Talking Sh*t

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Talking Sh*t

Let’s be honest — internet fights get a lot of attention (cc: Drake and Meek Mill). On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, it’s clear that mostly everyone on the internet loves a little bit of shit-talking in the comments section of a public post to shake up their day. Let’s apply that term in its most literal sense: shit-talking as in literally talking about shit. Surprisingly, in the last year, talking about clean water, open defecation, and hygienic facilities have gotten the same kind of attention. The dialogue about sanitation has created urgency for the issue of sanitation across the globe.

The Global Citizen Festival 2015 hosted in Central Park, NYC focuses on raising awareness for development concerns across the world. Tickets for this festival are earned by actively writing to congressmen and women, writing an email, or using social media to bring attention to a specific cause. How effective is this in bringing awareness to development issues? Very. Considering that celebrities from all genres of music attend this festival, the incentive to obtain tickets to this sensation concert is huge. This creates a huge social media push for citizens all around the world to share their thoughts on critical issues facing the global community today. The overarching theme of this year’s Global Citizen Festival was global poverty and girls education. However, due to the fact that both of these goals are inherently connected to success in sanitation, Jim Yong Kim and Big Bird (yes, from Sesame Street) took center stage to address this critical issue.

big_bird_and_world_bank_pres_edited.jpg__1500x1000_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale.jpg

During the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 1990s, sanitation and clean water were not on the agenda. This was partly because of a conversation about sanitation wasn’t comfortable. At the time, sanitation cost the world $260 billion a year. Fast forward 25 years to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where Goal 6 is focused on acknowledging clean water and improving sanitation around the world. When Jim Yong Kim and Big Bird addressed the crowd at Global Citizen Festival to say that the World Bank plans to give $15 billion to fund sanitation — $4 billion of which had already been dispensed — they highlighted a fundamental aspect of development.

Chatter about sanitation has penetrated social media. Celebrities like Matt Damon have brought sanitation to the forefront of the conversation about development. Check out his toilet strike here (hyperlink to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQCqNop3CIg). Multiple NGOs have thrown away the taboo surrounding sanitation and instead, framed it as a critical point in the need to change the way that development looks. Using social media to talk about this key issue is creating serious waves in the development world.

It’s time to finish the job. With the help of organizations like Global Citizen, the dialogue about development issues such as sanitation are gaining serious momentum. Today, 1,400 children under the age of five die each day from diarrhea as a result of unsafe water and unhygienic sanitation. 25 years ago, the United Nations almost turned a blind eye to sanitation due to the fact that it simply wasn’t talked about. NGOs, celebrities, politicians, and citizens of the world are now charged with a loaded task — talk more shit.

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/oct/19/tweets-for-toilets-how-a-listers-saved-sanitation

http://www.trust.org/item/20151014173007-anbkr/?source=fiBlogs

http://water.org/post/celebrities-endorse-toilet-strike/

 http://www.msnbc.com/sites/msnbc/files/09.27.14_msnbc_global_citizen_festival_0560_2.jpg

https://media.globalcitizen.org/thumbnails/70/b8/70b8a0d8-2828-4bbb-a6a4-f8e033575e88/big_bird_and_world_bank_pres_edited.jpg__1500x1000_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale.jpg

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The Art of Being a Development Worker

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The Art of Being a Development Worker

Have you ever wanted to travel the world? See sights that you can only imagine. Experience communities your friends can never comprehend. Meet people around the world and share stories of life, love and adventure. I have. But the question that we all face when setting out to work for the betterment of humanity is how will we remember our experience. How will we record our memories or what will be our creative outlet when faced with human suffering.

For many in the humanitarian relief and development field there is a natural inclination to express ourselves through photography. And it is not to exploit populations we serve. It is not to expose injustice. But rather to appreciate culture, affirm diversity, and show the equality of humanity across the globe.

You will find development workers shooting with a range of equipment from a film camera that has been passed down across generations, to a cell phone camera meant for discretion in dangerous areas. But what makes the photos stand out is the purposeful intent of equipment, medium, and framing.

The ability to see the world through the lens of another is a skill necessary for this work and inherent to creating a photo. You tell a story. If you take a photo you are telling a story. You make a conscious decision of what to frame in order to elicit a desired response from a viewer. If you visit a field site you will tell their story. You will note what you see and experience for a report or brief for a specific audience. We interpret our experience then communicate it for the purpose of changing another’s perspective. Our work, our hope, is to change another’s worldview to be more caring, compassionate, and aware.

Arielle Azoulay wrote a text, The Civil Contract of Photography, which talks about the role of photography and society in conflict areas. And this is where we can begin to see the true purpose of our art and work. It is not about us as the development worker to change ourselves, but rather to encourage our audience “to take part…to take responsibility” for our fellow human beings. (p. 169)

I began my adult life as an artist. I moved to New York City to work as a photographer. I had no plan or reason other than I wanted to explore world’s unseen and push the limits of my understanding with new experiences. Having worked as a professional photographer for eight years I began questioning, is there another career that is more stable long-term, but provides me with the satisfaction and love that I feel when photographing a scene.

For me the logical leap was to human rights and social ethics. I knew that photography was my way to experience cultures, understand communities, and fly to the ends of the earth. Working in humanitarian relief and development provides me with these same experiences. And while I could have worked in this field without an artistic outlet or interest in photo, I believe this skill specifically has made me a better development worker – as is common amongst many of my peers. It forces you to challenge yourself and truly understand a context in order to portray it correctly.


Jason Riffe, MA, M.Div is a development director working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti


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A Word on ASHA

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A Word on ASHA

On August 17th, Evan and Maz of Asepsis met with ASHA (the Association for Sanitation and Health Activities) at a coffee shop in Delhi. We knew that ASHA had a phenomenal reputation in the international WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) community for their commitment to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals through a comprehensive and wide-ranging focus; stressing follow-up research, sharing information on lessons learned through conferences and summits, and pulling in a vast array of personnel with eclectic backgrounds. What we did not know is how quickly we would take a liking to them.

The goal of our meeting was similar to the goal of our trip in general, to learn about the sanitation situation and what was being done about it. In talking with ASHA a clear picture emerged. They were one of several organizations that were devoting nearly all of their resources to combatting the sanitation crisis, and doing so in an informed, innovative manner. We discussed their strategies for identifying communities in need of help, working with local leaders and government officials, and then enlisting the help of these same communities and individuals for the implementation of their solutions.

These were the very methods and principals with which Asepsis sought to work. So there we were, inspired and enraptured at the prospect of such a similar model making an impressive impact, when they invited to see their work in action.

Given an offer we couldn’t refuse, we flew out with the ASHA team – specifically Tuna Rout (Secretary) and Sandeep Bara (President) – to Bhubaneswar, where they are currently undergoing the construction of some 4,000 toilets. Bhubaneswar is located in Odisha, one of the most poverty- stricken areas in. Approximately 70 percent of the population does not have access to sanitation and the same amount live on less than $2.50 per day.

After arriving at the Bhubaneswar airport (BBI), we met with the project coordinator for the State of Odisha who drove us to their site two hours outside of the city. Upon arrival to the community, they took us to see some of their installed toilets that were completed in the latest round of construction. These toilets were made completely of concrete with the exception of the porcelain toilet seat, and were of a far greater quality than any toilet facilities in the area. The septic tanks were above ground: a key feature that will ensure that they do not overflow during rainy season. 

These toilets, built by members of the community who were also trained and informed on the importance of sanitation, are the same ones that Asepsis will be working to construct with ASHA in our #ComingClean Campaign. More information here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/asepsis-comingclean-campaign/x/12776017#/story

In every community, there is an agent for change, an individual that can serve as a catalyst for the betterment of the whole. We recognized ASHA’s adept ability to identify such individuals after we were taken to meet the head of the local panchayat (local government), who has spent the last decade engaging in numerous development projects, ranging from telecommunications and electrical infrastructure to health clinics. Recently, he has placed a big emphasis on sanitation, streamlining the process of toilet construction with ASHA and allowing them to move forward with their work at steady pace.

