moment and have ambitious plans: By the time SWP closes its doors in 2024, it expects to improve water and sanitation services for more than 1 million Filipinos, laying the foundation for a more resilient and prosperous future.

By Russell Sticklor

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head on in the Philippines was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Going Beyond Taps and Toilets in the Sahel

By: USAID Water Team
When local water agencies have data about water use, they are better able to maintain access to safe water for families in their communities. Photo credit: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Burkina Faso and Niger have some of the lowest rates of access to safe water and sanitation in the world. Water scarcity and water resource mismanagement in both countries undermine farming and livestock livelihoods, and sometimes create conflict. Growing risks associated with droughts and floods, combined with populations that increasingly face internal displacement due to violent conflict, undermine the prospects for economic growth and poverty alleviation. People in these Sahel nations who face these shocks and stressors often suffer through one humanitarian crisis after another, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these challenges.

Improved water governance helps ensure that supplies are available when they are needed for crops. Photo credit: Sean Sheridan/Mercy Corps

USAID is working to break this cycle through an approach that combines emergency humanitarian aid with long-term development assistance. It is doing so through the second iteration of its Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE II) program, a broad five-year, more than $700 million program that is being implemented in Burkina Faso and Niger. RISE II addresses governance; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); health; family planning; nutrition; food security; economic well-being; and empowering women and youth.

Water insecurity and pervasive shocks and stresses are two of Burkina Faso’s and Niger’s most critical challenges. RISE II includes the TerresEauVie (TEV) activity, whose central focus is water security. TEV, started in 2019, also focuses on food security, land access, and natural resources management. The $39 million activity has helped vulnerable populations effectively manage shocks and stresses such as droughts and floods and pursue sustainable pathways out of poverty.

TEV has three objectives: improved water security; productive land use; and improved management of shocks, risks, and stresses. “I think it’s actually the first [activity] of its kind in the Sahel,” says Maggie Janes-Lucas, director of the Sahel Collaboration and Communication project, which works in partnership with TEV. “It is quite unique and quite important.”

In the commune of Barsalogho, Burkina Faso, TerresEauVie rehabilitated 20 water points reaching approximately 6,000 people and trained five community relays to instruct members of all local water users’ associations. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Building the Capacity of Local Government to Address Water Insecurity

TEV works mainly at the commune level — the rough equivalent of a county government in the United States. It also collaborates with other RISE II related projects as well as government agencies at the village, regional, and national levels. TEV’s goal is to build local capacity for long-term management of water and land resources along with shock preparedness and response. TEV focuses on 25 (out of 250) of Niger’s communes, or 4,100 villages, and 15 (out of 350) of Burkina Faso’s communes, or 700 villages.

As one of its first tasks, TEV assessed the capacity of commune officials to manage people’s concerns and expectations about water and land related issues. “With [commune officials], we are developing plans for their improvement, where they see their issues, where they see their strengths, and where they want to take this,” explains Harvey Schartup, TEV’s director. “Together, we develop a capacity-building plan.” He says that over the coming years, TEV will train commune officials and their staff to increase their management, collaboration, and planning skills. These enhanced skills are one puzzle piece in the overall systemic approach to help officials better manage and improve operations. They also allow them to better anticipate, prepare, and respond to the shocks associated with more frequent extreme climate events and insecurity situations.

Locals in Tillaberi, Niger, gather in February 2021 to discuss factors that contribute to local flooding. Photo credit: Mercy Corps

Making Data for Planning Available and Usable

TEV is also working to improve the data available to communes so that they can make more informed decisions about water resources and WASH investments. In both Niger and Burkina Faso, communes are responsible for managing land, natural resources, and infrastructure development. These communes need to know the condition and location of all their health centers, water wells, roads, and cattle corridors. “All of this information that is dispersed, we are trying to bring it all together so the users would be able to have a systemic and long-range view of a particular geographic area,” explains Schartup.

TerresEauVie supported the creation of a land-use map for Filingué commune in southwestern Niger to help strengthen local natural resources management. Image credit: TerresEauVie

Communes are particularly interested in using these data to develop local land use and natural resource and risk management plans that address water resources, whether for agricultural, industrial, or household use. Currently, local water agencies do not have this sort of management tool. “This is new for them, and they are very interested in using and adding to this information we are providing them,” says Patrice Beaujault, TEV deputy director.

For example, in southwestern Niger, officials in Filingué looked for ways to solve frequent conflicts over water sources. TEV, in collaboration with other RISE II implementers, helped communal authorities and stakeholders map out the various resources and competing interests in the area. Together they developed a plan and a series of administrative ordinances, called a Local Convention, that established fair water and land use. The commune adopted its Local Convention in January 2020.

The mayor of Seytenga, Burkina Faso, demonstrates healthy handwashing hygiene to contribute to public awareness about COVID-19 prevention. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Coping with the Pandemic

Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou reported the country’s first case of COVID-19 on March 9, 2020. In the days that followed, leaders from around the country struggled to respond. “I quickly issued a municipal order to close the markets and ban demonstrations that could potentially mobilize large numbers of people,” says Amadou Tamboura, mayor of Seytenga in the country’s north. “I also asked people to respect the measures taken by the government. But what more can we do with our resources? It was at this point that TerresEauVie proposed that we draw up a communal response and prevention plan to respond to COVID-19.”

COVID-19 plans like these serve as roadmaps for communes preparing for and implementing prevention and response. They also foster communal leadership in directing where development and government agencies should provide resources. For example, the Seytenga commune drafted its action plan by involving key actors at the communal level, including those in health services, aligning with existing national guidelines. A communal response committee also meets once a month to plan major activities.

“I also noticed that people now wash their hands when they arrive at the Health Center.”

As part of the resulting plan, TEV supported the commune in conducting an information campaign via local radio in partnership with the Ministry of Health. One program featured a local nurse, Ahmadou Maiga, answering questions from listeners. “Some people thanked me by phone and in person at the Health Center for the clarity of the explanations,” Maiga said. “I also noticed that people now wash their hands when they arrive at the Health Center.”

TerresEauVie trained locals on how to interpret and use U.S. Geological Survey land-use maps to build communal multi-hazard contingency plans that will allow their communities to better navigate challenges such as disease, drought, flood, and crop parasites. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

TEV is doing similar work in Niger. In the Maradi region’s Chadakori commune, TEV worked with local officials to develop a simple framework for their COVID-19 contingency plan. Community members, including youth and women’s groups, worked together and led the data collection and analysis process to draw up the plan. TEV brought together the Crisis and Disaster Prevention and Management Sub-Regional Committee, the mayor, and communal technical services to review the first version of the plan together. This allowed them to go into greater detail around the plan’s objectives, vulnerability factors, and expected results, and to develop a more concrete working relationship between local and regional authorities.

“We have a contingency plan that meets our standards,” says Zeinabou Ibrahim, the commune’s secretary general. “We have now mastered the methodology for developing good contingency plans.” TEV has now begun supporting communes to transform their COVID-19 plans into communal multi-risk plans, encompassing a long-term perspective for addressing broader shock preparedness and response.

