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Gender and sex inequalities in water, sanitation, and hygiene

Libbet Loughnan's picture

This blogpost is part of a series of thematic blogs for the World Bank's Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostic.

Woman carries water containers near polluted stream and water pipe in Maputo, Mozambique

Addressing gender and sex inequalities in WASH is not only recognized in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 6, it is central to the entire ambition of the SDGs themselves. Some water, sanitation, and hygiene issues are faced only by women because of their biological sex, whereas others are more influenced by gendered societal norms. To truly leave no one behind, we need to be mindful of and work against gender and sex inequalities in all development work. 
 
New World Bank research is a valuable contribution to doing just that.  ‘Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals’ reveals that a drastic change is required in the way countries manage resources and provide key services, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need.  In many cases, this means women and girls. 

Water flows through development – big ideas from World Water Week

Guangzhe CHEN's picture
Guangzhe Chen, Senior Director, the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, 
speaks at the opening plenary of World Water Week 2017. Credit: Tim Wainwright

It was inspiring to see so many committed water practitioners at World Water Week in Stockholm the last week of August, coming together to share experiences and advance global action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of safe and accessible water and sanitation for all (SDG6) by 2030.  As we know, access to water and sanitation is key to thriving communities. It determines whether poor girls are educated, whether cities are healthy places to live, whether industries grow, and whether framers can withstand the impacts of floods and droughts.

Without it, we are limiting our full potential. In fact, today we face a “silent emergency”, with stunted grown affecting more than a third of all children under five in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger and Guatemala. This was presented in the new World Bank report WASH Poverty Diagnostics, provides new data on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for 18 countries and finds that we get the biggest bang for the buck when we attack childhood stunting and mortality from many angles simultaneously, in a coordinated way. While improving water and sanitation alone does improve a child’s well-being, the impacts on child height are multiplied when water, sanitation, health, and nutrition interventions are combined. The report also pinpoints the geographical areas in a country where access to services are low or missing completely, and suggests that to move the needle on improving poverty indicators, policies need to be implemented and resources have to be better targeted to reach the most vulnerable.

Standing for the value of water

Jennifer J. Sara's picture

Last week, water practitioners gathered in Stockholm for World Water Week.  This is an annual meeting to discuss the world’s water issues, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute.  And if any reminder were needed as to the urgency of water challenges, this year’s event took place against a backdrop of Tropical Storm Harvey in the United States, monsoons and flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, and an ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa.  Billions of dollars’ worth of damage to economies, communities displaced and people killed – it’s a terrifying window into the devastating impacts of water-related extremes. 
 
It’s for these reasons and others that the World Economic Forum categorizes water scarcity as one of the main global risks facing humanity today. Around the world, 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation and 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed water.  And new World Bank research provides a wake-up call about the scale of the challenge in low and middle-income countries.
 
If we are to manage these hazards to minimize future suffering, urgent action is needed.  One of my main reflections post World Water Week is that valuing water must be an essential part of the policy agenda if we are to bend the curve towards a water-secure world.

"Valuing water must be an essential part of the policy agenda if we are to bend the curve towards a water-secure world."

How can we make water and sanitation more inclusive and accessible?

Kamila Anna Galeza's picture

“What’s wrong with this picture?” Louisa Gosling of WaterAid asked the participants at her training on Disability-inclusive Water Operations at the World Bank Water Week in March 2017. She pointed to a photo of a woman standing on the wall of a well. It was round and high, the ground around it muddy, and there was no lifting mechanism in sight.

More pictures followed… latrines and water sources with steep steps, narrow doorways, unstable construction without handles or rails. The more pictures we saw, the clearer it became what was wrong - all the facilities shown were inaccessible and dangerous, quite likely impossible to use for many people. 

Photo Credit: WaterAid

The biggest bang for our limited water and sanitation buck: can investing in small towns lead the way?

Aroha Bahuguna's picture



While the share of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 56 percent in 1990 to 43 percent in 2012, the region’s rapid population growth outpaced the decrease in poverty, resulting in higher number of poor people than before. More specifically, Africa’s urban population is expected to triple in size in the next half century, which is putting pressure on scarce resources in cities, exacerbated by capacity, budget and governance bottlenecks. The densely-populated areas with low levels of water and sanitation services pose a serious threat to public health – cholera epidemics have broken out in urban areas in several African countries in recent years.