Asepsis and ASHA meeting with the head of the local panchayat and the principal of the nearby school

Asepsis and ASHA meeting with the head of the local panchayat and the principal of the nearby school

As a young organization trying to do what we can for what we see as one of the largest social injustices and public health disasters in the world, it was inspiring to see an organization like ASHA. Not only because of the work they were doing and the success they have had, but also because of the underlying motivations for doing so. They are first and foremost devoted to the people that they work for; a fact that is particularly evident when you see that most of their staff is from the areas in which they work. But, what’s more, they are an incredibly open and passionate organization.

Sitting in the back of the van taking us from the Bhubaneswar airport to the field, talking with Sandeep Bara and Tuna Rout about their work, the caste system, and the prospects for development in the complex environment that is India, we couldn’t help but feel we had found what Asepsis was looking for all along – an ally that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

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The Importance of Community Involvement

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The Importance of Community Involvement

The ways in which development projects and initiatives are created and implemented have changed drastically over the past 50 years, with one of the most important changes being improved community involvement. Beginning in the 1970s, development practitioners found potential development projects by utilising Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) techniques, which included doing short-term observatory research in order to identify the different development issues a country faced. These research trips utilized community members at a limited capacity as cultural barriers made it difficult for researchers to gain a community’s trust in a short period of time and therefore gain the privilege of accurate information coming from the native perspective.

Many projects created and implemented under RRA saw many obstacles along their way, such as general cultural impediments due to oversight and community buy-in and engagement due to a lack of connection to the purpose of the projects. These obstacles tended to affect the overall outcome of projects, leaving many goals unmet and resources ineffectively used. As soon as development practitioners saw projects fall short time and time again, new approaches to understanding development issues began to pop up and became more widely utilized.

Many of these new techniques fall under what is called Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), which depends on community involvement to identify problem areas in the path to development of their countries. This method fosters the idea that an engaged and empowered community will bring about improved and more permanent community development. While utilization of PRA techniques is on the rise, there still exist many organizations who either use it half-heartedly or not at all due to the time intensive nature of many of the techniques, which require gaining trust from a community. During the Fall 2014 semester, I studied abroad in Southern Madagascar and had the opportunity to learn about these techniques and implement them on a small scale.

After spending a few weeks studying different participatory rural appraisal techniques, the twelve of us were split up and paired with a Malagasy student our age to go out, integrate ourselves into a rural village and its culture in the most southern region of Madagascar and to practice implementing the techniques we had been learning our week there. I was assigned to a village called Tanandava, known as one of the liveliest villages full of some of the most vibrant song and dance in the Faux-Cap region.

When not singing and dancing, my team and I conducted a transect walk through our village, drew maps and gathered other relevant information to understanding the level of development in the area. We created three different types of maps; one was a map of the local market we created by observation and interaction with merchants, the second was a map of our village as created by the villagers, and the third was a map of resource flows in and out of our host’s home. The second map we created was the first technique we practiced with our village, having them identify what objects would mark which landmarks and the like. While the village created the local map almost entirely on their own after we explained our goals with creating the map, the community seemed to need reminders of different parts of the village to include such as their fields and roads.

The resource flow map was the most difficult of all the techniques we practiced as our host father had a hard time determining what a resource was and the resource flows into the household. He began to understand that the effects and flows of resources were not only animate things once we gave examples and asked more detailed questions, in which we saw flows such as honor and respect coming into the household.

In both of these scenarios, I realized that one of the most interesting consistencies was that through participating in PRA techniques, community members gained a better understanding of all the resources they had access to and their importance to the livelihood of the community. While the information we collected was not for any particular research purpose other than experience, we left copies of the notes we took and maps we created in both French and Malagasy versions. We did this for a few reasons; we wanted our village to remember us and what they had learned by having physical copies of our work, as well as wanting to assist future practitioners in the region by providing them with information on past states of the village.

The opportunity to learn about these skills through a hands-on approach helped me to understand the importance of inclusive research and appraisal techniques to the future of development but also the many challenges these techniques face. With many global efforts aimed at improving developing countries, particularly as quickly as possible for greater economic benefits, the need for long-lasting development is necessary and it is imperative that these efforts factor in time to effectively research. Even though community involvement in development may not be time efficient, the resulting impact and permanence of projects with cultural understanding and community buy-in should be considered a worthy trade-off. 

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Our Visit to Melissa’s Hope

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Our Visit to Melissa’s Hope

On our second day in Haiti, we woke up early to travel to an orphanage. After driving through the streets of downtown Port au Prince and getting stuck in nearly an hour of traffic, we finally crossed through the gates of Melissa’s Hope. Leaving behind the chaos of Croix des Bouquets, we found a different kind of chaos behind the walls of the orphanage. The music and dancing of the children was overwhelming in the best way possible and gradually each one of us found our place amongst the day campers.

As the day came to a close and the day campers left for home, we found ourselves gathered with Pascal, the owner of Melissa’s Hope, discussing the subject of development in Haiti. Like many of the other individuals we had spoken to, Pascal also agreed that community engagement was one of the keys to a successful development program. But he took it one step further, arguing that local government should be a part of the process, working to support a program and nonprofit with cultural knowledge and resources they have available that the nonprofit may not.

Encouraged by his perspective on development I asked if he could show me the sanitation infrastructure they have on-site. He brought me first to the toilet that the children of the orphanage use; a single flush toilet for the 23 of them. Most of the children, though, are in wheelchairs and use diapers, which adds another level of waste disposal to the orphanage.

Next we visited the Porta Potty, a small yellow structure hidden behind a canopy of mango trees. It looked like any other Porta Potty found in the US except there was small pipe connected at the basin that led out the back of the structure and underground with the roots of the trees.

We followed these underground pipes to a large rectangle of concrete with two latches on each side of the slab. According to Pascal, all the waste was sent to this concealed underground pit each time the toilet was flushed or the Porta Potty was used. Once the pit is filled (about every two years), an organization from Port au Prince called Jedco, drives to the orphanage to pump out the waste. Despite this seemingly efficient system, Pascal still expressed discomfort at the solution of having waste sit in the backyard for two years until it was finally pumped. His main concern was the possibility of contamination with the exchange of waste to the water source.

While we were standing there looking at this concrete slab covering the waste pit all I could think about was the potential this waste had to give back to the orphanage. Hundreds of tires were filled with dirt growing avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, peas, and guava. The kitchen was cloudy, filled with smoke, with blackened walls from the burning charcoal. Each step we took on our tour further convinced me that this was a community in need of a solution that redefined waste. The waste sitting in the concrete pit was like gold for this compound – anaerobic digestion was already occurring, separating methane from solid waste. The methane could be used to fuel the cook stoves and back up the generators. The solid waste was perfect compost for Pascal’s garden and a block of toilets was a much better option than the one Porta Potty that was available for the school children.

As we drove past the open sewers of Croix des Bouquets and through the slums of Port au Prince, I realized that there are many different ways that a sanitation crisis can manifest itself. Open defecation is only one of these with waste disposal, contaminated water, the privacy and the safety of women and children, and so on all encompassing the complex and pressing reality of the crisis.

To learn more about the wonderful work that Pascal and Melissa’s Hope is doing, please visit their website at http://melissashope.org/

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Maxima & Made in Haiti

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Maxima & Made in Haiti

On our first full day in Haiti we had the chance to visit an industrial park, located right near the airport. We were visiting an organization called Maxima, which markets itself as an innovative woodworking company. We crossed under the gate welcoming us to the industrial park and into a different Haiti, leaving the chaotic streets of Port au Prince for a clean and orderly park with the mark of foreign investment.