TerresEauVie has been helping strengthen local capacity to monitor water quality. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Goal Is Self-Reliance

In all of TEV’s work, the hope is to have a wider impact on water security in more than just the target communes in Burkina Faso and Niger. “Our vision goes beyond our targeted communities and those three component areas,” says Schartup. “We work with the communes and their support structures from day one, facilitating, mentoring, and assisting their efforts with the goal of long-term sustainable self-reliance. The aim is to develop successful, locally adapted models that the government will be able to expand beyond the 25 communes in Niger and 15 in Burkina Faso.”

“The idea at the end of the day is for self-reliance at the communal level,” agrees Beaujault.

By Christine Chumbler

In Sargane, Niger, a village outside Niger’s capital city, Niamey, Halima Issoufou (wearing a white headscarf) collects water from a well for her family. Halima lives with her husband and three children in a rudimentary mud hut in a rural village outside Niger’s capital city, Niamey. “In this area, people’s lives are based on agriculture, which does not answer their needs because of the rain,” Halima explains. “People constantly face drought, and that makes people suffer a lot.” Photo credit: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Going Beyond Taps and Toilets in the Sahel was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Building Resilience into a River Basin

By: USAID Water Team
Resilient Waters protects and preserves biodiverse hotspots such as the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere through support to community-based environmental monitors. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Imagine a river basin — the rivers, tributaries, creeks, and wetlands that gather water and deliver it to the sea — as the vital network that all things, living and nonliving, are connected to and dependent upon. This complex ecosystem is ever-changing from human and natural forces, and its management is complicated by the fact that it often crosses political boundaries — state to state, province to province, and country to country.

Southern Africa’s Limpopo River Basin, the fourth largest on the continent, supports more than 18 million people in four countries — Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The basin is also home to most of the region’s largest cities and economies and boasts a rich diversity of flora and fauna. But the pressures on this transboundary system — which include pollution, climate change, and population growth — are immense. As a closed basin, the river basin’s inability to provide enough water to meet the growing demand has profound implications for livelihoods, wildlife preservation, and food production.

USAID launched the five-year, $32 million Resilient Waters Program in 2018 to improve transboundary natural resources management and increase the water security and resilience of communities and ecosystems that depend upon the Limpopo and nearby Okavango basins.

Along the Limpopo River, USAID is tackling severe water and sanitation challenges in targeted municipalities and protected areas from the river’s source in South Africa to its mouth at the Indian Ocean on the coast of Mozambique. These challenges range from industrial pollution and its impact on the health of the river and the environment and inadequate sanitation upstream, to saltwater intrusion and depleted groundwater downstream. More frequent droughts, stronger cyclones, and intensified flooding related to climate change are further straining this vulnerable resource.

Climate-resilient water safety planning is critical throughout southern Africa’s Limpopo River Basin — an area prone to both severe droughts and extreme floods. Photo credit: Fyre Mael

Reducing Contamination Upstream

Combating pollution is one of Resilient Waters’ priorities for improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation services at key points in the Limpopo River Basin. “In South Africa, climate change effects, such as shortages in potable water due to prolonged droughts and minimum rainfall, have necessitated a change in sanitation sector planning,” says Lusanda Agbasi, acting director for the National Directorate for Sanitation at South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation. “This means reconsideration of on-site sanitation and decentralized sanitation technologies as viable options for the longer term.”

Case in point is Polokwane, South Africa, a burgeoning municipality in the middle of the basin. The majority of Polokwane’s residents are not connected to sewerage systems, and like many of the region’s rapidly urbanizing areas, the city has outgrown its existing wastewater treatment options. Further complicating matters, without a formal system for emptying, transporting, treating, or disposing of fecal waste originating from households not connected to the sewer network, Polokwane’s untreated waste is either overwhelming the limited number of wastewater treatment plants or being dumped illegally, contaminating waterways. A lack of infrastructure and regulation endangers the local water resources and supply and threatens water security for downstream users. To address the impacts on river resources upstream of the basin, Resilient Waters recently partnered with Polokwane Municipality to enhance its knowledge base for decision-making around fecal sludge management or non-sewered sanitation for the municipality.

Using an evidence-driven approach, this collaboration is piloting a series of tools — a climate delivery assessment, sanitation safety plan, fecal flow diagram, and an urban resilience toolkit — to improve the management of fecal sludge. Leonellha Barreto Dillon, a senior partner at Seecon and an expert in sanitation safety planning, is working on the pilot project in Polokwane, and says that greater recognition of the impacts of poor sanitation on water resources is needed. “The impact of unsafe fecal waste flows on people, and the environment is unknown, and therefore, not fully integrated in decision-making on sanitation management within the [Polokwane Municipality] Water Services Authorities.”

With support from the Regional Department for Water and Sanitation, Polokwane Municipality has committed to improve and refurbish its sanitation infrastructure. The evidence to improve fecal sludge management, collected through this pilot project, is expected to be integrated into the municipality’s overall planning and decision-making for sanitation service and infrastructure upgrades.

These newly embraced approaches have applicability well beyond Polokwane. “The lessons learned will be used to feed into the development of the fecal sludge management strategy for South Africa at large, because there are many other cities and other areas experiencing similar problems,” says Chief Technical Advisor for Resilient Waters Nkobi Moleele.

Because the Resilient Waters program is regional, Chief Partnerships Advisor Kule Chitepo adds, “Whilst we do have interventions that might be local in a particular country, we always want to see what the downstream and transboundary implications are of that localized or national activity. We’re also very interested to see how that contributes to building [the] resilience of the basin as a whole in terms of downstream implications of upstream or urban areas like Polokwane.”

A view of the Limpopo River at the border of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe in Kruger National Park. Photo credit: Arthur Chapman

Adapting to Change and Conserving Biodiversity

While it is crucial to safeguard the scarce water resources of the Limpopo River Basin from contamination, it is equally important to conserve and protect the high-elevation catchment areas that serve as water towers for the entire basin.

“The reason why a high-altitude catchment area is important is that it produces a lot of water per unit area for the basin [100 times as much as low-lying areas], but also these high-altitude areas are major storehouses of biodiversity,” says Moleele. Protecting diverse ecosystems upstream improves the quality and quantity of water flowing downstream, contributing to the sustainability of the community livelihoods that are dependent on these ecosystems.

To manage vulnerable areas more sustainably, Resilient Waters provided grants to local organizations working within a number of protected areas to improve catchment management; support sustainable use of natural resources; and help governments, park personnel, and communities prepare for climate change pressures on biodiversity and water supplies.

While the Limpopo River Basin runs through some of southern Africa’s most populated areas, it also traverses dozens of parks and protected areas, including the Waterberg Biosphere that are vital sources of water downstream. Photo credit: Allan Watt

For example, the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, home to 5,500 species of plants as well as the endangered black rhino and wild dog, serves as an important water tower for three major catchments flowing into the Limpopo River. Resilient Waters is equipping staff with skills spanning field work, surveying, and Geographic Information System usage that will inform the implementation of a Strategic Environment Management Plan. A grant is also helping to engage traditional leaders and local municipalities to conduct socio-economic and water, sanitation, and hygiene surveys to determine upcoming climate change adaptation activities.

“This Strategic Environmental Management Plan is trying to look at all these challenges holistically with a view to ensure that water for all these different purposes is assured,” says Moleele.

