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Water for All - Stories from around the world

There are many challenges around achieving Sustainability Delivery Goal (SDG) 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – and the outcomes that translate to many other SDGs. To learn about these challenges and our potential roles in the water sector to overcome them, the Water for All specialist network listened to four engaging presentations from passionate water professionals, followed by an opportunity to share in small group discussions and contemplate our responsibilities on a personal and professional level.

The first speaker Rosie Wheen, Chief Executive of Water Aid Australia, shared a story from Nepal where Water Aid has been working since 1984. Om Prasad, a local Global Hygiene Advisor, has been looking at the challenge of behavioural change around water, as many deaths of babies and children under five are caused by preventable diarrhoeal diseases. A known barrier to changing people’s behaviour is that exposure to key messages around water hygiene needs to be heard multiple times to be effective.

With this in mind, a pilot program was undertaken to integrate hygiene behavioural messages into an existing government immunisation program at which mothers and parents bring their babies to healthcare clinics five times in the first nine months of their lives. Hand washing methods and hygiene were integrated into the program and heard by over 60,000 guardians. The results showed a strong correlation with the reduction of diarrhoeal diseases as a change in behaviour was adopted by participants.

The results were so encouraging that this approach has been adopted by the government to continue across the rural and remote districts of the country. It was also adapted to convey messages about Covid-19 through existing programs to provide information in rural and remote communities. 

 More information about the program can be accessed here.

Ian Cunningham revealed insights from 15 years’ research experience at the Institute for Sustainable Futures around well-being in water projects. Ian noted that because water programs are used by different people with different power dynamics and different systems around infrastructure, such experiences influence feelings and even longevity of projects. An example of working in water supply projects highlighted rising challenges and conflicts between material benefits and the cost on relationships.

A positive relational outcome was achieved through water committee members being able to serve their village, showing that enabling systems go beyond material benefits. Ian emphasised using a strength-based approach and challenged participants to consider what our aspirations of local communities are and how our existing relationships are valued. Furthermore, what are the motivations that provide leverage and are more likely to support bottom-up change?

He finished these thoughts with two questions for members to consider:

1) How does the process of water projects positively / negatively impact dimensions of well-being?

2) How do the outcomes of water projects positively / negatively impact dimensions of well-being?

The third speaker, Jack Nugent, is a technical advisor and program specialist at Engineers without Borders. Jack presented about emergency response to the flooding in Dili, Timor Leste, in April 2021. When the rivers burst their banks more than 50% of Dili was left without water access for three months. Engineers without Borders provided emergency water supplies for this vital life source. While projects typically first need to build on relationships for long-term sustainability, in emergency response there is no time.

New communities receiving assistance using a technological approach thus provided unique challenges. Some of the community, for example, didn't have trust that the output of freshwater was potable even though the engineers on the ground were drinking the water from the ultrafiltration system themselves. Additionally, there was a lack of respect for the infrastructure set-up and removal of the wooden supports that were propping up the pipes that provided the water supply caused damage and delays.

The emergency highlighted that with a lack of engagement, time was needed for building trust both and implementing and operating the systems.

A solution to this challenge included engaging with the village chiefs to build relationships and building community champions, householders or youth group members, to link to the broader community. By having trusted people in the community, these interventions provided fairer access to clean water and reduced tension.

Shona Fitzgerald is a Water and Sanitisation Specialist at the World Bank. Shona shared a story about resilience in the Pacific. In the islands of Kiribati, there are very few educated in water, sanitation is low and the average daily water supply is 10 L per person. Half the people in South Tarawa, the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, rely on three different types of water for their consumption and use. Of this, 50% of water is supplied from brackish wells, and therefore non-potable.

The local people have developed a strong practice of water sharing to exist on 35 L of water per person per day. These communities could teach many countries about water management in terms of low technology and low cost.

As these communities develop their water supplies, Shona stressed that partners working with them need to learn and understand their preferences, practices and values to best conserve the existing resilient practices. We were challenged to consider: what are people's cultural relationships with water and how can these be preserved?

In a short space of time, these four perspectives emphasised the importance of engagement in communities around the world regarding a collaborative approach to water for all. Following discussions with participants in four break-out rooms, we returned to further reflect. It was surmised that a strength-based approach listens to local communities, builds relationships and uses existing values and networks for long-term sustainability.

How can we therefore elevate local voices and people who live with water challenges to manage water beyond implementation and build their capacity for a sustainable future? And what action can we each take, as individuals in our work, to improve access to water for all?