Foreign investment, whether it be in the form of industry or nonprofit organizations, has a notorious reputation in Haiti. Even the new Carocal Park in the north of Haiti, championed by its supporters, the Clintons and friends, as a revolutionary method for creating jobs has its critics. So going into this experience I was hesitant to see what Maxima offered. But as soon as we entered into the pristine building I felt automatically foolish for assuming that every industry in Haiti comes in with selfish intentions.

A Haitian woman greeted us at the desk and as we waited for the director to meet us I looked around the office space. Rather than seeing foreign nationals, I saw Haitians behind the screens of the computers designing the programming, individual desks for each person, and Haitians consulting with Haitians about the project. As we toured the warehouses with Maxima’s Belgian founder, I felt like I was in a Home Depot warehouse, so far from the crowded and bright streets of Port au Prince. The warehouse was spacious, with signs posted around the facility with Maxima’s mission statement and values written out in French, Creole, and English. I followed the founder, Julien, and Evan, hanging back to speak with Johnson, the man who had driven us to the industrial park from our hostel. He was in awe of the conditions of the warehouse, the opportunity to move up in the company, and of the school.

The school was the “innovation” in the innovative woodworking company. As the founder explained to us prior to starting the tour, in Haiti, students are taught practical skills but rarely are they taught the logic behind these skills or the purpose behind each task. So to fix this skills gap, Maxima created an on-sight school for locals to come and not only learn the practice of woodworking, but the logic behind each step in the process and the fundamentals needed to work wood. The students have the opportunity to pay for the tuition in segments during the three months they attend school. Finally, upon their graduation, they may be offered a permanent position with Maxima or they may leave with the skills needed at a different carpentry school. Regardless, Maxima offers more than just a place of employment for a small number of Haitians; it offers a place for Haitians to learn valuable skills, contribute to the Haitian economy, and boost their chances of employment outside of Maxima.

As a student of International Affairs and Public Health, I have been trained to think critically about projects, to look for the smallest flaws or cultural insensitivities. Studying this for the past four years has made it extraordinarily easy to look for flaws in development initiatives. It’s always easier to offer criticism than praise just like it’s always easier to turn a blind eye to our own flaws, while promoting our assets. But it’s more difficult to remember that no project, no idea, no organization is perfect for a community. If it was perfect, the community would have created it themselves, regardless of the resources. So instead, I made it a goal of this trip to look for the givers, for the innovators, and for those who sought to engage with the community, rather than benefiting from it.

With each passing day, I think each of us, as individuals as well as members of the Asepsis team, have realized that community focused projects are not only the most beneficial for the community, but they are also the ones that are the most likely to succeed.     

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World Toilet Day

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World Toilet Day

November 19 is World Toilet Day. Although it is not considered an internationally observed holiday, World Toilet Day is perhaps one of the most important days for the global community to reflect on the topic of sanitation. Specifically, this day focuses on the 2.4 billion people who still lack access to basic sanitation as well as the 1 billion people who defecate in the open. Poor sanitation leads to a plethora of other problems including those related to education, nutrition, and health. Ultimately, the purpose of World Toilet Day is to start a much-needed global conversation about the importance of sanitation and clean water.

In an attempt to further this global campaign, one company in particular has stepped up to the plate in creating a comprehensive initiative to combat global sanitation concerns. Kimberly-Clark, a leading brand in personal and health care products, created the Toilets Change Lives program in 2014. Their investment of $35.8 million in product and cash donations helped to support communities that lacked essential products to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Mauricio Troncoso, vice president and managing director for Kimberly-Clark in the Western European zone, notes that “for every $1 spent on sanitation, there is a $4 return…girls stay in school longer and economic activity increases because fewer sick days are taken.” Through the Toilets Change Lives program, the company is able to identify social entrepreneurs and assist them in creating business plans to improve sanitation on a global scale.

On World Toilet Day, Kimberly-Clark will expand this program. In the UK, the Andrex band will partner with UNICEF to give a portion of all sales of their products to support UNICEF’s sanitation programs. In Bolivia, the Scott Brand will partner with Water for People in an effort to achieve total, worldwide coverage of clean water and sanitation services. Cottonelle will also partner with Water for People to raise money and awareness to combat the lack of basic sanitation programs worldwide. In an attempt to push individuals to create global chatter about the topic of sanitation, this program will sponsor a #GoCommando4ACause campaign. Finally, Kimberly-Clark has partnered with Charities Aid Foundation India (CAF) to support sanitation facilities in schools and childhood development centers in order to focus on the impact that basic sanitation has on success rates in childhood schooling.

Kimberly-Clark’s initiative is just the tip of the iceberg. The purpose of World Toilet Day is to start a much-needed conversation about sanitation across all of society. Important topics such as female rights, refugee crises, and access to basic schooling are all underscored by a humanitarian need for clean water and access to improved sanitation. The campaign charges individuals to contribute to raising awareness for this campaign by reflecting on what access to a safe toilet means to them and sharing this conversation on any social media outlet. Troncoso says, “It’s not sexy to talk about toilets but, it’s a real problem. And you can make a difference…This is an issue that, if we do it right, will change someone’s world.” The goal of World Toilet Day is to highlight that the future of safe, clean sanitation is attainable. With the proper resources and funding, we will one day ensure the safety and security of basic sanitation facilities to the entire global population.

 

Sources:

http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/prnewswire/DA57731.htm

https://www.cottonelle.com/go-commando-4-a-cause

http://www.sustainabilityreport2022.kimberly-clark.com/Stories/ToiletsChangeLives

http://www.worldtoiletday.info/

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The Nile in Danger

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The Nile in Danger

Stretching over 4,000 miles, the Nile River flows through Africa and the Nile Delta creating a haven of growth in an otherwise arid region. The various river communities that encircle this enormous river utilize the fertile lands around it to grow crops and create irrigation systems. And while the Nile provides an endless source of water in Egypt, it is also home to infectious bacteria and other health hazards. This fact is made worse by the fact that only 37% of the rural households in this region are connected to a public sewage line. Therefore, wastewater is often mixed in with clean, drinking water that is used for irrigation and bathing.

Diarrhea, typhoid fever and e.coli are three of several infectious diseases that have rampantly infiltrated the Nile Delta. Due to the fact that Egyptians in this area rely on informal systems of sanitation and sewage, wastewater is often dumped back into the Nile River and continues to contaminate the fresh water sources that communities use on a daily basis. This is reinforced by the fact that many Egyptians believe this method of dumping wastewater into fresh water sources is acceptable. In last week’s article, I noted that government intervention, coordination, and accountability is vital to the success of sanitary projects. The problem in the Nile Delta shows that state-funded sewage systems have been created but have not followed through in addressing the underlying problems with septic waste entering fresh water sources.

 

Constant streams of Egyptians are entering the Nile Delta to reap the benefits of its fertile land, further exacerbating and complicating the current problems facing this region. As the increasing contamination affects the Nile’s water quality, the Guardian reports that local farmers in the Nile Delta must “put aside between 25 and 80% of their profits for [fertilizers] just to keep their crops alive.” Dr Rick Tutwiler, director of the American University in Cairo's Desert Development Centre says, ”You've got a massive population, overcrowding, a threat to all natural resources from the pressure of all the people, production, pollution, cars and agricultural chemicals. And on top of all that, there's the rising sea.”

But, there’s hope. On October 4, Egypt and the World Bank signed a $550 million program with the goal to improve sanitation services for the more than 800,000 Egyptians living in the Nile Delta. The focus of this program is to deal with untreated sewage and face the looming environmental and health threats in the region. This deal, along with the Sustainable Rural Sanitation Services Program for Results, which was approved in July 2015, will provide necessary restructuring to existing sanitation systems.