To the east of the Waterberg lies another high-altitude catchment area, the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere. This area is home to two of South Africa’s biggest tourist attractions in the basin, Blyde River Canyon and Kruger National Park, and it functions as a critical water source for a number of agricultural hubs. Pollution, invasive species, contaminated mine drainage, and poor waste management and sanitation are all threats to water security in the reserve. Resilient Waters supports the biosphere’s community-based environmental monitors to conduct village patrols, monitor river health, and raise awareness among the adjacent communities to increase the availability of clean water both locally and downstream. A recent clean-up campaign that involved more than 100 community members has led to some promising changes in waste collection and disposal practices. The program also supports restoration activities in the rivers, wetlands, and grasslands of the catchment.

A Resilient Waters’ project officer teaches a community-based natural resource monitor in the Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe, to conduct a riverine assessment. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Environmental stewardship is not limited to the high-catchment areas, however. The Limpopo River Basin is also home to numerous other parks and preserves, including the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, shared among Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, which connects almost a dozen parks and biodiversity hotspots adjacent to Kruger National Park, including Mozambique’s Limpopo, Banhine, and Zinave National Parks and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on these unique landscapes; the weather has become hotter and drier, depleting food supplies for grazers and watering holes. As part of its mandate to strengthen the ability of communities and key institutions to adapt to climate change, Resilient Waters co-hosted a training workshop with UNESCO on Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis for South Africa’s parks department, local NGOs, and other regional institutions. These parties now have access to more than 40 global climate models and visualization tools that enable them to make data-driven decisions on local and regional water resources management. Putting its newly acquired knowledge into action, Kruger National Park management used the content of the training workshop to start planning for climate-related impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Resilient Waters also supported the participation of professionals from across southern Africa in the UNESCO Mozambique Flood and Drought Monitoring training, which uses global best practice systems and data sets to predict water-related natural disasters.

New mangroves shoot up at the mouth of the Limpopo River in Xai Xai, Mozambique. Photo credit: Ton Rulkens

The Livelihoods Connection

Local communities are more likely to protect biodiversity and freshwater resources if doing so is connected to job creation and income generation. Supporting new livelihood strategies also helps people reduce their risk exposure in the face of a changing climate and increased water scarcity. Resilient Waters is building on livelihood strategies put in place by its USAID–funded predecessor, Resilience in the Limpopo River Basin (RESILIM), throughout the basin in locales as diverse as Polokwane, the buffer zones between communities and protected areas, and at the mouth of the Limpopo River in Xai Xai, Mozambique.

Upstream, a Resilient Waters grant is sharpening farmers’ skills to practice climate-smart agriculture and use water-wise farming techniques in an effort to boost income generation in areas where more severe droughts are predicted.

Downstream, the Limpopo River empties into the Indian Ocean in Xai Xai, a city of 120,000 people whose income depends upon viable fisheries and whose water supply depends upon available groundwater. All of the inputs upstream impact Xai Xai, including a heavy concentration of nitrates from poorly managed fecal sludge and reduced water flows from the Massingir Dam to the north. Saltwater intrusion from the sea further disrupts Xai Xai’s water supply, and the coastal town is increasingly vulnerable to flooding from more frequent and violent cyclones. The mangroves that once served as a natural buffer between the ocean and the river have been vanishing, eroding the area’s identity as a thriving estuary and limiting the ability of these vital coastal forests to provide natural flood protection.

“We are working to find ways to establish ecotourism activities that will also generate money for the communities so that they remain motivated to conserve the mangroves.”

“Mangroves are very productive ecosystems, they are also good spawning grounds for fish and many other things,” notes Moleele. “They also buffer the agricultural land from the intrusion of seawater…[and provide] many benefits. But as a result of a history of degradation from unregulated land uses as well as destruction from floods, the integrity of the Xai Xai mangrove ecosystems has been compromised.”

Through a grant to a local NGO, Resilient Waters is supporting local communities to restore the mangroves, work that began under RESILIM and which includes a strong livelihoods component. Women’s cooperatives are participating in conservation-based income-generation activities associated with the estuary, for example. “We are working to find ways to establish ecotourism activities that will also generate money for the communities so that they remain motivated to conserve the mangroves, because the mangroves play a critical function in that estuary,” says Moleele.

The Pandemic Challenge

A new challenge facing the basin emerged in 2020 — COVID-19. Activities previously seen as win-win approaches, such as linking biodiversity conservation with income-generating ecotourism in buffer zones, have ground to a halt.

“In this part of the world, in the Limpopo River Basin, a lot of the rural economies around the protected areas are built upon or reliant upon the ecotourism industry,” explains Chitepo. “And as you know, tourism has been very hard hit by the pandemic. So this has a direct effect on the livelihoods that are reliant upon the conservation area.”

Resilient Waters is having to adjust to this new normal, but with challenges come opportunities, according to Moleele. “We’re not just operating in a vacuum of what the needs are on the ground. And I think now more than ever, we have an opportunity to really ramp up our livelihoods work, especially given the impacts of the pandemic.”

Stream flow monitors are installed in the K2C Biosphere in the Blyde River catchment area, an important upstream source of water for a number of agricultural hubs. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Enhancing Transboundary Coordination

While many of the upstream and downstream challenges can be tackled at the local level, engaging national structures, such as water authorities, is critical to addressing water resources management and disaster risk reduction in the basin. Ultimately, the most pressing concerns must be coordinated at the transboundary level, whether such steps involve mapping an aquifer to explore groundwater depletion in each member country or devising robust early warning systems for the basin. To that end, Resilient Waters has embedded two technical experts within the Limpopo Watercourse Commission Secretariat, the structure put in place by the member states to govern the basin.

This level of coordination is “a lot of work,” admits Chitepo. “But the relationships are there, the intention is there, the political will is there, the countries themselves are contributing towards the costs. Obviously, some countries have got more resources than others to be able to contribute towards this functionality, but they work very well in terms of leaving no one country behind in their cooperation.”

Resilient Waters’ work to strengthen institutional connections, build up its partnerships, and address the shocks and stresses of climate change will help mitigate the pressures on the Limpopo River Basin for years to come. As the health of this vital ecosystem improves, so too will the resilience of the humans and natural systems that depend upon it.

By Wendy Putnam

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

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Building Resilience into a River Basin was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The Year in Review

By: USAID Water Team

USAID Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene Highlights from 2020

During a tumultuous 2020 that witnessed the emergence of the most deadly pandemic to sweep the globe in more than 100 years, USAID and partners have proven flexible and resilient in delivering safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to the world’s most underserved and at-risk populations. Recognizing the importance of good handwashing hygiene and uninterrupted water service in containing the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopening economies, the Agency went above and beyond throughout the year to ensure that communities across the globe had the necessary information, strategic guidance, and WASH services they needed to protect themselves.

But the story of USAID’s WASH programming achievements cannot be viewed solely through the lens of COVID-19. This past year, the Agency expanded its evidence base to inform and strengthen current and future WASH programming. We released an expansive Water and Development Technical Brief Series and completed the research on a series of Ex-Post Evaluations that turned a critical eye toward long-closed WASH activities and examined the reasons why some interventions proved sustainable — and why some did not.

As we continue to learn, we also reflect on what has proven so impactful to date: USAID support since FY 2008 helped more than 53 million people gain access to sustainable water services, and 38 million people gain access to sustainable sanitation services. But our work is far from done. Between FY 2018 and 2019 alone, the Agency provided $835 million to support WASH activities in more than 50 countries. This year, USAID continued to make progress toward achieving its key development objectives under the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy. To accelerate our progress, we launched a private sector partnership with the global sanitation company LIXIL to help scale-up and speed access to affordable, sustainable WASH solutions around the world.

