Industry: International Development
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
WaterAid Canada is an international charitable organization that was created with the goal of making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere. In collaboration with our colleagues and partners worldwide, we are determined to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and have universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. At WaterAid Canada we recognize that extreme poverty will not end until everyone, everywhere has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. Despite progress, 785 million people still do not have access to clean water close to home and 2 billion do not have a decent toilet of their own. This is a gross denial of basic human rights and prevents people from having equal opportunity to be healthy, educated and financially secure. Achieving SDG 6 can change this. With specific targets on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), Goal 6 shows that world leaders understand the importance of making these essentials normal for everyone, everywhere. At WaterAid Canada, we are determined to achieve Goal 6 and reach every single person with WASH services within a generation.
Investing in SDG 6 creates the opportunity to advance across multiple sectors and goals including education, health, nutrition, gender equality, climate, and infrastructure. In our work, our approach is focused on sustainable impact, working through and with government systems and institutions, and applying a human-rights based approach. In collaboration with local communities, we construct toilet blocks, water taps, handwashing stations, and other vital WASH infrastructure. Across all our work, we use technologies that are low-cost, context-specific, and easily maintained. Our work goes beyond building physical structures; installing taps and toilets is essential, but we do so much more. We also spread messaging and teach proper hygiene behaviours, such as handwashing, to create communities that are healthier and more resilient. We make a bigger impact because we bring people together, actively encouraging collaboration so that many voices can be heard, and ideas can spread.
If we do not achieve SDG 6 in the next decade, we risk exacerbating the effects of climate change and global diseases. The threat of climate change is fundamentally intertwined with the need for adequate access to water around the world. There is a climate disaster happening every week around the world, and these crises – flooding, droughts, and severe storms –have long-term impacts on household water supplies. Droughts caused by rising temperatures will see water resources under pressure and threaten already vulnerable communities. The impacts of climate change may lead to another 700 million people facing water insecurity. Without secure access to safely managed water supplies communities will be held back by severe health impacts; children won’t be able to complete their education; and, cities will be unsustainable. Another risk posed by ignoring the current WASH crisis is the threat of global illnesses, as is currently highlighted by COVID-19. Already, before the virus started to spread, three billion people globally lacked soap and water at home, and almost half of healthcare facilities (43%) lacked basic hand hygiene facilities at points of care. In March, the United Nations warned that the decades of chronic underfunding of water infrastructure puts the world at greater risk from the coronavirus. Practicing good hand hygiene is central to the publicly given advice, so providing safe water for all must be central to government action. At WaterAid Canada, we recognize that access to WASH is crucial to boost resilience to multiple global threats, including current and future pandemics and the impacts of climate crisis – especially for the poorest and most marginalized people.
In 2018, WaterAid Canada partnered with Circles for Integrated Community Development (CICOD) to implement the three-year WASH for Healthy Learning project in Malawi. The project will improve education, health, and nutrition outcomes for learners in the Lilongwe district by changing hygiene behaviours, including menstrual hygiene, handwashing, and the use of gender-sensitive toilets. By increasing adequate WASH access and rights-based programming, the project aims to create inclusive and equitable learning environments for children, particularly girls. Female students will become more aware of their rights and able to claim them wherever necessary. The schools of M’Buka, Chipala, Kabwabwa and Mlodza in Lilongwe district are the principal targets of this initiative. This project is heavily aligned with target 6.2 which aims to have adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and to end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. In line with target 6.2’s focus on equitable sanitation and hygiene, the WASH for Healthy Learning project recognizes that proper hygiene practices such as handwashing with soap and water are critical to ensuring the lasting health of students. A key component of the project is the training of students, teachers, and caregivers in proper hygiene behaviours.
Target 6.3 of SDG 6 relates to the improvement of water quality by reducing the dumping of hazardous chemicals and materials. In many communities, untreated wastewater can often contaminate the drinking supply and is a serious health threat. One of the most important ways to eliminate this threat is by ensuring that communities have the means to dispose of human waste in a safe and sanitary manner. As a part of the WASH for Healthy Learning project, toilets are being built and rehabilitated to ensure that human waste can be stored and disposed of safely. Additionally, operations and maintenance committees are being trained in proper disposal techniques and facility maintenance to ensure that no hazardous chemicals or waste leaks from the toilets.
Target 6.4 of SDG 6 aims to increase the sustainable use of water and protect against water scarcity. Water scarcity is a serious problem for the communities targeted in the WASH for Healthy Learning Project. One of the envisioned changes of the project is to increase access to sustainable and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. In part, this change will be achieved through the construction, rehabilitation, and extension of safe water supply systems. Water storage tanks will also be provided so that a sustainable and safe water source is available throughout the year, during both the dry and wet seasons.