Protecting this Egyptian population is necessary to the economic development of the region as well. The business model of the Sanitation Rural Sanitation Services Program for Results emphasizes local water and sanitation companies (WSCs) in order to spread the reach of their programs and encourage local accountability. As a result, these WSCs are generating local jobs and improving the economic standing of rural communities in the Nile Delta. However, the first step in fixing the Nile Delta’s sanitation problem is recognizing the importance for the global community and regional organizations to collaborate in order to bring the multi-faceted approach that is necessary to ensure proper sanitation to impoverished Egyptian populations.

 

Sources:

http://cairofrombelow.org/2013/09/17/water-security1/

http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/04/egypt-world-bank-sign-550-million-rural-sanitation-program

http://borgenproject.org/sanitation-to-nile-delta/  

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/aug/21/climate-change-nile-flooding-farming

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Thesis Musings Part II

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Thesis Musings Part II

Writing a thesis is a lot like going through a break-up. It’s painful and you feel extremely isolated during the writing process. But you come out of the experience a wiser person, enlightened and ready to take on the world again. At least I hope that’s how you feel.

In order to combat the uncertainty of the whole process, this past week I challenged myself to find one exciting thing about my research each day. I hoped using optimism would remind me why I opted for this difficult life lesson as opposed to resenting myself for falling in love with sanitation and hygiene. Although I’m finding it difficult not to resent myself as I drag the bag of books behind me, I’m starting to love these new discoveries. On Thursday, I found an incredible gap in the literature on grassroots sanitation, which essentially revolutionizes my research – there is little to no coordination between nonprofits and governments when developing sanitation infrastructure.

Governments, particularly those in developing countries, have a bad reputation as being inept, inefficient, and corrupt. I would agree with these points in most situations but as it stands, governments are the only institution that can provide long-term sanitation infrastructure for their country. Throughout the developed world, in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, government infrastructure saves lives each time a tap is turned on or a toilet is flushed. Governments have created acts and policies to regulate waste treatment and allocated federal funds to build infrastructure.

In England, for example, the Metropolis Water Act required the regulation of water suppliers in London and set the first standards on water quality. At the same time, legislation was passed for mandatory water inspection and the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers brought sewage and drainage systems to urban London. Similar policies and institutions brought about public health changes in European countries and economically developed nations, like Japan.

Map of Cholera Outbreak in London

Map of Cholera Outbreak in London

But over a century later we live in a different world – government priorities have shifted and nonprofits and NGOs have an equal, if not greater, presence than the government in certain parts of the world. Often times these nonprofits provide a great deal of services to the local community, especially in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector. The issue with these services is that they are often short-term or band-aid solutions for what has proven to be a problem that demands preventive solutions. Oral Rehydration Salts, pit latrines, chlorine tablets, and water pumps can do incredible things for people without access to clean water or sanitation facilities. But they treat the problem or patient, rather than preventing a problem from occurring in the first place. At the end of the day, sanitation infrastructure and sustainable waste disposal solutions are necessary to solving the sanitation crisis.

This solution doesn’t need to come from one institution nor do I expect that it will. Rather, nonprofits should begin to work directly with local governments, building sanitation infrastructure and developing systems in conjunction with one another. Often nonprofits have short-term projects or simply bring aid into communities. On the other hand, governments search for longer-term projects, like infrastructure development but they lack the necessary resources to begin a project. If both institutions began to coordinate, with nonprofits beginning the initial phases of infrastructure development then transitioning to government regulation and control, these projects would be much more likely to succeed. Coordination between nonprofits and governments, allocation of resources, and smooth transitions from nonprofits to government workers are what will ultimately determine the success of sanitation infrastructure projects.

I guess I’m okay with the uncertainty of becoming a sanitation guru by the end of my thesis if I get to come up with ridiculous theories for solving the sanitation crisis in the process. 

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The State of Sanitation in India - Part 4: Conclusions

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The State of Sanitation in India - Part 4: Conclusions

The solution to India’s sanitation crisis must draw from an array of disciplines, creating a dynamic model that incorporates aspects of infrastructure improvement, the promotion of public health initiatives, and an educational component that is supplemented by a pervasive media campaign to change the public sentiment regarding open defecation. Such an approach looks to attack a variety of the underlying causes of India’s current situation. However, even the most efficacious model needs strict oversight to ensure that the large sums of money and effort allocated for such programs are used properly and ensures that its provisions are implemented in the manner in which they were designed.  Implementation is arguably the biggest challenge India faces in its fight for sanitation.

The government of India (GOI) has two options; it either must follow through and enforce its current policies regarding sanitation (i.e. the Central Rural Sanitation Programme, the Total Sanitation Campaign, etc.) in order to reach its attainable goal OR overhaul them, decentralizing regulation and allowing Gram Panchayat (local government) officials to develop solutions that meet the unique needs of their particular community. Management and oversight of massive legislative efforts is difficult considering India is one of the largest countries in the world, necessitating one of the largest bureaucracies. This makes it a challenge to reach remote, impoverished regions and ensure compliance.

It is virtually impossible for such national legislative initiatives to affect some of the deeply held cultural predispositions and practices of various communities solely due to their remote locations and seclusion from mainstream Indian politics and society. Furthermore, media access and presence in these villages is not ubiquitous enough to instill the necessary dogmatic changes. This is yet another argument for the delegation of sanitation responsibilities to local entities. If the Indian government is unwilling to depute responsibility and capacity for solving the sanitation crisis, it will need to develop alternatives that can account for the idiosyncratic issues that inhibit the implementation of adequate sanitation systems in communities across the country.  

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Why Change is Crucial for Women

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Why Change is Crucial for Women

The challenges and injustices that girls and women in the developing world face are many, across all aspects of life, and include structural, social, and economic barriers – barriers that men, and women who live in richer countries, experience to far lesser degrees. In developing countries, women are more than twice as likely as men to be responsible for water collection. On average, women and girls in Africa walk 6 kilometers each day to collect water – time which could be spent in school or at work (Brewster et al., 2006). Studies have shown that with clean water and accessible toilet facilities, come greater self-esteem, less harassment to women, and better school attendance by girls by over 15%.

Open defecation is all too common in India and is clearly a public health emergency. However open defecation is even more hazardous for women who are not only at risk of bacterial infection and snake bites, but are also exposed to the danger of sexual assault. Although open defecation has been reduced by 31% since 1990, about 300 million women and girls in India are faced with no other option. Last year two teenage girls from the state of Uttar Pradesh were gang-raped and found hanging from a tree after they left their village home to go to the toilet. There was a brief outcry with articles linking their murders to the lack of toilets. Then came the backlash from writers such as the academic scholar Shilpa Phadke and the head of policy at WaterAid India, Nitya Jacob, arguing that the murders were due to “caste issues”. Indian women and girls are raped everywhere with no relation to open defecation. Shilpa Phadke wrote in Al Jazeera that toilets at home could actually damage women’s freedom, suggesting that women actually enjoy leaving their home, going to out to the open fields together to chat with other women.

Four months later, more than 100 new toilets were built in the same village in Uttar Pradesh where the two girls were found. The toilets were built by the Delhi based sanitation charity, Sulabh. The founder of Sulabh, Bindeshwar Pathak, said that a lack of toilets was a factor in many sexual attacks, especially in rural areas. “This campaign is the most fitting tribute to the girls whose death triggered a national debate on women’s right to safe toilets.”

During his Independence Day speech last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged government officials and corporations to help construct toilets: “Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open…. Can’t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?” In response to Modi’s Swachh Bharat (“Clean India”) campaign there is now a new social movement nicknamed “No loo, No I do,” where brides are refusing to marry into families that do not have a toilet in the home.

Stopping open defecation will not put an end to sexual assault in India. The country has made headway in recent years with increased arrests of sexual assault assailants, but there is much more to be done that toilets will not solve. But this is a step in the right direction. No longer having to defecate openly will decrease a woman’s exposure to sexual assault significantly. Toilets and sanitation more generally must be a demand-driven process, both led and informed by those meant to be the beneficiaries of these interventions. And, seeing as women all across India are demanding toilets, it is time for the world to listen.

