Meeting the Sanitation challenge in Asia Pacific

Despite progress, 2.5 billion people in developing countries still lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Jay Matta, Water and Sanitation Coordinator for the IFRC’s Asia Pacific Zone office, provides some insights into the progress being made towards addressing sanitation needs in the region through the Red Cross Red Crescent Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI).

In a nutshell, how would you explain the GWSI?

The GWSI was created by the IFRC as a common approach for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to establish larger-scale, longer-term sustainable programmes that contribute towards meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal on environmental sustainability, which aims to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Water point in Timor Leste

Globally, the original plan of the GWSI was to target 5 million people over a period of 10 years.  As of January 2014, we have reached 12 million people with safe water and sanitation services. 60 per cent of this population reside in Asia Pacific. We are actually on track to reach 15 million people by 2015 and the aim now is to reach 30 million people by 2025.

What are the IFRC’s main priorities and focus areas on Water Sanitation in Asia-Pacific? Can you give us a few examples?

Our focus is definitely on sanitation as some countries in Asia Pacific are struggling to meet sanitation targets. In India, for example, the percentage of improved sanitation coverage is disturbingly low compared to the global average. Approximately 621 million people continue to practise open defecation. South Asia accounts for 60 per cent of the global population of people still practising open defecation.

Some National Societies are scaling up using Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST) and Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), or an adapted version of these. These approaches allow communities to identify their own sanitation and water supply problems leading to solutions that are sustainable and culturally and technologically appropriate. Examples include Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Pakistan, Timor Leste, Bangladesh, PNG, Nepal and India.

In emergencies, the development and adaptation of Hygiene Promotion Boxes to promote and provide information on good hygiene ensures that sanitation issues are addressed at an early stage of any disaster (as in the case of Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal and India). We are also assisting National Societies by presenting alternative solutions through regular sanitation workshops presented by internal and external partners from which the topic of Sanitation Marketing (SanMark) is being promoted. Sanitation marketing helps low-income households gain sustainable access to improved sanitation facilities they want and can afford. SanMark treats households as consumers, not beneficiaries of charity and partners with private businesses to deliver products and services that meet their needs ( All programming, whether a long-term emergency response or a transitional one for recovery has either a hygiene promotion activity or an appropriate latrine development/construction. A good example of the latter is the agreed census by our partners in Philippines Typhoon Haiyan response, where the shelter programme has opted to ensure that all new houses provided will have a latrine as part of the recovery programme.  

What are some of the challenges that you are facing with these initiatives?

Our main challenge is resource mobilization. Significant progress has been made in many countries in Asia Pacific to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Sanitation targets are currently off-track with a lower percentage in the coverage than was initially planned. Only 10 per cent of the target population in Asia Pacific have access to improved sanitation while approximately 21 per cent or 774 million people still practice open defecation. While our National Societies have existing capacity and expertise in addressing chronic water and sanitation needs, particularly in rural areas, we have a challenge with the funding and resource mobilization. I believe there are more resources out there than we are aware of, and one of the challenges is creatively finding ways to access them.


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