There’s a cultural problem on the other side of the equation as well. Toilet talk usually isn’t welcome at cocktail parties. Public discussions about the effects of menstruation or diarrhea are taboo in most places. Ironically sanitation often masquerades as a “water-related” issue. However, as the Gates Foundation and others have found, the return on investment in sanitation can be incredibly high. In order to leverage this, we cannot abide by the traditionally sanitized approach to charitable giving and development aid. We must open the discourse to include terms like pour-flush, eco-san and septic tanks.
Try a new filter
When it comes to the global water crisis, we often hear the statistics. Close to one billion people lack access to safe water. More than 2.6 billion people – more than one in every three people alive – don’t have an adequate toilet, according to a 2008 report by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. More than 3.5 million people died in 2002 from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Water wars, impending water conflicts, water stress (not enough water in many places, too much water in others) is daily news.
In addition, water collection imposes significant time and productivity costs at the individual, household, family, community and national levels. More than 200 million hours are spent each day collecting water around the world according to data collected by Water.org. And an estimated 443 million school days are lost each year due to collecting water and being sick from water-borne disease.
It’s time talk of statistics turned into talk of solutions. This scenario can change, and there are already innovative solutions in development. Organizations like NextDrop are in the early stages of creating a mobile phone application that would provide individuals with critical data on water availability and quality. Microfinance provides another, demand-driven pathway to a solution. As the Director of WaterCredit.org, I have seen first-hand how partnerships with microfinance institutions (MFIs) can link the water, sanitation and microfinance sectors in order to catalyze sustainable and affordable solutions for clients’ water and sanitation needs.
Small amounts of finance, mobile applications, and prioritization of toilets in schools. These surprisingly simple innovations can lead to a tsunami of social change. Water and sanitation can revolutionize the future of women, girls, and, in so doing, improve the world for us all. Let’s not waste another minute, or another drop.