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The State of Sanitation in India – Part 3: The Modi Administration and The Clean India Campaign

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The State of Sanitation in India – Part 3: The Modi Administration and The Clean India Campaign

On October 2, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission.  The Prime Minister has made such efforts one of the policy cornerstones of his administration, demonstrating his commitment by not only enacting these measures but by physically working on the revitalization projects himself in New Delhi. While the provisions of the legislation specifically pertain to WASH issues (water, sanitation, and hydration), Modi expects to see a general renewal of India’s low-income centers (both urban and rural) as a result of some of the improvements made in the realm of sanitation. The Clean India Mission expands on many of the initiatives of the early 21st century, looking to eliminate the usage of dry toilets, create sanitary water complexes that can provide safe, drinkable water, and help villages establish proper treatment facilities.[1] However, the policy distinguishes itself from its predecessors by emphasizing awareness and mandating education on the adverse effects of public defecation, attempting to alter the degenerative practice and encourage cleaner, safer habits.

The initiative is seen as a direct counter to much of the international and domestic criticism India’s government has received over its sanitation programs. The TSC and other previous policies were considered too bureaucratic and government-led, infrastructure-focused, and accused of ignoring the cultural underpinnings of the issue. The Clean India Campaign, by contrast, looks to empower local leaders and business owners (women in many cases) to create self-sustaining sewage systems, stresses the amelioration of public health, and emphasizes the importance of education in changing the public perception regarding toilet use. Modi began the campaign with nine “ambassadors”, all of whom were prominent celebrities, ranging from comedians to cricket stars, encouraging others to take up the challenge.

This “cleanliness drive” ultimately involved three million people, making it the largest event of its type in India’s history.[2] Many of the tasks of the Clean India Campaign, including organizing, financing, and media consulting, will be delegated to NGOs and private enterprise, creating a dynamic network of experts committed to the cause. Critics of Modi claim that this is all a political ploy; merely a populist PR stunt intended to cover up the campaign’s ineffectiveness and corruption that plagued many previous initiatives.[3] While the Clean India Campaign is still in its proverbial infancy, many are optimistic about its potential, believing that Modi may, in fact, fulfill his promise to the Indian people.


Sources:

1."Swachh Bharat Mission." Ministry of Urban Development (India). N.p., Sept. 2014. Web. May 2015.

2."Swachh Bharat Mission." Ministry of Urban Development (India). N.p., Sept. 2014. Web. May 2015.

3.Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

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Open Defecation: The Numbers YOU Need to Know

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Open Defecation: The Numbers YOU Need to Know

Clean water is a basic human need, yet worldwide over 1 billion people lack access to clean, safe water supplies. Another 2.2 billion lack access to sanitation. The problem is critical in urban India, which has a slum population of almost 100 million residents.

Public defecation is all too common in India. In order to truly understand the devastation of open defecation, you need to know the numbers. 638 million people defecate in the open, which is over 50% of the population. A recent study by the United Nations showed that more Indians have access to cellphones than toilets. Because of this reality there are millions of people living in poverty without toilets in their homes and have to defecate in any “private” place they can find, whether it be the ocean or along railroad tracks. For many, this is a daily morning ritual despite the hazards of contracting diseases such as diarrhea and hepatitis. People living in the urban slums of Mumbai have to share public toilets with hundreds of their closest neighbors. These toilets are often filthy and have long lines, leaving no alternative than to defecate elsewhere. 

Together, unclean water and poor sanitation are the leading cause of child mortality. Every year, 200,000 children in India die from diseases caused by fecal contamination. Diarrhea, often caused by unsafe drinking water or improper food preparation, is the leading cause of death among children one month to five years old. One out of five children who die of diarrhea worldwide is an Indian. While diarrhea is preventable and treatable, it can often become fatal in developing countries where sanitary conditions are poor and where medical care and basic, affordable medicines are not readily available. And for the millions living in extreme poverty, these basic medicines are simply not affordable enough.

Hand washing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal illnesses. Hand washing with soap, particularly after contact with feces, can reduce diarrheal diseases by over 40%. Yet according to the Public Health Association, only 53% of the population properly washes their hands with soap after defecating, 38% wash hands before eating and only 30% wash hands before preparing food. Historically, soap has been viewed as a luxury item and not necessarily a requirement for sanitation. Most of the older generations grew up with the understanding that water alone was sufficient at removing all visible grime from the body. In recent years the Indian government has taken a bigger role in educating the public on sanitation through handwashing initiatives aimed at children. In 2008, cricket player Sachin Tendulkar and his teammates joined an estimated 100 million schoolchildren around the country in lathering up for better health and hygiene as part of the first Global Handwashing Day (October 15th). Last year the state of Madhya Pradesh won the Guinness World Record for the most massive hand washing program with 1,276,425 children participating. Currently a five-step handwashing technique, developed in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is being taught to school children around the country.

There are strong links between sanitation and countrywide economic development. Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates at least $4 in increased economic opportunity. Universal access to water and sanitation would result in an estimated $32 billion in economic benefits per year globally from reductions in health care costs and increased productivity from reduced illness.

Open defecation is obviously a public health emergency. More so it undermines efforts to end extreme poverty and any possible progress in the socioeconomic development of India. Basic lack of sanitation costs the Indian government billions of dollars in economic loss due to the burden of disease. Poor sanitation increases the cycle of generational poverty by perpetuating poor living conditions with links to stunted growth and malnutrition in children. Malnutrition in turn decreases a child’s mental capacity to focus in the classroom, thereby increasing the likelihood they will not finish their education and continue to live in poverty. Problems with water, hygiene, and sanitation create a variety of public health issues that need to be solved for India to continue to develop effectively.

Knowing these numbers brings us one step closer to identifying and understanding the problem of sanitation. While statistics have the tendency to obscure some of the most pressing matters of our time by numbing and desensitizing us to the severity of the situation, these numbers are meant to wake us up. These numbers are a call to action.


Sources:

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What is Important is Not Always Glamorous

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What is Important is Not Always Glamorous

The movement to restructure the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of 2000 into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of 2015 has become a major part of the agenda at the United Nations this fall. Margaret Batty, the Director of Global Policy and Campaigns at WaterAid UK emphasizes the importance of SDG #6 which focuses on water and sanitation. Claiming that sanitation is not the most ‘glamorous’ topic, she believes that sanitation goals need to obtain some serious political momentum in order to properly fund the projects necessary to end the public defecation of 1 billion people worldwide.

Batty considers that in order to have success in sanitation countries do not need to be wealthy or fully developed. In fact, sanitation projects simply require political priority in order to make significant impacts on society. In the United States, highly intricate networks of sewage and sanitation ensure Americans access to clean water and a healthy environment. WaterAid has worked with various city administrations around the world in order to design similar networks of sanitation that ensure individuals living in the most isolated regions of the country have access to the same standards of sanitation found in urban centers.

 

Still, when political entities do not prioritize sanitation or monitor the implementation of projects, there is very little positive effect on communities that need assistance. Anjali Chikersal, a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Policy Research, analyzes the effectiveness of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) that was launched in India in October 2019 with the goal to end open defecation. This program targets informal agencies to provide the majority of the implementation of this mission. Due to the fact that there is no formal way of monitoring or tracking the progress of these projects, sewage and other waste is often dumped into nearby water bodies thus, widening the circle of problems surrounding sanitation. Chikersal indicates that “…even when we do use toilets, our government’s apathy has ensured that we unsuspectingly continue to contaminate our land and our drinking water sources.”

