IWC carries the WASH2014 Message Stick from Australia to Vietnam and USA
In a lecture room within the University of Civil Engineering in Hanoi, a group of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) professionals, each from a different country, sat to discuss what the possible similarities could be for their divergent contexts.
Focussing on sanitation, the Nepalese participants talked about the difficulty of adequate sanitation in snowy mountainous areas with toilets full of ice; a Myanmar representative spoke about coastal communities, and the challenge of sanitation in areas experiencing regular inundation and natural disasters; a Vietnamese NGO professional described the inaccessibility of hill tribes, and the extremely high cost of sanitation access for these communities, particularly with Vietnam’s high inflation rates.
A common element for all of these was the difficulty of providing sanitation in challenging environments. As progress is made towards meeting the MDG for sanitation, and the new global aims for 100% coverage in the Sustainable Development Goals, it is often the easier communities to service that receive access sooner. More remote communities that face specific ‘geo-technical’ challenges will require particular dedicated attention, particularly if there is to be WASH for everyone, everywhere.
‘WASH for Everyone Everywhere’ was the theme of the IWC managed WASH2014 Conference held in Brisbane in March this year, and was a theme very much carried through in the WEDC 37th International Conference in Hanoi in September. Facilitated by Bronwyn Powell, IWC Research Program Manager, the side event at the WEDC conference, was titled, Focus on the Asia-Pacific: Carrying the ‘Message Stick’ from Australia to Vietnam. It aimed to highlight the key issues discussed at WASH2014 and share these with a wider audience.
On the other side of the world, Regina Souter, IWC Training and Capacity Partnerships Manager, facilitated a similar event at the Water Institute’s Water and Health Conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This session focussed on the implications of new health and WASH research for policy-makers and practitioners.
WASH2014 was the first WASH conference supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to directly address WASH and health linkages. In his plenary (www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8aotLJHVbs), Prof Jamie Bartram, presented a strong case to show measurable increases in water and sanitation coverage have directly led to increases in life expectancy and decrease in disease burden.
As presented by WSP, emerging research about the links between poor sanitation and poor nutrition are revealing that open defecation has long-term impacts on health, particularly stunting. While linkages have been established, and research evidence continues to build linking good WASH, increased nutrition and decreased stunting, integration and coordination between the WASH and Health sectors remains challenging.
These two seminars were a chance for practitioners to collectively discuss tricky questions, such as:
- Should WASH interventions and investment be driven by health measures, such as burden of disease?
- How much should WASH practitioners understand about the health implications of their WASH interventions?
- What are the implications of new health research for policy-makers around the world?
Face-to-face exchanges are always valuable, and these sessions reinforced that whilst practitioners might face different contexts, many of the challenges are similar. Socio-technical solutions which address both the technical challenge as well as the governance, policy and economic context will be necessary for WASH practitioners working towards the 100% coverage target.