Don’t just take our word for it — let us show you the many ways USAID is helping transform lives. Scroll down to see how the Agency and its many partners have been busy harnessing the incredible power of WASH to enhance the quality of life, build more resilient and self-reliant communities, and create a healthier, more livable world for all, while protecting the environment.

Click here to view “Year in Review” in Adobe Spark.

By Russell Sticklor of the USAID Water Communications and Knowledge Management Project

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

The Year in Review was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Strengthening Drought Monitoring Across the Middle East and North Africa

By: USAID Water Team

In one of the world’s most water-stressed regions, USAID and partners are helping create more resilient communities by preparing them to stay one step ahead of the next drought.

Sunset over the rolling countryside of Jordan, among the most water-scarce countries on Earth. Photo credit: Mariusz Kluzniak

The Middle East and North Africa are among the most water-stressed regions on the entire planet. Water availability — or lack thereof — has shaped societies here in profound ways for thousands of years. Today water access remains an existential issue for many countries across this semi-arid and arid region, especially as they navigate the new uncertainties of a changing climate.

What looms largest in the minds of water resource managers is a chronic threat: drought. As an already parched region with relatively low water storage capacity, even modest downturns in water availability can result in outright water scarcity, meaning there is insufficient water physically available to meet the needs of the human population and the economy. More frequent and severe droughts associated with climate change are expected to intensify stress on all aspects of economic activity and daily life in the coming years and decades, even threatening food insecurity and social unrest in cases of extreme drought.

Despite the troublesome outlook, an innovative initiative launched in mid-2018 is increasing the capacity of several countries across the region to more effectively mitigate, manage, and even one day predict the next serious drought. With the support of USAID’s Middle East Bureau, the MENAdrought project is an ambitious collaboration pooling the resources and expertise of global leaders in the field of drought monitoring, forecasting, and management, including the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Johns Hopkins University, and others. Together, they are equipping water managers and engineers from Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco with the training, data, tools, and planning skills needed to better respond to and endure the next major drought.

Appearances can be deceiving: Despite the presence of snow in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, seen here along the road between Midelt and Fès, the country regularly struggles with serious water scarcity. Photo credit: Ralf Steinberger

Putting the U.S. Global Water Strategy into Action

Since the release of the U.S. Government’s first-ever Global Water Strategy (GWS) in 2017, USAID has prioritized strengthening water security around the world in partnership with other federal agencies. Together, they have embraced and operationalized a whole-of-government approach structured around four key strategic objectives, including “encourage the sound management and protection of freshwater resources.” USAID and NASA collaboration in support of this objective lies at the heart of MENAdrought programming.

Launched within a year of the GWS, MENAdrought highlights the U.S. Government’s commitment to improving drought risk management, a key aspect of the overall vision to create a more water-secure world. To turn this vision into reality, MENAdrought is built on three “pillars” to institutionalize integrated drought management and strengthen countries’ self-reliance in the face of future droughts. Those pillars include developing drought monitoring and early warning systems; conducting impact and vulnerability assessments; and elevating the importance of drought mitigation, response, and preparedness.

MENAdrought participants are trained on a drought monitoring tool known as the Composite Drought Index (CDI) during a recent workshop held in Cairo, Egypt. Photo credit: Louise Sarant

Each project partner contributes to the greater whole. IWMI has worked with the National Drought Mitigation Center to adapt their drought monitoring system to the local environmental conditions of the MENA region, and co-designed it so that national partners are now able to operate it locally. The drought monitoring uses satellite data, and modeling from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to generate the monthly drought maps. Meanwhile the National Drought Mitigation Center used their expertise to support IWMI’s in-country convening of various “writeshops” to develop drought action plans that are co-designed across multiple ministries. This has been supported by extensive technical and policy training of participants from Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco for in-person and virtual capacity-building workshops. With an eye toward sustainability, one of MENAdrought’s central aims has been to create national-level drought management capabilities that can guide decision-makers’ water management responses and choices during future events.

A Historically Dry Region Poised to Become Drier Still

“Climate change is having profound impacts on water availability across the MENA region,” says Strategic Program Director of Water, Climate Change, and Resilience at IWMI Rachael McDonnell. “Changes in key climatic variables already being experienced include declines in annual precipitation, delays to the start of the growing season with the onset of rains delayed by five to six weeks in many countries, increased frequency and intensity of droughts, and increased temperatures.”

For that reason, strengthening drought monitoring and management is urgently needed. “Droughts are a normal part of the climate cycle, and climate change is only going to ramp up this cycle and the extreme events that will follow,” says Dr. Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who also serves as a MENAdrought project lead.

Drought impacts every aspect of economic activity and daily life, without exception. Even in periods of relative water abundance, many MENA countries struggle with balancing competing water demands from various sectors. “One of drought’s best-recognized impacts is on agriculture, which clearly impacts food security,” explains Dr. Christa D. Peters-Lidard, Deputy Director for Hydrosphere, Biosphere, and Geophysics and the Acting Chief Scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Beyond agriculture, drought-related water scarcity affects other sectors such as energy, transportation, and health. When drought causes food and energy prices to increase, the overall economy is impacted, which has downstream effects on household livelihoods.”

“The shocks of recent droughts, particularly since the turn of the century, have left all three countries grappling with these events,” says McDonnell. “Each of the countries has water stress from some common but also locally distinct conditions that make them prone to the impacts of drought.”

In Morocco and elsewhere, drought can wreak havoc on agricultural production. Here, a farmer cultivates a field of dry powdery soil near Ben Guerir in central Morocco’s Rehamna Province. Photo credit: IWM

Staying Proactive: Developing Drought Monitoring and Early Warning Systems

Hydrological and land-use data from NASA informs MENAdrought efforts to strengthen drought monitoring. The project cross-references the resulting maps with on-the-ground observations and measurements of water levels, soil moisture, vegetation stress, and related indicators to produce a reliable picture of the extent and severity of drought conditions at any given moment. This information not only helps track the evolution of a drought as its grip eases or tightens, but it also guides water managers and relevant decision-makers spread across other government agencies as they work in concert to direct timely and effective mitigation measures or emergency response.

While effective drought monitoring can help ease the stress once a drought takes hold, decision-makers have requested more help with forecasting before the climate shock starts to impact locally.

Drought forecasting capabilities can help provide at least some advance notice of an impending drought, providing countries with a crucial window to mitigate a drought’s worst effects through measures like preemptive water supply reallocations that can help safeguard livelihoods and entire industries. “The models have been shown to reliably forecast precipitation anomalies about one month ahead and temperature anomalies about three months ahead,” explains Dr. Peters-Lidard.

Under MENAdrought, drought forecasting technology is combined with regular monitoring to create a flexible early warning system that produces results with a fairly high degree of accuracy, providing advance guidance to local decision-makers before a drought crisis fully takes hold. “Typically, drought is a slow-onset hazard, but not always,” says Dr. Svoboda. “A good drought early warning system is also going to include the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month monitoring, which serves as a bridge to the longer seasonal forecasts.”