Both Batty and Chikersal agree on one thing: political mobilization and prioritization is required in order to advance the not-so-sexy topic of sanitation. Due to the fact that proper sanitation deeply affects education, nutrition, equality, and development as a whole, the governments in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia must hold sanitation programs to a high standard of accountability and formal monitoring. In India, President Narenda Modi has said, “It is a sad situation that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open. Villages have lakhs of temples but no washrooms. That is bad. Gandhiji [Mohandas Gandhi] gave so much importance to this issue.” Only governments that understand the importance of prioritizing sanitation will see serious, long-term impacts in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal #6. 


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Thesis Musings Part 1

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Thesis Musings Part 1

I’ve begun to develop a love hate relationship with my thesis. Hate because I’ve discovered the pain of the IRB process and the qualms of doing human research. But love because I have a reason to study shit, cholera, and Haiti at all times of the day without looking clinically insane to the rest of my friends. What I value most about this research process though, is the ability to learn. Research makes a person uncomfortable because it shows them how much they don’t know and how far they have to go. The only success I’ve had so far is pushing further into the discomfort and overcoming everything I thought I knew about the sanitation system in Haiti.  

I’ve come across a number of interesting points throughout my research and my review of literature but the most compelling point I’ve found was from Jessica Barry, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. When discussing solutions for the sanitation crisis she pointed out perhaps the most overlooked issue in sanitation – “you can have over 100,000 toilets but you need a way to remove the excrement”.

I was in the library scrolling through a number of reports about sanitation when I came across this quote and I remember stopping as soon as I came across this line. I had never thought of sanitation in this way. What always came to mind with sanitation was toilets or pit latrines and the idea that the presence of these could fix everything. We never want to think about the aftermath, preferring to address the issue of open defecation rather than the processing and treatment of waste. We think that if someone has a bucket, the problem ceases to exist, so household latrines and public restrooms are brought to slums around the world and we receive instant gratification because the problem of open defecation is solved.

This was the case in Haiti in October 2010 when UN workers from Nepal dumped their waste into the Artibonite River, the main water source across Haiti. Given the already exhausted sanitation system and nothing to do with the waste, cholera spread across the country infiltrating cities and towns, building on the post quake devastation. The cholera outbreak again redirected the NGOs and nonprofits back to short-term solutions, setting up cholera treatment centers and bringing barrels of clean water to communities. These are helpful in the short run, but the point of development is not to make countries dependent on aid, rather it is to help them develop systems of infrastructure that are sustainable and long lasting.

Short-term development opportunities mask the chronic problems that have led to the unequal world we live in. Instead of offering a homeless person a sandwich, question the societal structure that has forced them on the streets to beg for food. Instead of donating money to causes that help refugees across the Mediterranean, question how we have allowed the massacre of human rights to continue for so long. Instead of treating someone for cholera, ask why they have no other choice but to drink from water contaminated with their neighbor’s feces. Our lives should be like research, constantly questioning what we know rather than continuing to go with what we believe.

The need for innovation and research in the WASH sector is extreme, as is the need for awareness. Sanitation is more than just shit. It’s a complex ecological system that, when done right, provides dignity to an individual, ensures consistent clean water, and a state of living that is disease and free. 

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The State of Sanitation in India - Part 2: History of Sanitation and Water Treatment

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The State of Sanitation in India - Part 2: History of Sanitation and Water Treatment

In his annual speech on the hallowed anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about public defecation and its potential to harm an ever-strengthening India, pledging to eliminate it by 2019. However, the Indian people have been on the wrong end of such promising initiatives before, some spanning as far back as three decades. The story of India’s sanitation programs starts far before its modern history. In fact, excavations of the ancient Harappa societies of the Indus River Valley uncover an intricate network of underground drainage systems, some dating approximately 5,000 years ago.[1] Ideologically speaking, social reform has always been accompanied by innovation in the realm of sanitary engineering in India. This notion has been manifested in the writings of India’s major socio-political philosophers from Patanjali to the Gandhis. Under British colonial subjugation, this emphasis on public health was lost and only resurfaced when the cholera outbreaks that plagued the Indian people spread to the British ex-pats living in the country, afflicting members of the government and military.[2]

The proverbial back-seating of the issue of sanitation is the probable cause for the plague of 1896, which claimed 44,000 lives, both ethnically British and Indian. As a result, the Bombay Improvement Trust was enacted in 1898, serving as the first in a series of trusts established to ameliorate the quality of life and sanitary conditions in India’s urban centers.[3] While it seemed like a step in the right direction, the plan was implemented by Bombay’s mill owners, who were more concerned with securing sufficient labor from the city’s working class than with solving the housing crisis that underpinned the problem in the first place. Furthermore, the city improvement trust programs ended as the British exited India, limiting their potential long-standing impact on the Indian infrastructure and economy. Left with no established infrastructure or low-income housing, slums became the most popular residences among India’s urban poor; subsequently, ineffective and archaic means of sewage treatment became the societal norm.

One of the most prominent of these early techniques is the use of dry toilets and consequent manual scavenging. Dry toilets are defined as vessels for excrement without the capability to “flush” their contents, necessitating a manual means of treating sewage in the form of scavenging or the removal of waste via brooms or tin plates. This system is said to have originated in Europe in 1214; despite its primitive roots, it is still a very prevalent practice today with approximately 340,000 Indians working as manual scavengers.[4] This system is as problematically unsanitary as it sounds. These scavengers are not only ineffective at preventing such waste from entering common waterways but they themselves often contract the potentially fatal diarrheal diseases that are easily transmittable to other members of these interconnected communities.

As a result, the Indian government has taken several legislative measures to eradicate the practice from both urban and rural areas, including the 1993 prohibition and subsequent criminalization of the construction and operation of dry latrines, punishable by a yearlong prison sentence. Despite such portentous legal threats, no convictions were actually made under the law over the course of the 20 years it served as the baseline for India’s sanitation codes.[5] Many lawmakers in India came to the realization that they could not punish their way out of a public health crisis and took the fight against public defecation in a new direction, pledging to increase the population’s access to actual, running-water toilet systems to universal levels as the Modi administration is poising itself to. The way the government went about doing this was to provide 80% subsidies for the constructions of toilets in rural areas through the Central Rural Sanitation Program. However, 48% of India’s population practices open defecation and that portion is not exclusively concentrated in rural areas, as 46% of India’s public defecation occurs in urban areas.[6]

At the turn of the 21st century, India’s government abandoned the Central Rural Sanitation Program (CRSP) and completely overhauled its policies on sanitation, launching the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 2001. The initiative was promoted as a more demand-driven solution that focused on building awareness and splitting the toilet subsidy among India’s various levels of government, essentially minimizing the costs of what many saw as an expensive program. While the TSC indicated that India’s government was making sanitation a priority issue, crystallizing its commitment to eradicating dry sewage and public defecation, it became lost as new measures were enacted at the Gram Panchayat (local government) level and pre-existing initiatives were merged with new programs, confounding and convoluting the preliminary goals of each. This can be seen with the introduction of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) and 2007 Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) programs that concentrated sanitation efforts on poor localities, delegating administrative control to municipal schools and communities.[7]

However, the NBA was still partial towards rural communities, failing to address the ever-growing issue in India’s urban centers. Realizing this virtual ignorance of the issues surrounding urban sewage systems (or lack thereof), the National Urban Sanitation Policy was enacted in 2008 in an attempt to bring city sanitation plans into accordance with India’s national sanitation strategy.[8] This, in effect, tried to increase the benchmark for toilets and sanitation across India, making grant money contingent on tangible results and progress seen, a much-needed provision. While the number of functioning toilets and modernized sewage systems was increasing at a promising rate, their usage remained stagnant or even declined in some cases. For example, only 20% of the toilets constructed in 2001 were still standing in 2011, many had either become unusable due to poor construction and lack of maintenance or were taken down due to the fact that many Indians believe they “accumulate feces too close to the home”.[9]

This trend is reflective of what many experts have been saying for decades: India does not just need the construction of toilets but a change in the psychological and sociological disposition of its people to truly alter hygienic practices. Studies have been conducted across the country to gauge the population’s attitudes towards both public defecation and use of a traditional toilet; respondents in Odisha stated that they felt there was no stigma attached to public defecation. This sentiment seems to hold true across India’s provinces, in areas both rural and urban. Reasons for this range from pragmatic to dogmatic; some have aversions to constructed toilets due to ill-design and lack of usability while others have inherited the almost taboo use of toilets generationally. While none of the government’s infrastructure-focused policies have exacerbated the issue of public defecation in India, they have failed to consider the dynamic sociocultural factors that contribute to the problem; regulators have also been rather lackadaisical in implementing reforms and holding communities accountable for updating their sanitation systems.


