A new study was recently carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank on how to unlock the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) to improve Water and Sanitation Services in Africa. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report, in 2014 52% of all global mobile money deployments were in Sub Saharan Africa and 82% of Africans had access to GSM coverage. Comparatively, only 63% had access to improved water and 32% had access to electricity. This early adoption of mobile-to-web technologies in Africa provides a unique opportunity for the region to bridge the gap between the lack of data and information on existing water and sanitation assets and their current management — a barrier for the extension of the services to the poor.
In December 2013, I was excited to receive funding through an Innovation Challenge Award to pilot water flow sensors in rural Tanzania, where the sustainability of rural water supply is a major development challenge. Approximately 38% of rural water points are not functioning properly. The sensor we wanted to develop would remotely monitor flow, making it easier to deliver operational information to the Ministry of Water’s water point mapping system.
The pilot brought one of the first 3D printers to Tanzania and we connected the American start-up WellDone International to the local non-governmental organization (NGO) Msabi. The project team implemented the gadget effectively, and my colleagues at the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and I navigated the procurement and implementation challenges. The pilot ended successfully in June of 2014 and we were proud of our achievement in bringing an innovative ICT solution to the Tanzanian rural water sector.
Water security is a major challenge for many countries, especially developing ones. The numbers tell a story of water resources under stress while competition for their use is increasing – by 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. Clean water and adequate sanitation is still far from reach for many of the world’s poorest. At the same time, more water is needed to produce food and energy to satisfy the rising needs of the earth’s growing population.
Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.
Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.
For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.
The lack of care given to groundwater is placing a huge tax on the poor who have no access to clean piped water supply and depend on groundwater for their health and livelihoods. Self-supply, through the use of wells, from polluted aquifers in urban and rural areas is widespread, but un-reported. The impacts are all too apparent in the densely populated urban slums and rural communities that often live just centimeters above polluted soil and rock. Out-migration of poor farmers who are no longer able to access deepening groundwater tables has been a feature in arid and semi-arid regions, but intensive agriculture is also leaving behind a legacy of nitrates and pesticides which imprint aquifers for decades.
Each year on March 22 we mark World Water Day. It is an opportunity to keep the urgent water issues – from lack of sanitation to transboundary water to climate change -- top of my mind for practitioners, decision makers and the global public. In the coming days we will post here updates and stories from the field, as well as links to some of our partners’ content. But, more importantly, this is an opportunity to hear from you, too.
Back in 2009, Ratih Purwindah, a 25-year-old newly appointed sanitation district facilitator, was not invited to sit in the car to travel with delegates from Indonesia’s Ngawi District to participate in the East Java province rural sanitation review meeting. Instead, Ratih was asked to take a bus the 180 km to Surabaya, even though there were vacant seats in the delegation’s car. She also did not get a desk at the district’s office. Five years onwards, this has changed and Ratih is now the provincial coordinator for the government’s sanitation program in Central Java. District sanitation facilitators working with her are recognized and empowered within District Health offices. Ratih’s personal journey is a testament to the systemic changes that have taken place in Indonesia. With a focus on district-wide sanitation service delivery, Indonesia is accelerating access from below 1% to 2-3% a year and catching up to achieve the sanitation MDG.
Today marks the second annual UN World Toilet Day, an important opportunity to promote global efforts to achieve universal access to sanitation by 2030. With a focus on equality and dignity, this year, World Toilet Day aims to highlight sanitation as a global development priority, especially for women and girls who must compromise their dignity and put their safety at risk when lack of access to sanitation forces them to defecate in the open.
Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Group Senior Director for Water, and Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender, wrote a blog for Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of World Toilet Day. Read the blog below, which originally appeared in Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Advancing equality for women in developing countries is not only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense.
Gender equality enhances productivity, improves well-being, and renders governing bodies more representative. And yet around the world, discriminatory laws, preferences, and social norms ensure that girls and women learn less, earn less, own less, enjoy far fewer opportunities to achieve their potential, and suffer disproportionately in times of scarcity or shock.