A farmer holds a buoy aloft, found near the reservoir behind Morocco’s Lalla Takerkoust dam which is experiencing historically low water levels. Photo credit: IWMI

Promoting Self-Reliance through Local Ownership of Drought Management Plans

One of the most important legacies of MENAdrought will be the creation of national drought management plans currently under development, which are informed by the project’s early warning systems and drought impact assessments. These plans, developed in close coordination with in-country partners, will serve as roadmaps for integrated drought management, guiding everything from preventative drought planning to emergency response.

“In terms of building self-reliance and resilience, ownership of the plans is critical.”

Crucially, the plans will belong to the participant countries, encouraging buy-in from key government decision-makers and water stakeholders. “In terms of building self-reliance and resilience, ownership of the plans is critical,” says McDonnell. “A central tenet of this project has always been to co-develop systems that are robust and operational in the working environments of the countries. The systems have been designed with the main agencies that will operate them, and capacity building has been a key activity throughout the project. The engineers, water managers, meteorologists and agricultural specialists have been keen, able, and enthusiastic colleagues bringing their local understanding to the development of the plans, and capabilities — and it has been particularly heartening with young female specialists who have worked closely with us in the development of the plans and management ideas.”

This big-tent, collaborative approach to designing the drought management plans is expected to pay dividends down the road, in terms of ensuring that all participants feel they have a stake in successfully integrating these plans into government decision-making processes. “With more [collaborative] drought action planning involving water utilities, ministries responsible for water, agriculture, and the environment, there is a real hope that proactive drought management will become integrated into planning of all of these organizations as roles and responsibilities do not sit with just one agency,” says McDonnell.

To help operationalize these plans, MENAdrought has introduced a powerful tool known as the Enhanced Composite Drought Indicator (eCDI). The eCDI draws upon drought impact assessments, monitoring capabilities, and early warning systems — as well historical, country-specific drought information — to provide decision-makers with the scientific guidance needed to gauge when to declare an official drought, and when to trigger certain policy actions or emergency measures to bring relief to communities and economic sectors based on real-time changes in water availability. To that end, the eCDI is capable of documenting drought occurrences while specifying locations and intensities of drought conditions with a high degree of accuracy, as shown below.

MENAdrought’s Composite Drought Index maps the intensity of drought impact. Shown above, CDI reveals the impact of a serious drought that spread across in Jordan in early 2014. Image credit: IWMI

What’s more, the design and performance of the eCDI can be tailored to suit a country’s specific local needs and characteristics. One data input to the monitoring is soil moisture which is generated using an open source modeling software from NASA known as the Land Information System. “Through technical support of the MENAdrought project these modeling methods can be shared with the participant countries, so that they can customize them as needed,” says Peters-Lidard.

Toward a More Water-Secure and Resilient Future

Ultimately, the drought management plans and customized eCDIs will enable countries to make smart water management decisions even during times of relative water abundance. Equipped with these tools, MENAdrought participant countries will also be on the path to greater drought resilience once the project wraps up in 2021. As such, optimism abounds for what might be achieved in the years and decades ahead. “Proactive drought management as opposed to crisis-led responses have been consistently shown to be both more effective and less costly,” says McDonnell. “MENAdrought will give countries a strong basis for proactive and engaged drought resilience building.”

Sheep graze drought-damaged grass, near Moulay Brahim in Morocco’s Al Haouz Province. Photo credit: IWMI

The technologies, processes, and planning tools introduced under MENAdrought are expected to have applicability to other drought-prone countries as well. As an example, Dr. Peters-Lidard points out that her agency’s Land Information System is “flexible and open-source” and therefore accessible to all, meaning “it would be possible to replicate the same methods across the region and throughout the world.” And it has been encouraging that many countries have already been expressing an interest in the project. “The tools are robust and operational, and the experiences in developing action plans could be used to help other countries deal with the ever-increasing threats from droughts,” says McDonnell.

In the end, greater awareness and preparedness cannot fully safeguard countries against the ravages of drought. But newly equipped with real-time data and powerful monitoring tools and plans, it is expected that even severe droughts can be navigated successfully in the future.

“Ultimately, we need to have good drought monitoring and early warning information systems in place that are tied to accountable action in drought mitigation plans,” concludes Dr. Svoboda. “The truth is drought should not sneak up on us…ever.”

By Russell Sticklor

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 5; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Strengthening Drought Monitoring Across the Middle East and North Africa was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Lessons from Tanzania: Maximizing Market-Based Sanitation’s Potential

By: USAID Water Team
Events such as road shows and business-to-business meetings provide a chance to demonstrate WASH products to potential distributors, retailers, and customers down the supply chain. Photo credit: Hassan Litama

Businesses and social enterprises are providing essential, low-cost water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) products in rural and peri-urban areas of Tanzania. Consumers not only need access to appropriate household latrines, but they also need trained professionals to install them in their communities. It seems simple enough, however, sanitation product companies face numerous barriers that prevent them from expanding into these markets — one of them is the high cost of creating and managing distribution networks.

To address this issue, USAID/Tanzania’s Water Resources Integration Development Initiative (WARIDI) began working with LIXIL, the maker of SATO (Safe Toilet) products, to hold marketing and supply chain development events connecting them with potential distribution partners down the supply chain. Tanzania’s National Sanitation Campaign has been instrumental in driving demand for improved latrines across the country, and this partnership was intended to reduce transaction costs and encourage LIXIL’s expansion into underserved areas.

LIXIL’s SATO products — including both a squatting and a sitting pan — are designed to improve sanitation for consumers. These products have a counter-weighted trap door that allows waste to flow through, then seals shut to keep out flies and prevent odors for an improved, safer user experience. SATO toilets can cost as little as one quarter of the price of ceramic toilets available in the Tanzanian market and are easier to install. They are ideal for the improvement of traditional pit latrines because the installation is a simple process of extending the pit latrine hole to fit the SATO and applying mortar to the edges and sides of the latrine after putting it in place. This can take as little as one hour of work.

Finding the Right Formula to Strengthen the Supply Chain

To expand LIXIL’s reach into rural and peri-urban markets, WARIDI facilitated the company’s involvement in 60 roadshow events in 20 Local Government Authorities (LGAs). LIXIL and other WASH product companies sent representatives to promote their products to consumers and local shopkeepers, ultimately reaching nearly 30,000 attendees.

However, the roadshow exposure did not end up driving SATO sales as expected, and in fact, LIXIL found it challenging to meet the many small orders it received from retailers through their existing supply chains. In response, WARIDI co-organized eight business-to-business meetings to link LIXIL directly to local wholesalers, retailers, and masons in eight LGAs. This included dozens of WARIDI–trained microenterprises — small pharmacies, building supply, and hardware shops operating in underserved communities. These events gave LIXIL a chance to demonstrate its products to potential supply chain partners and to negotiate 13 pricing and distribution agreements in areas where the company did not have business connections. Additionally, WARIDI and LIXIL collaborated to organize trainings on the installation of SATO latrine pans for 76 masons working in 10 LGAs to ensure customers could easily find a professional in their areas to help them set up their new SATO latrines.

With training, a mason can improve a traditional latrine with a SATO product in approximately one hour. Photo credit: Cornelius Sindikira

“Working with USAID/WARIDI helped LIXIL reach many peri-urban and rural areas to establish a SATO distribution network and this has reduced transaction costs for expanding our market,” says Justine Mbowe, LIXIL’s country manager.

