IHC Global hosted a networking event called “Intersections: Bringing together necessary elements for Inclusive, Sustainable Sanitation Strategies in Cities” at the Habitat III conference in Quito on October 19, 2016. Moderator Judith Hermanson, IHC Global’s President and CEO, introduced the topic and the panelists by noting the diverse perspectives that each would bring and framing the inherent complexity of the urban sanitation challenge, requiring policy, investment, and programmatic “intersections” at the individual, community, municipal levels. Susana M. Rojas Williams from Habitat for Humanity International spoke about Habitat for Humanity’s systemic approach to sanitation and its efforts to convene the various stakeholders involved in sanitation efforts such as community councils, homeowners associations, local agencies and utilities, and microfinance institutions, in order to help them build trust. Alberto Wilde from Global Communities spoke about Global Communities’ sanitation efforts in Ghana, noting both the complex challenges to sanitation in Ghana such as lack of political will, lack of space, informal land title, and poor soil quality, as well as the comprehensive activities Global Communities engages in around community mapping, water and drainage solutions, innovation toilet solutions, social behavior change communication, and micro-loans for businesses. Lianne Romahi of the International City/County Management Association spoke of the potential of public-private partnerships to address constraints in local governance finance mechanisms. She spoke about ICMA’s efforts to facilitate mentorship and knowledge sharing for members who haven’t had experience with PPPs before. Cecilia Rodrigues from the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance shared the alliance’s efforts over time to contribute to achieving first the sanitation-related MDG, and now the sanitation SDG. She brought up the point that sanitation can contribute to fulfilling other SDGs. For instance, proper sanitation in schools and access to menstrual pads for girls can contribute to the achievement of the education SDG. Finally, Roshan Shrestha from the Gates Foundation urged us to think about the full life-cycle of sanitation and “pay attention to what happens after the toilet flushes.” Overall, the panel provided a complex and multi-dimensional portrait of what needs to be considered in sanitation efforts and the important progress that has been made.
A new World Health Organization report was released on March 31st confirming the dire state of health in poor urban communities. According to the report, data on the health of city-dwellers in nearly 100 countries shows that health inequities between the rich and poor have increased and will continue to as the world population grows. In 91 of those countries, only half of the urban households have access to piped water. The richest 20% of those households are 2.7 times more likely to have access to piped water than the poorest 20%. The ratio in sub-Saharan Africa is close to 17 times with respect to richest versus poorest household access to piped water. In 79 countries, children in the poorest 20% of households are twice as likely to die before the age of five than their richest counterparts.
IHC is passionate about creating sustainable cities, and with the population rapidly increasing — an expected further billion living in cities by 2030 — creating equal access to clean piped water remains a formidable task. IHC calls upon cities to prioritize investment in water and sanitation to the poorest communities as a means to lessen inequity as well as to build greater inclusiveness and resilience for the city as a whole. Strategies such as community management and social entrepreneurship, integrating the water delivery system with municipal systems can help the investment dollars go further.
The WHO article also makes a mention of the high threats of both non-communicable and infectious diseases and pollution that often plague citizens in many cities. Investment in environmental sanitation and accompanying drainage and other solutions will lessen the impact of mosquito borne diseases, such as the Zika virus, which affect not only those living in communities lacking water and sanitation but also those in the larger community.
In addition to lacking piped water, 400 million poor people in low and middle-income countries are unable to access even the basic forms of health care that are taken for granted in the developed world. It’s clear that health inequity prevents progress. That’s why proper investment in order to improve housing is such an important issue and accessing piped water is one small step towards that goal. Creating sustainable housing for the poor with access to clean piped water makes a healthier and greener city. Quality of life will improve exponentially.
The bottom line is that a sustainable city creates happy people with an even happier environment. Providing access to water pipes to all is just a small step in the right direction.