[1] Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[2] Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[3] "HUMAN RIGHTS AND MANUAL SCAVENGING." Know Your Rights Series(2011): n. pag. National Human Rights Commission. Web. May 2015.

[4] Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[5] Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[6] Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[7]  Bhaumik, Sukanya. "India's Sanitation Story." Pragati RSS. N.p., 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

[8] Patil, Sumeet. "Sanitation Behavior Change Program." The World Bank, Nov. 2013. Web. May 2015.

[9] "Swachh Bharat Mission." Ministry of Urban Development (India). N.p., Sept. 2014. Web. May 2015.

 


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The Good and Bad News: MDG #7 Progress

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The Good and Bad News: MDG #7 Progress

Key Facts:

-    The global MDG target for potable water was met in 2010.

-    96% of the global urban population now uses improved drinking water sources.

-    8/10 people are still without safe drinking sources in rural areas.

-    9/10 people still practice open defecation in rural areas.

-    As of 2015, 2.4 billion people still lack sanitation facilities. 

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations created Millennium Development Goal (MDG) #7 to ensure environmental sustainability, provide sanitary drinking water, and end open defecation. The global community was challenged to halve the proportion of the global population who lack safe drinking water and basic sanitation. In 2010, the global community reached the target for safe drinking water by ensuring that 90% of the world’s population had access to clean drinking water. However, in 2015, we have failed to fully reach our MDG objectives by leaving 2.4 billion people without access to basic sanitation. Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, notes that basic sanitation is “critical to the achievement of other development objectives such as adequate nutrition, gender equality, education and the eradication of poverty.” The 2015 Update on MDG Assessment for Sanitation and Drinking Water highlights the next steps that the global community must take in order to eliminate open defecation by 2025.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF have created a Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) to monitor and analyze the evolution of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and how each phase of MDG development has aided the overall goal. JMP works to establish norms in sanitation and drinking water, inform decision making of policies and key targets, as well as facilitate critical dialogue among key players in the WASH arena. Overall, JMP has developed classifications that assist in designating exactly what ‘clean, drinkable water’ is and what ‘basic sanitation’ encompasses.

So, what did they find?

The good news — 2.6 billion people worldwide have gained access to potable water since 1990 when the MDG was created. Of those who still do not have safe drinking water, half live in sub-Saharan Africa and one-fifth live in Southern Asia. Although we have reached our goal for safe drinking water, there are still disparities in the ability to access drinking water between those living in urban areas and those living in rural areas. Four out of five people who live in urban areas have access to clean, piped drinking water compared to only one in three people in rural areas. While there is still work to be done to close this gap, the progress made during the MDG period was very effective.

The bad news — Since 1990, the use of improved sanitation facilities globally has only increased from 54% to 68% thus, missing the 77% MDG target. This leaves 700 million people without access to proper sanitation. Similar to the disparity seen in clean drinking water, 82% of the global urban population has access to improved sanitation facilities compared to 51% of the rural population. Open defecation is still a very real problem to a large portion of the global population thus, affecting all aspects of life as Jan Eliasson mentions.

Clearly, there is unfinished business here. JMP has been working to analyzing the gaps between urban and rural areas in order to make faster progress in eliminating inequalities in access. They are working to address basic hygiene factors such as hand washing with soap, menstrual hygiene management, WASH in schools, and WASH in health care facilities. The biggest challenge is ensuring that MDG progress reaches everyone. The newest timeline aims to have basic sanitary facilities for previously unreachable populations by 2025.

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The State of Sanitation in India: Part 1

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The State of Sanitation in India: Part 1

India is the epicenter of the global sanitation crisis with 638 million people lacking access to toilets, leaving them little choice but to practice public defecation. According to India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, roughly 100,000 tons of human excrement is left each day in fields, roadsides, and along the banks of India’s many mighty rivers. As a result, open-air sewage is the most commonly used waste treatment system in both rural and urban areas. Such systems are not conducive to proper treatment; approximately 37% of India’s sewage goes untreated. The combination of untreated sewage lines connected to bodies of water and public defecation has resulted in 75% of the nation’s available surface waters being contaminated by human, agricultural, or industrial waste.

The Indian state has undergone a period of drastic change over the last century. The consequences of rapid political and economic liberalization and globalization have forced the world’s largest democracy to confront a myriad of issues of even greater magnitude. Modern-day India is coming to terms with its postcolonial legacy, ever-widening income gaps, and pollution of unimaginable proportions.

“India is being forced to look hard at its squalor”, writes Aatish Taseer, Indian novelist and author of “The Way Things Were”. The beauty of South Asia has been hidden by its social and environmental burdens. India’s current problems are engrained in the fabric of the nation and must be analyzed diachronically. As a result, The Journal is presenting a series of articles identifying and inquiring about the root of India’s current sanitation crisis.

Upon ending its Raj and leaving India after the Partition of 1947, the British left an astonishingly sophisticated political and economic infrastructure in place: a functioning state apparatus in New Delhi, a large military, strong civil society, and a myriad of other institutions that many would associate with modernity and post-industrial development. French political scientist Christope Jaffrelot asserted that India was given a proverbial “apprenticeship with democracy” before gaining independence, building a foundation for a powerful and highly advanced South Asian state.[1] Despite such seemingly auspicious circumstances, Britain’s postcolonial legacy did not adequately equip the Indian state with the tools required to mitigate many of the socioeconomic issues that the young nation would face over the course of the next century.

India’s economy appeared anemic in the decades that directly followed partition, plagued by the massive bureaucracy that is an unfortunate yet immutable byproduct of being the world’s largest democracy. This was further exacerbated by the plethora of parastatals (state-serving economic institutions) and state-run industries (airlines, railroads, telecommunications, etc.) that served as the driving force behind the country’s growth, creating jobs and providing services at a reasonable cost.[2]  These state-owned entities developed as a result of India’s five-year development plan, borrowed from India’s then closest ally, The Soviet Union. It is often overlooked that India was incubated in a region and time when communist regimes reigned supreme, however, this is another political-economic legacy of India that must be taken into account.

Subsequent years saw a political regime that was more concerned with maintaining power than managing the economy or resolving the litany of social problems that had begun to reach epidemic proportions by the early 1990s. At this time, India was experiencing a period of debilitating inflation, record high unemployment, and unthinkable poverty, compounded by the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of India’s largest trading partners.[3] Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and finance minister Manmohan Singh began to take measures to liberalize the economy: lowering tariffs, privatizing industries, and incentivizing multinational corporations to invest in India. While power blinded previous administrations from addressing the crime, poverty, and public health crises that India faced, the pursuit of prosperity arguably prevented Rao’s administration from taking action.