Starting life strong in slums: the role of engaging vulnerable groups on sanitation and nutrition

Claire Chase's picture
This blog is co-authored with Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director, The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)

Other co-authors: 
Beatrice Montesi, GAIN  
Martin P. Gambrill, The World Bank 
Rebecca Jean Gilsdorf, The World Bank

 
Children in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Crowded slums, poor sanitation and unhealthy diets.  It’s a potent cocktail and for too many families across the world, a daily reality.  Right now, an estimated one billion people live in slums and that number is expected to double by 2030. Slums are where the many deprivations facing the urban poor collide, including lack of access to clean drinking water, sanitation, safe and nutritious foods, sufficient living space, durable housing and secure tenure (UN Habitat).  They’re where human waste is routinely emptied into streets, canals, and garbage dumps. And where overcrowding and low rates of immunization and breastfeeding combine to exacerbate the already perilous problems children face.

Children growing up in these surroundings are at a higher risk of death and disease and are more likely to be chronically malnourished (Ezeh et al. 2017). For example, forthcoming World Bank research from Bangladesh shows that children living in slums are 50 percent more likely to be stunted than children living in other urban areas. This doesn’t just have implications for today - children who are stunted early in life go on to learn and earn less, and face a higher risk of chronic disease as they grow older. Tragically, these effects are often passed on to offspring, trapping families in poverty and malnutrition for generations, as per findings in a forthcoming World Bank report called Uncharted Waters.

Leveraging commercial finance for water: will it hurt the poor?

Sophie Trémolet's picture
Water investments are lumpy and costly: financing is essential to spread the costs of these investments out over time. For water, development finance institutions still provide the bulk of such financing. It can no longer be the only one, however. The costs of extending universal access to safe water and sanitation has been estimated at US$ 114bn per year, which is a substantial increase compared to what was invested to reach the Millenium Development Goals. In contrast, in 2014 total official development finance for water, including grants and loans with varying degrees of concessionality, reached a mere US$18 bn per year, three times more than in 2003 but still woefully insufficient to meet all investment needs.

To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, governments will need to better target their investments and leverage more financing from private sources, including from households that can afford it (via more realistic and fair tariff policies and incentives to invest in things like toilets) and from commercial finance providers, including microfinance institutions, commercial banks, bond investors or venture capitalists.

A this year’s Stockholm World Water Week, the World Bank is releasing  a report which provides guidance to governments and private financiers on “Easing the Transition to Commercial Finance for Sustainable Water and Sanitation”. This report brings together strands of analysis and key messages that were developed for the High Level Panel on Water and for the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership in the run-up to the 2017 High Level Ministerial Meetings hosted by the World Bank.
Download Easing the Transition to Commercial Finance
for Sustainable Water and Sanitation

Learn more about the session Private Finance and
Equitable Delivery of WASH services
 at World Water Week.  

Starting a marathon with a broken ankle: how poor water and sanitation sets children behind

Maximilian Leo Hirn's picture
Children in Koutoukalé, Niger

Have you ever wondered how your life chances are affected by where you were born? Odds of being born at all are already miraculously small, but only one in ten of us is born into the relative security of a high-income country. What if you are born in Niger or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Before you could even walk or talk, your challenges would be daunting. That's because, despite progress, deaths of children under five years old are more than twenty times higher than in the EU and nearly ten times higher than in China.

Even if you survived, you would confront another major risk to your development: malnutrition. In Niger and DRC, almost one out of every two children is stunted. Stunting has significant and long-lasting negative effects on early childhood development, impeding physiological and mental development, and making small children more vulnerable to disease. Starting off in life stunted is akin to starting a marathon with a broken ankle.

Reduce and Reuse: Surprising insights from UC Berkeley Professor Sedlak on what makes a city more water resilient

Lauren Nicole Core's picture

Cities are becoming thirstier  a 50 percent increase in urban water demands is anticipated within the next 30 years. Rapid urban population growth, economic expansion, and competing demands are increasing thirst and tightening the availability of water in areas where water scarcity is already a reality.
 
In a bid to develop concrete solutions for a water scarce future, the World Bank launched the Water Scarce Cities Initiative (WSC), to bolster awareness of integrated and innovative approaches to managing water resources and service delivery.     

Professor David Sedlak

Managing water better is central to attaining our development goals

Jonas Jägermeyr's picture
Rainwater harvesting for drip irrigation, Lake Victoria, Tanzania.
Photo credit: Wisions.net
Everybody depends on it; there is no substitute for it if we run out; in some places, it’s more valuable than oil. Freshwater is at the very core of human development: it is inextricably linked to food security, economic growth, and poverty reduction.

At face value, water use for food production today largely occurs at the expense of ecosystems, which is the number one reason for their rapid degradation. Already, a quarter of the world’s major rivers no longer reach the ocean.

According to a new study published by Nature Communications, about 40% of global irrigation water is used unsustainably and violates life-supporting environmental flows of rivers. To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, these water volumes need to be re-allocated to the ecosystem, which puts a heavy strain on current agricultural water use: food production would drop by at least 10% on half of all irrigated land, with losses of 20-30% at the country level, especially in Central and South Asia.

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