Water, sanitation and hygiene (Winter 2019)

[Individual articles from the Winter 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

In July 2017, when reporting on global progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations Secretary General stated that “Access to safe water and sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity” (UN, 2017). Water is a basic human need. Both during emergency responses and in longer-term development efforts, securing access to safe water and improving sanitation for vulnerable populations are top priorities. Communities affected by emergencies and poverty are generally more susceptible to disease and illness than other populations. Much of this increased vulnerability can be attributed to lack of access to safe water for drinking, cooking and washing, which contributes to poor sanitation and hygiene. 

Unfortunately, UNICEF (2015) reports that the two- to five-year failure rate of water and sanitation projects is 30-50%. Research indicates that this failure rate can primarily be attributed to lack of effective sustainability planning, including community participation in planning and implementing these initiatives, rather than to the technical dimensions of the projects. Successful water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) responses build on the capacities of communities and local governments to ensure safe, sustained and equitable access to appropriate and adequate WASH services (Sphere, 2018.) Other factors that improve success rates of WASH projects include an understanding of the socio-political, cultural and economic contexts of participating communities on the part of organizations carrying out WASH projects. Strong community participation and involvement of local structures and experts improve long-term outcomes. 

MCC and its constituents have long championed the importance of assisting vulnerable communities with safe water and sanitation. MCC records indicate that the first multi-year project to address the provision of safe drinking water took place in 1964 in Grande Riviere du Nord, Haiti. In the project, MCC workers collaborated with the community to tap a natural spring and pipe its clean water to the village. Working to connect communities to clean water and to support community efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene have remained vital MCC initiatives over the ensuing half century. MCC supporters, meanwhile, have demonstrated a persistent and growing interest in WASH-related projects. This issue of Intersections offers articles examining different ways in which MCC and its partners are responding to needs in Kenya, Uganda, Nepal, Nicaragua and Haiti for safe, potable water, improved sanitation and hygiene promotion. Taken together, the articles underscore the need for strong community participation and for considering the distinct needs of women and girls to achieve successful implementation of WASH projects. 

Beth Good is MCC’s representative for its Kenya program and lives in Nairobi.

Learn More

The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. 2018. Available at https://handbook.spherestandards.org/. 

UN ECOSOC. (2017). “Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.” Retrieved September 1, 2018, from: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/2017/66&Lang=E 

UNICEF. (2015). “Accountability in WASH: Explaining the Concept.” Retrieved September 1, 2018, from: https://www.unicef.org/wash/files/Accountability_in_WASH Explaining _the_Concept.pdf  

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