 The consequences of the liberalized economy followed what other industrializing nations had undergone in the past: exponential population growth, rapid development of urban centers, and alarmingly high-income inequality. While this is all fairly typical of an emerging nation, never had such changes been experienced on such a large scale. India’s population has nearly tripled since 1960 and 85% of said growth has occurred in the last 50 years.[4] This population has not only grown but also become increasingly concentrated around India’s metropolitan areas with Mumbai’s population at 12.5 million and New Delhi’s at approximately 16.3 million; neither city shows any signs of slowing their population growth.[5]

 Despite the fact that both cities have some of the highest GDP per capita incomes in South Asia, the degree of destitution in these cities is devastating. The World Bank estimates that 54% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums, 25-30% live in chawls or on footpaths, and only 10-15% live in apartments or flats.[6] This is demonstrative of the notion that the city does not have a sufficient infrastructure to accommodate its population. Unfortunately, India’s inability to cope with and provide suitable living conditions for the nation’s poor is a problem that spans far beyond the city limits of Mumbai. The implications of this can be seen in the current sanitation crisis in India and its adverse effects on public health. One of the most troublesome problems urban centers like Mumbai face is that of public defecation and its effects on the water supply and its safety.


[1] Jaffrelot, Christophe. "The Indian-Pakistani Divide." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 31 May 2015.

[2] GOSAI, USHYANT. "History of Economic Growth in India." International Policy Digest. N.p., 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 May 2015.

[3] GOSAI, USHYANT. "History of Economic Growth in India." International Policy Digest. N.p., 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 May 2015.

[4] Srinivasan, K. "Population and Development in India Since Independence."The Journal of Family Welfare (2004): n. pag. Web. May 2015.

[5] Srinivasan, K. "Population and Development in India Since Independence."The Journal of Family Welfare (2004): n. pag. Web. May 2015.

[6] Gale, Jason. "India Failing to Control Open Defecation Blunts Nation's Growth." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, Mar. 2009. Web. 17 May 2015.

 

Comment

Why Give a Shit?

Comment

Why Give a Shit?

Upon launching the Clean India Campaign in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed that the sanitation crisis is the greatest threat to a strong and ever-growing Indian state. The Prime Minister was correct in identifying the portentous threat to India’s future; however, he failed to address the global implications and far-reaching ramifications of failing to take action.

2.4 billion people currently lack adequate sanitation facilities. 1 billion of these people still practice open defecation. 783 million do not have access clean drinking water.[i] While these numbers astonish and unsettle, the visible effects of the global sanitation crisis are even more harrowing: water sources with 75 percent of its surface water polluted and undrinkable, and one child dying every minute due to cholera and other waterborne diseases.

Sanitation and its related issues are embedded in the heart of the movement for universal water security. Without improved and functional sanitation systems, water security can never be achieved. Microbial water pollution as a result of open defecation contaminates affected community’s primary source for bathing, drinking, and agriculture, continuing the epidemic of disease, malnutrition, and dehydration that proves fatal all too often.

Beyond the public health consequences, the Economics of Sanitation Initiative (ESI) concluded that the lack of access to sanitation costs the world 260 billion dollars annually, making the economic expense of ambivalence and inaction almost as great as the human cost.[ii] Across the globe, 140 million hours are spent each day collecting water, preventing individuals from pursuing jobs, rearing and educating their children, and stagnating local economic development efforts.[iii]

Despite such a grim outlook, the financial dividends to be gained from addressing sanitation issues are great. For every dollar invested in sanitation projects, an aggregate of 28 dollars of economic output is generated. However, while the incentive to commit money and man-power to mitigate this problem is evident, the United States contributed a mere 144.2 million dollars to support global WASH initiatives last year.[iv]

In 2013, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon launched an initiative to end open defecation by 2025. While this goal seems idealistic and lofty, it is quite achievable. Since 1990, 2.1 billion people have gained access to proper sanitation facilities.[v] We believe that a concentrated and consistent campaign, coordinated by international agencies, NGOs, and community leaders can provide improved sanitation technology to the remaining 2.4 billion still afflicted by this plight.

The right to a secure and sanitary place to relieve oneself is universal, transcending socio-economic and cultural boundaries. In a world with more cellphones than toilets and rapid technological advancement, there is no reason such a basic, human right is not guaranteed. It’s time to get off our porcelain thrones and ensure that no more children die due to the lack of something as simple as access to a toilet.


[i]Eliasson, Jan. "Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water – 2015 Update and MDG
Assessment." World Health Organization, n.d. Web.
[ii]Hutton, Guy. "Economics of Sanitation Initiative." Water and Sanitation Program - The
World Bank, n.d. Web
[iii]Hutton, Guy. "Economics of Sanitation Initiative." Water and Sanitation Program - The
World Bank, n.d. Web
[iv]Eliasson, Jan. "Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water – 2015 Update and MDG
Assessment." World Health Organization, n.d. Web.
[v]Eliasson, Jan. "Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water – 2015 Update and MDG
Assessment." World Health Organization, n.d. Web.

Comment

Expecting the Unexpected: Thoughts on Nicaragua

Comment

Expecting the Unexpected: Thoughts on Nicaragua

There’s only so much you can come to understand from behind a computer screen or within the confines of your particular environment. This is a well-known fact, but the significance of it is often lost in the development sphere. How can you know what its like to live in a place if you’ve never been there? How could you possibly know what’s important to the people of the community or what keeps them up at night, unless you speak with them in-person or see it for yourself?

These seem like questions with an obvious answer – you can’t. But still, policy formulators and development practitioners from some of the most revered think tanks and organizations make this fatal flaw over and over again with adverse effects on the communities and people who are meant to be the beneficiaries. The avoidance of this phenomenon was at the heart of Asepsis’s trip to Nicaragua from July 14th to the 22nd.

We wanted to see the problems that people faced everyday as well as the great things about living in Nicaragua. Only by seeing these things firsthand could we come to appreciate the communities we hope to work with through a more informed, nuanced perspective. So, with this in mind, I set off to expect the unexpected in Nicaragua and was not disappointed.

Upon arrival, Timothy Bouldry – the founder of Right Path Projects and a wonderful photographer that would be my guide and partner for the week – picked me up from the airport. It didn’t take long for the unexpected to occur. As we were discussing my journey there and talking about life in Nicaragua, a motorcycle emerged from nowhere at high speed. Without time to react, we watched as the driver frantically tried to maneuver around our car before flinging himself a solid ten feet in front of his stopped motorcycle. It was then that I learned that roadways in Nicaragua can by slightly unpredictable.

This experience – along with a host of other experiences like a Sandinista Rally gone awry and cops pulling foreigners over for bribes – highlighted the sometimes chaotic nature of day-to-day life in Nicaragua for me on a personal level. However, there were other incidents more directly related to the Asepsis mission that were equally, if not more, illuminating.

On our first day of interviewing and speaking with families in Nueva Vida of Managua – a community in which a majority of its residents make their livelihoods searching for plastics and metals to re-sell – we experienced firsthand how the process of gaining important information can get corrupted. In order to get in the door with the first family – both figuratively and literally – we mentioned that we were there to work on sanitation, specifically relating to latrines. This small hint at our motivation to improve and potentially provide sanitation facilities sparked what many development professionals call the Yes Phenomenon.

Because we presented ourselves as an organization that would potentially be providing something to these families, they were automatically biased in their responses towards pointing out all of the problems with their latrines, even if these problems were non-existent. This only got worse when the first families started taking us around to other houses that ‘were having latrine problems,’ who we later found out were friends of theirs.

What happened that day highlighted the need to be sensitive in how we introduce the work that we do, framing feasibility studies and information gathering exercises as times to learn about a community’s sanitation situation, instead of fix it. We did this the following days, which greatly improved the quality of information we received.

Another unexpected development came when we were presented with a fundamental reality of life in a landfill community. The Project Dharavi model calls for the use of a low-cost toilet made out of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a durable material that is also easy to manufacture. This sounded all well and good until it hit us that these communities make their living recycling material like this to local plastics companies.

With this realization, we set out to speak with the plastics vendors. We were able to speak with the middleman vendor who buys from families in the community as well as the director of the plastics company that recycles 60% of Nicaragua’s plastics. The insights we gained from conversations with them gave us better ideas for materials to use – i.e. polypropylene and fiberglass – as well as the actors to go to when the time comes for production.