Developing a network of regional SATO distributors who can supply retailers in their area has helped simplify LIXIL’s distribution network and allows for joint ordering to reduce transaction costs, and ultimately to keep the price of SATO products low. WARIDI trained microenterprises, regional distributors, and local wholesalers who have sold nearly 5,000 of LIXIL’s improved latrine pan products. These sales resulted in improved access to sanitation for an estimated 25,000 people.

Reaching Customers Where They Are

WARIDI found sales per retailer to be highest in Mufindi, Mbarali, Njombe, and Iringa. Here, retailers achieved substantially higher volumes of SATO latrine pan sales than retailers in other LGAs. For example, retailers in Mbarali more than doubled the average sales of SATO reported by LIXIL’s small retailers across other WARIDI–monitored LGAs. Eager to learn from this example, WARIDI followed up with retailers in the area, who said they reached this volume of sales through proactive sales and marketing efforts. This included taking advantage of weekly village markets to sell products and, notably, actively coordinating efforts with local government during and after National Sanitation Campaign events to promote SATO latrines.

Government leaders in Mbarali took a very active role in sanitation activities, using a social media group to ensure engagement from the district commissioner and executive director down to ward-level executives and health officers. Participants exchanged feedback on sanitation activities, collaborated to troubleshoot challenges, and provided updates on the availability of SATO latrine products, which they saw as a key factor in achieving wider access to improved sanitation.

Training masons to install LIXIL’s SATO products supported access to improved sanitation by ensuring end customers can easily find a professional in their area to install their new SATO latrines. Photo credit: Cornelius Sindikira

“I am glad to be part of the SATO supply chain in my area of Kinyanambo,” explains Musa Mgeni, owner of a microenterprise located in Mbarali. “This has helped me to increase [my] income through SATO sales. Thanks to WARIDI for connecting me to LIXIL through business-to-business meetings and the mason training.”

WARIDI’s collaboration with LIXIL demonstrates the need for market-based sanitation efforts to coordinate demand for SATO pans with product availability. While the road show provided good publicity for SATO products, LIXIL’s supply chains weren’t yet structured appropriately to meet demand in rural and peri-urban communities at that time. If supply chain strengthening activities had taken place first, the road show may have driven stronger sales results. In contrast, when WARIDI–trained microenterprises coordinated their marketing efforts with local government partners in Mbarali, they saw substantial sales of SATO products from consumers primed by the messages of the National Sanitation Campaign. This shows not only the importance of aligning supply and demand in market-based sanitation, but also the impact that can be achieved when the public and private sector are able to collaborate effectively as partners.

By Henry Jackson, Msafiri Chagama, and Nick McClure of Resonance

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 5; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Lessons from Tanzania: Maximizing Market-Based Sanitation’s Potential was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Scaling Up Financing for Urban Sanitation in Senegal

By: USAID Water Team

A small family-owned business becomes a leading sanitation service provider in Senegal.

Senegal’s only female emptier assists with a fecal sludge emptying operation in a fecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP). Photo credit: WASH-FIN

Ibra Sow is the president of VICAS, a successful sanitation service provider (SSP) in Senegal. Ibra began his career in sanitation working as an apprentice driver in his father’s family-owned sanitation business. He went on to create VICAS in 2000, with the aim of providing specialized services for onsite and offsite sanitation, road maintenance, and industrial cleaning in Dakar, the country’s capital. Today, VICAS hasan annual revenue of approximately $4.5 million, a fleet of 22 trucks and other essential equipment, 29 full-time staff, and 300 seasonal workers, and is one of Senegal’s four largest SSPs.

Businesses like VICAS need capital to grow. While traditional sources of financing such as government contracts, user fees, and international grants have supported SSPs in Senegal, a financing gap exists between the current government budget and the total investment needed in the sector. SSPs need access to capital for equipment and sustainable, climate-resilient infrastructure. According to a USAID Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Finance (WASH-FIN) survey of 100 SSPs, many providers lack financial expertise and are not well-positioned to grow. Consequently, SSPs have found it challenging to access additional commercial finance to support capital improvements. USAID WASH-FIN meetings with financial institutions showed that local financiers have a limited understanding of investment opportunities in the urban sanitation subsector, and view sanitation projects as risky endeavors from a business perspective. A USAID assessment of the financial landscape further showed that only a small portion of financial institutions had pursued WASH investments in the past.

WASH-FIN is working with SSPs such as VICAS in Senegal to close the sanitation financing gap. In May 2019, with support from WASH-FIN, VICAS received the equivalent of $1 million in financing from Banque de Dakar to purchase machinery and support day-to-day operations.

A worker cleans the FSTP’s screen, which is used to retain the solid waste contained in the fecal sludge. Photo credit: WASH-FIN

The support to VICAS included the design of a new business plan, which also included a capital raising strategy, a financial model, and an analysis of potential investors. An initial assessment of the company’s business expansion and fundraising needs showed that VICAS could take on more debt than it presently had. With WASH-FIN’s support, VICAS negotiated and selected the most competitive loan offer from a local bank — Banque de Dakar. Through the loan, VICAS furthered its ability to maintain and repair its equipment and infrastructure, thereby improving the quality of sanitation services for the approximately 50,000 households VICAS serves.

“This partnership with USAID WASH-FIN resulted in the most significant loan closing in my career and increased my confidence in the potential for VICAS. I am now looking to expand VICAS operations in the region, in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, as I already have strong partnerships with private sector actors in those countries,” notes Ibra.

Senegal’s Sanitation Sector

Senegal is among the few African countries with a WASH institutional framework that has been successful in extending services by embracing private sector participation. Despite this success, only 21 percent of the population had access to safely managed sanitation services in 2019, according to UNICEF estimates. Currently, the government is working to expand this model, but the expansion is at risk due to financial constraints, with UNICEF estimating a $329 million government budget gap. With more than half of the population lacking services, and public funding coming up short, expanded sources of funding are needed. But traditional banks and microfinance institutions are not yet ready to finance the sector at scale. Service providers are also not sufficiently prepared to engage with these institutions.

To improve the delivery of urban sanitation services, USAID WASH-FIN is helping ONAS, the Association des Acteurs de l’Assainissement au Sénégal (Association of Sanitation Operators) finalize a market-structuring strategy to identify private sector SSP opportunities in urban areas outside Dakar. In support of this strategy, the program undertook a study of best practices in public-service market structuring and analyzed the potential market size that would be necessary to establish a profitable subsector.

Mechanical emptying of fecal sludge is much safer than manual emptying, and waste is easier to transport for treatment. Photo credit: WASH-FIN

In Senegal, WASH-FIN is also working with the local commercial banking sector to increase its understanding of sanitation investment opportunities, and to grow the evidence-base that documents such opportunities. To achieve this, the program has hosted knowledge-sharing events and led a landscape review to explore a broad array of financing opportunities. As a result of continuous engagement with the potential pool of financiers, 15 Senegalese banks and three multinational banks or investment funds have openly expressed interest in the urban sanitation sector. In addition to the $1 million in financing that VICAS received, new transactions exceeding $6 million are currently under negotiation with other institutions.

Commercial lenders have stringent credit requirements for SSPs. Designed to meet the different needs and skill sets of large and small SSPs, WASH-FIN technical assistance focuses on increasing access to finance to expand urban service delivery. This support consists of: assessing creditworthiness; refining technical proposals; preparing financial models; and matching SSPs with suitable financing institutions.

