Uli Jaspers, Head of the International Federation’s Water and Sanitation Unit in Geneva
The consumption of water and the generation of human wastes are such commonplace aspects of human life that planning for their appropriate use or removal may be overlooked. There is ample evidence to show that failure to ensure an adequate supply of uncontaminated water or to arrange for safe disposal of excreta, as well as the failure to implement, in parallel, appropriate health promotion activities aimed at changing people’s behaviour, are major contributing factors to disease transmission, ill health, misery and death.
Today, more than one billion people lack access to clean water and over two billion do not have adequate sanitation facilities. Around four million people die each year from diseases associated to the lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene – this figure includes some 4,000 children under five years old who die every day. In addition, in times of disaster and crises, the urgency to meet basic water and sanitation needs and promote good hygiene underpins the need to save lives, reduce disease and restore dignity.
The overall water and sanitation challenge is best expressed in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular goals No. 2, 3, 4 and 7, which have water and sanitation components. Our response is therefore to set ourselves the target of contributing to meeting those goals.
In the water and sanitation sector, experience has shown that effectiveness of water supply and sanitation projects depends not only on the choice of technology ("hardware") but also on gender responsive water and sanitation facilities, community management and behavioural change, core elements of the "software" component. The International Federation advocates for the integration of these two components in water and sanitation projects as well as hygiene promotion activities.
Over the last ten years, the International Federation has established and consolidated a water and sanitation vision, policy and capacity to better address global challenges.
First, we need to deal with acute water and sanitation challenges, which are mostly related to crises and disasters, and where it is urgent to provide basic needs to save lives, contain or reduce health threats and restore dignity.
Over the last twelve years, the International Federation has provided more than six million people with basic water and sanitation services and hygiene-related needs in times of crises and disasters. It is envisioned that emergency demands in the water and sanitation sector will increase and the technology we use needs to be revised periodically to incorporate new developments and improve response capacity.
This improved response capacity will focus upon sanitation and health promotion in post-disaster scenarios. The International Federation Secretariat (Water and Sanitation unit of the Health and Care Department) takes the lead not only in the coordination of response, but also in the crucial development of our response capacity.
The other component is how to address chronic water and sanitation challenges, mostly related to the fact that a large proportion of the world’s poor still do not have access to adequate safe water and sanitation, causing death, disease and loss of productivity.
Over the last ten years, the International Federation has provided more than 2.5 million people with sustainable water and sanitation facilities. The Federation has decided to increase significantly its contribution to the UN Millenium Development Goal to “reduce by half those without sustainable water and sanitation facilities by 2015”.
Using the International Federations unique network of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, volunteers and grassroots structures, a ten-year Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI) was launched in 2005 to increase to over five million by 2015 the people who will have access to developmental water and sanitation programmes.
GWSI is also used as an umbrella for resource mobilization as well as setting new criteria and standards for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide. Under the GWSI, a special focus will be on water and sanitation for People Living with HIV.
After two years, the GWSI is on target, having identified more than 15 large scale country-based projects in Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific.
The International Federation is also building more partnerships with other organizations, both public and private, to make safe water and sanitation available to more and more people throughout the world and to significantly reduce the number of deaths linked to water-borne diseases.