Target 6.5 of SDG 6 aims to implement integrated water resource management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate. At WaterAid Canada, we recognize the importance of engaging leaders and working with them to integrate WASH management systems at all levels. We also leverage our position to promote the integration of other SDGs into WASH management. In the WASH for Healthy Learn Project, we engage and support decisionmakers at local, district and national levels to improve planning and resource allocation for school WASH, menstrual health management, and nutrition. We also engage in sector coordination platforms by convening and participating in working groups on WASH, education, nutrition, and health in order to influence improved collaboration.
An essential component of SDG 6 is target 6.b which aims to support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management. At WaterAid Canada we recognize the importance of seeking the knowledge of local experts at the grassroots level to ensure that they are part of creating and shaping the services that impact their communities. All our projects are conceptualized, planned, and executed with consistent input and leadership from local communities and our teams in the field. In the WASH for Healthy Learning Project, community participation went beyond the conceptualization and execution of the program. Operations and maintenance committees are being established and trained in each school targeted in the project. This means that communities will be equipped with the knowledge to maintain and shape their WASH services for years to come.
As mentioned previously, having proper WASH facilities is crucial for a healthy learning environment, especially for girls. We conducted a baseline study in 2019 to determine the state of WASH access for students in the target schools of our WASH for Healthy Learning Project. The study found that for every Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) facility, there were 813 girls; for every waterpoint, there were 2,193 users; and for every adequate sanitation facility, there were 125 students. These ratios make it extremely difficult for students, particularly female ones, to partake in education in a safe and dignified manner. The WASH for Healthy Learning project aims to significantly increase the ratio of WASH facilities to users by equipping the targeted schools with safe water, as well as MHM and disability-friendly sanitation facilities. Across the span of the project, WaterAid Canada and our partners will construct 36 water access points, build or rehabilitate 99 toilets, add 132 handwashing facilities, and make 28 MHM rooms available across the four targeted schools by the end of the project.
For women and girls who are menstruating, access to proper hygiene facilities can be the difference between staying in school and dropping out. By the end of the project, 60% of learners (boys and girls), caregivers and teachers should report that they practice improved hygiene behaviours. Approximately 12,587 girls, boys, teachers, and caregivers will be targeted with hygiene behaviour training and information, with the goal being an increase in awareness of at least three hygiene behaviours among boys and girls from a baseline of 40% to 90%. The WASH for Healthy Learning project will also aim to have 90% of girls between 9 and 18 practicing proper menstrual hygiene.
To encourage community participation in WASH management, each school will have an operations and maintenance committee. Forty individuals from school management committees (SMCs) and parents’ teacher associations (PTAs, will be trained in the operation and maintenance of the facilities. By strengthening community participation in the management of the facilities, we are ensuring long-lasting and sustainable change.
At WaterAid Canada, a major part of our mandate is building awareness for SDG 6 and increasing public knowledge of the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene. We work within Canada to advocate for increased government investment in WASH interventions, and we use our communication channels to spread information about the importance of WASH to the public. Our efforts to promote national awareness are a central part of our partnerships with corporations and foundations, with whom we work to build greater awareness in Canada about the importance of water and sanitation. Outside of Canada, we build awareness about the importance of SDG 6 by incorporating education and advocacy training components in many of our international programs. With greater awareness, citizens are more empowered to advocate for their rights to water and sanitation and hold governments accountable.
To spread information about SDG 6 within Canada we conduct campaigns that take advantage of our social media presence and our mailing lists. Our Communications team develops and disseminates content that promotes the importance of WASH. By creating a steady stream of digital and physical content, we reach a wide variety of demographics across the country in an engaging and creative manner. We also have connections with celebrity ambassadors who spread awareness about our mandate, while engaging the broader Canadian population about the importance of SDG 6. One of our most successful outreach campaigns was called The Source and involved leveraging our connections with celebrities like Olympian Adam Van Koeverden, recording artist Shad K, and renowned Chef Susur Lee. We heard stories from each of them about their personal connections to water and how access to water has impacted their careers. Olympian and professional hockey player, Natalie Spooner, was also involved in The Source campaign, and she continues to be heavily involved with us on promoting the importance of SDG 6, especially with regards to the specific WASH needs of women and girls.
WaterAid Canada advocates within Canada to convince politicians to increase investment in WASH interventions. We speak directly to Members of Parliament and Ministers about the crucial nature of SDG 6 and build connections with key decision makers in the civil service. We participate in sector consultations about international development funding and work with our colleagues in climate, health, and nutrition to advocate for increased Official Development Assistance (ODA). We are also a part of Cooperation Canada (formerly Canadian Council for International Co-operation) and contribute to their advocacy work on behalf of the entire International non-government organization (INGO) WASH sector in Canada. Most recently, we wrote on behalf of the WASH sector in a Cooperation Canada publication that included representatives across the entire Canadian development sector. While our section highlighted the importance of SDG 6, the document in its entirety highlighted the need for the Canadian government to increase its financial support for all the SDGs.