“It is important to work with both financial institutions and service providers in order for both parties to have a better understanding of what is needed in terms of expanding WASH services and the key investment opportunities and what is required to mobilize private finance,” emphasized Jeff Goldberg, Director of the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene at USAID.

The Omni Processor converts wet sewage into dry solids and water vapor. Photo credit: WASH-FIN

Converting Waste into Energy

In addition to VICAS, the program also supported another SSP, Delvic, in the commercialization of the Janicki Omni Processor (J-OP), a new waste-to-energy sanitation technology that is being piloted outside of Dakar. Given that only 21 percent of the Senegalese population has access to safely managed sanitation, investment is needed in new sanitation treatment options with the potential to expand services for entire communities. The J-OP is unique in that it processes sanitation waste, removing the pathogens, and produces energy, water, and ash as by-products. This technology is expensive compared to existing systems, but the ability to sell the by-products, or use them for industrial purposes, holds promise in terms of improving affordability for waste treatment. With additional capital, Delvic hopes to scale up the technology throughout Senegal. To help Delvic move the piloted J-OP to a commercially viable scale, USAID WASH-FIN prepared a market-based financial model using debt and equity sources. To date, grant capital has funded pilot operations, and the program has been working with Delvic and relevant stakeholders to raise additional capital.

In addition to supporting some of the largest SSPs in Senegal, the program is working to better understand the financial history, capacity, and interest of smaller SSPs in accessing financing. In partnership with ONAS and targeted financial institutions, WASH-FIN is supporting the development of a Fleet Renewal Program that would help replace aging sanitation trucks under affordable financing conditions. This multi-million-dollar fund is currently under negotiation, and, once finalized, is expected to mobilize investment to expand and increase the efficiency of service delivery.

Implications for Future Interventions in Senegal and Globally

In Senegal, USAID WASH-FIN is building on a strong foundation of government leadership, development partner support, learning, and vision that has positioned the country at the forefront of affordable sanitation service provision with private sector participation globally. By expanding local financing options, government budgets will be more efficient in leveraging domestic private capital. Most importantly, Senegalese citizens receive improved and appropriately priced services, and their health and the environment will benefit.

The Omni Processor technology converts fecal sludge into clean electricity, nutrient-rich ash that can be used in agriculture, and clean water. Here several workers inspect the shredding machine located in the dried sludge storage room. Photo credit: WASH-FIN

While few countries have a sector set-up with such intensive private participation, Senegal’s leveraging of its successful experience in water supply public-private partnerships (PPPs) to address the sanitation challenge shows that with political will and commitment, lessons from one sub-sector can be adapted to others. In this case, the government budget and local private capital are used more efficiently and blended through the public-private partnership (PPP) mechanism to improve services. When considering the alternatives of prohibitively expensive traditional networked sewerage and treatment systems, this solution is also practical and appropriate vis-a-vis the physical composition of dense urban areas and the local economic base.

In countries that lack a history of PPPs in WASH, bold leadership, strong governance, and appropriate incentives will be required to manifest a similar improvement in sanitation. For example, in Kenya, USAID supported an SSP to scale up its operations. The program worked with Sanivation to increase access to sanitation in low income areas and non-sewered urban areas. In South Africa, WASH-FIN helped connect a local technology company with a potential investor. In both Kenya and South Africa, the technology used by the SSPs is largely domestic and not prohibitive in terms of capital costs. Both of these experiences will be detailed in upcoming case studies that can be accessed on Globalwaters.org. To bring more advanced and higher cost treatment technologies like the J-OP into a market, it may be necessary to look at financing options beyond water PPPs, and look at other sectors for comparative learning (for example, the experience of financing innovative renewable energy or microgrid technologies).

Providing access to the 2 billion people globally that presently do not have basic sanitation facilities will undoubtedly pose a great challenge. The implications of inadequate or nonexistent sanitation are significant, with economic losses estimated at between 1–2.5 percent of GDP across 18 African countries, or as high as $5.5 billion per year. In rapidly urbanizing countries, relying on old thinking will not be enough; Senegal has shown this. With its successful model of public and private sector partnerships, Senegal is expected to continue to lead in bringing new technologies into the sanitation sector.

For more details on WASH-FIN’s work in Senegal, please read the newly published country brief.

By Farah Siddique and Stephen Sena, USAID WASH-FIN

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 5; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Scaling Up Financing for Urban Sanitation in Senegal was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Five Ways USAID is Supporting Sustainable Sanitation

By: USAID Water Team

Five Ways USAID Is Supporting Sustainable Sanitation

USAID’s partnership with LIXIL formalizes work already happening in the sanitation marketplace in half a dozen African countries where women are trained as sales agents and “demand activators” for affordable latrine products, such as the blue plastic SATO Pan. Photo credit: Dorothy Nabatanzi

Despite the demonstrated health, economic, social, and environmental benefits that sanitation improvements provide, governments consistently underfund and place a low priority on sanitation. Though the challenges differ in urban and rural areas, the shortage of sanitation facilities and services is acute, and the solutions are complex. Ensuring more households have a toilet is not enough. At the current rate of progress, universal access to safely managed sanitation will not become a reality until the 22nd century, well beyond the global goal of 2030. However, with ongoing examination of emerging research, exploration of what has and has not worked in the past, and a commitment to identifying locally relevant and innovative solutions, USAID is working to close the sanitation gap.

USAID focuses on increasing sustainable access and use of safe sanitation services and promoting key hygiene behaviors through investments that generate the greatest health benefits in poor and underserved communities: improving basic access to sanitation services in households and institutions and management of fecal waste. Achieving widespread community coverage of basic sanitation and ending open defecation are critical priorities, as fecal contamination affects the community well beyond the household level. Where populations have greater access to basic sanitation, such as in urban areas, USAID emphasizes investing in safely managed sanitation, which focuses not only on containment but also on the emptying, transport, treatment, and safe disposal of waste.

USAID’s Water and Development Plan, part of the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy, set a target to help provide 8 million people with sustainable access to sanitation services by 2022 — a goal the Agency has already exceeded by 2.6 million people. As we celebrate World Toilet Day 2020, read about how USAID supports sustainable sanitation around the globe.

1. Partnering with the Private Sector

USAID announced a new partnership agreement with the global sanitation company LIXIL on October 14, 2020, to extend market-based solutions for sanitation and hygiene to underserved and vulnerable communities worldwide. This agreement outlines a framework and pathway to leverage the unique expertise, resources, and reach of USAID and LIXIL to advance their joint mission to combat the global sanitation crisis. LIXIL’s line of affordable, hygienic, and odor-free latrines for lower-income households includes the SATO Pan. The SATO Pan features a tiny self-closing flap at the bottom to block odors and keep away flies. This sanitation insert gives users peace of mind that their latrine is hygienic. It makes using a latrine a more dignified experience.

The partnership will scale LIXIL’s SATO latrine and toilet products in as many as 11 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, aim to strengthen sanitation supply-chains and markets, and create business opportunities for women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging economies. “We are very excited to team up with LIXIL and their SATO brand to reach more people with the safe and dignified options they deserve,” says USAID Global Water Coordinator Jennifer Mack. “At the heart of our new global partnership is a strong commitment to, and prioritization of, sanitation and hygiene.”

Training masons to build quality latrines is one way USAID is ensuring sustainable sanitation in places like Uganda. Photo credit: Stephanie Holtstein

2. Building Capacity of Local Entrepreneurs

Enabling viable sanitation enterprises is the focal point of making sanitation markets work. Functioning local markets are critical to a household’s ability to adopt improved sanitation facilities. Applying a market-based sanitation approach, USAID builds the capacity of entrepreneurs — such as masons, contractors, sales agents, pit emptiers, and manufacturers — to adopt sanitation as a profitable venture that often complements their existing business.

A sanitation entrepreneur at work in Haiti. Photo credit: Haiti WatSan

To promote toilet construction in Haiti, for example, the USAID Water and Sanitation Project recruits and trains entrepreneurs to take on sanitation as a business. Through instruction and coaching, budding entrepreneurs learn to create business plans and market household toilets. After completing the training, submitting a business plan, and building at least 15 toilets, a company can receive a performance-based grant and becomes eligible for additional grants once 25 new toilets are sold. One trainee, Elizée Pierre, owner of a small homebuilding company, became the first recipient to hit the microgrant milestone. “The best part of the training was the hands-on exercise,” says Pierre. “I learned that you have to create a market for your product. You can’t just sit back and wait for the customers to come to you.”

USAID evaluated the sanitation landscape in Uganda and found toilet building inconvenient, lengthy, and expensive. The process often led to a product of dubious quality. Designing attractive and affordable products provides a good foundation for market-based delivery. And organizing existing sanitation entrepreneurs to provide information and professional services to households streamlines the process. The Uganda Sanitation and Health Activity (USHA) used data-based, human-centered approaches to design products that strike a good balance between affordability and preferences of target customers. USHA then trained interested masons and linked them to “demand activators” — usually community health workers — that are considered a missing link between demand generation and basic toilet construction. USHA trains these activators to share tailored messages that resonate with potential customers. Once an activator generates a lead, the mason is responsible for meeting the customer and confirming the choice of sanitation product most suited to him or her. USHA encourages sanitation entrepreneurs to pay demand activators a small commission for every successful lead. This aggregated information-sharing is vital to making the construction process more transparent, easier, and cheaper for households.

Public sanitation facilities have become a symbol of dignity, safety, and a source of income for women in urban India. Photo credit: CURE

3. Working within Systems of Government

In August 2020, USAID received special recognition for its work with the Government of India to develop a competitive monitoring framework that currently assesses 4,200 urban local bodies every quarter to measure improved sanitation outcomes as part of the annual cleanliness survey known as Swachh Survekshan. USAID’s involvement dates back to the first year of the cleanliness survey in 2016, when USAID supported the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ Program Management Unit to design and implement the survey in 73 cities across India. Every year since, the scope of this work has expanded significantly to become not only a pan-India survey but also one of the largest of its kind in the world. “Swachh Survekshan, or the cleanliness survey, is more than a survey — it has become an effective tool for good governance, helped India achieve the goal of ending open defecation, and transformed the way the Government of India works to achieve other key development goals,” says USAID/India Acting Mission Director Ramona El Hamzaoui. In fact, the survey has become such a success that the Clean India Rural Mission and other government programs have replicated the framework.

A sanitation enterprise offers affordable ready-to-install toilets in Enugu, Nigeria. Photo credit: FSG

4. Applying Sanitation Research to Influence Policy and Practice

USAID conducts research and learning activities that expand what is possible in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, both globally and locally. In a quest to unpack the drivers of sustainability in its programming, USAID supported a series of six Ex-Post Evaluations, five of which explored sanitation outcomes over the long term. The series identified challenges associated with sustaining reductions in open defecation and enabling people to access higher quality sanitation. Among the takeaways: poor latrine quality is a key factor related to the lack of sustainability, and effective sanitation interventions likely need to apply a combination of smart and targeted subsidies, behavior change, and market-based sanitation approaches in a context-specific way. The series intends to foster learning and improve evidence-based sustainable development assistance at USAID and among other WASH stakeholders.

Through operational research, small grants, and technical support, USAID’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) project collaborates with governments, key sector donors, and implementers to fill evidence gaps related to rural sanitation and behavior change. WASHPaLS’ applied research and learning activities influence both policy and practice so that sector stakeholders can more effectively and efficiently invest resources where they are needed most. The project’s foundational research on market-based sanitation has led to a widely used conceptual framework centered around creating viable sanitation enterprises. Tools to support policy-level decision-making on sanitation and ensure the viability of sanitation enterprises are already having an impact on USAID programming on the ground.

Finally, the Agency has issued a set of Water and Development Technical Briefs that provides new guidance on important topics for developing and implementing WASH activities in support of USAID’s Water and Development Plan, as well as recommendations for activity design, implementation, and monitoring. Two of these briefs are focused on rural sanitation and urban sanitation services, respectively.

Achieving safely managed sanitation services requires that all parts of this service chain are functioning so that waste is safely treated and disposed. Photo credit: Yusuf Ahmad/USAID IUWASH PLUS

5. Considering the Whole Sanitation Service Chain

Urban sanitation is about more than just toilets. USAID focuses on the entire sanitation service chain, from containment to safe disposal. Technologies and approaches for each step in the service chain are tightly linked, meaning that programs must consider the entire chain before designing interventions.

In Indonesia, most urban residents until recently depended upon informal, unregulated, on-call fecal sludge removal practices that were not only unsafe but also costly and harmful to the environment. To address this problem, USAID’s IUWASH PLUS project partnered with local governments to establish an innovative service for scheduled desludging of fecal waste, a process known as the Layanan Lumpur Tinja Terjadwal (LLTT). Endorsed by the Government of Indonesia, the LLTT guidelines now serve as the primary driver in formalizing Indonesia’s desludging services across the country. For the first time, 40 cities across Indonesia have instituted regulated, scheduled desludging services using the guidelines to benefit hundreds of thousands of households. Establishing, regulating, and monitoring scheduled desludging services at national and local levels has been a game changer for Indonesia’s urban centers, and demand for these services is expected to grow as the country continues to urbanize rapidly.

In the end, no universal solution can be applied to the world’s complex sanitation challenges. But as USAID and its partners look beyond World Toilet Day 2020, the Agency is dedicated to developing and implementing a mix of approaches to create locally relevant, innovative sanitation solutions that put customers first and establish an enabling environment in which these approaches can flourish and be sustained.

By Wendy Putnam

This photo essay appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 5; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.

Five Ways USAID is Supporting Sustainable Sanitation was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Dredging Up the Past

By: USAID Water Team

A Clean Riverbed is Changing the Lives of Turkmen Farmers

“When there are floods, we have to build barriers to keep our land safe,” says Ataev Maksat, a 35-year old farmer from Saryyazy, a village in Mary, Turkmenistan. He is a third generation farmer, growing wheat and cotton on his ancestral land. He also raises livestock and tends to his household vegetable garden — all of which relies on the Murghab, a transboundary river that flows from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan.

The Murghab riverbed hasn’t been dredged in a long time. Over the past three decades, the riverbed has risen by nearly three meters. Additionally, the risk of flooding was exacerbated by changes in river flow due to climate change. Consequently, there has been an increase in floods and agricultural losses.

This has changed in 2020. In December 2019, USAID, in partnership with Turkmen counterparts, invested in a dredger, a vessel equipped to remove silt and sediment from the riverbed, through USAID’s Smart Waters program.

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This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 11, Issue 4; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org

Dredging Up the Past was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.