Corporations also play a vital role in supporting WaterAid Canada’s mission to create awareness about SDG 6. We work with corporate partners, like Merit Travel Group and Fill it Forward, to promote the importance of clean water and sanitation among the corporation’s employees and their customers. We recommend initiatives like the Just Water Challenge, where employees from corporate partners only drink water for a week and donate the money they would have spent on other drinks to projects related to SDG 6.
Within our country programs around the world we also promote a greater focus on SDG 6. For example, engaging with local leaders and promoting SDG 6 is a central part of our HerWASH: Menstrual Health (MH) and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) project in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan. In these countries there is often a limited capacity to overcome barriers to meet basic rights, such as health, water, sanitation and education. The HerWASH project works alongside civil society in informing, engaging, and holding local leaders to account in terms of WASH policy and investment. In many of our other projects we also run community-based programs that promote a stronger focus on clean water and sanitation and encourage community led advocacy for SDG 6.
Before COVID-19 began to spread around the world, three billion people globally lacked soap and water at home, and almost half of healthcare facilities (43%) lacked basic hand hygiene facilities at points of care. In March, the United Nations warned that decades of chronic underfunding of water infrastructure puts the world at greater risk from the coronavirus. Practising good hygiene is essential to combatting the virus, so providing safe water for all must be central to government action – but how can you wash your hands if you do not have access to safe water? SDG 6 has never been more urgent and at WaterAid Canada we recognize the importance of increasing the scale of our work to combat the threat posed by COVID-19. COVID-19 is making visible and exacerbating existing inequalities along the lines of income, location, gender, disability, and other markers of discrimination – factors that were already determining access to essential services, including WASH, before the pandemic struck. Stopping the pandemic and minimising its impact relies on delivering adequate support for the provision of vital WASH services, particularly through handwashing with soap, prioritising the poorest and most marginalised. Initial collective steps to address COVID-19 have not provided adequate funding to solve this problem. The WaterAid federation’s analysis of major funding initiatives to address COVID-19 indicates that out of approximately 70 announcements so far from donors or institutions to help contain the disease in low- and middle-income countries, only nine have included any mention at all of hygiene (and most of these do not include new money).
In the short term, WaterAid Canada is adapting our current programs to ensure their continued success despite the realities of COVID-19, while also increasing the scope of our programs in order to address COVID-19 within the communities where we work. To prevent the spread of the virus we are specifically focusing on establishing handwashing facilities in areas of need and providing information to communities on how to make soap from locally available materials, to enable effective handwashing with soap and water. We are also launching handwashing campaigns across all the countries where we work and conducting direct community outreach and visiting rural communities to spread the World Health Organization’s awareness messaging. These initiatives will ensure that everyone, wherever they live, knows how important it is to wash their hands with soap, when to do it, and how to do it correctly.
In the long term, we are advocating for an increase in governmental and institutional support so that we can better address the post-COVID-19 world and achieve the SDGs. Rather than positioning COVID-19 as an excuse to postpone action on sustainable development, we, alongside the entire WaterAid federation, are calling on governments and donors to seize this moment to renew their commitment to multilateralism and collective action. This includes governments committing at least US$9 billion in new, additional financing to advance efforts to achieve SDG 6 on water and sanitation. We must build back stronger and it is only through a greater focus on the SDGs that we can do that.
An example of our commitment to achieving the development goals in response to COVID-19 is our HerWASH project. The HerWASH project is active in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan, countries in which WaterAid is the preeminent WASH expert. WaterAid sits on all relevant emergency response forums which allows us to coordinate and support response efforts of the government with other INGOs and the international community. To help governments control the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities, WaterAid Canada has expanded the scope of the HerWASH project to include increased access to inclusive, gender-sensitive WASH infrastructure and materials in healthcare facilities, public spaces and communities. We have also increased awareness of healthcare facility staff and community members, particularly women and girls, of key hygiene behaviours to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Hygiene promotion is one of the most cost-effective health interventions in the world but the practice of key hygiene behaviours in the targeted communities is limited. Drawing on WaterAid Canada’s extensive experience in hygiene and behaviour change communication, including responding to the Ebola crisis of 2014-2016, the project will launch hygiene promotion campaigns across the country, targeting urban areas with a high risk of transmission and rural locations where communication is limited. To compliment the hygiene behaviour change campaigns, WaterAid Canada is working quickly to install emergency handwashing stations across hospitals, healthcare facilities, high traffic areas (such as markets) and underserved rural and urban communities to ensure the availability of safe water and soap for handwashing. Cleaning materials will also be provided to healthcare facilities to ensure these facilities remain safe and sanitary environments. For women and girls in isolations centers, the project will provide menstrual hygiene management kits, to promote the health and dignity of those under quarantine.
Our interventions in projects like HerWash demonstrate not only our response to COVID-19, but will allow us to create a new normal post-COVID-19, one in which every person, everywhere, has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.