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Time to Get Our Sh*t Together

March 12, 2012

This week, the World Water Forum will be held in Marseille, France. The meeting follows last week’s announcement that–according to the latest Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) data compiled by the World Health Organization and UNICEF–the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water was achieved in 2010, a full five years ahead of schedule.

More than 20,000 people will gather to celebrate this accomplishment. But the meeting will also recognize that we have a lot of work to do. We still need to help more than 700 million people around the world gain access to clean water, and we need to help another 2.5 billion people gain access to safe, affordable toilets.

Our message in Marseille will be simple–it’s time to get our sh*t together and focus on sanitation. (To read the full details of our message, click here.)

The lack of progress on sanitation, which was reconfirmed by the 2012 JMP Update, is what originally fueled the foundation’s call to action to “reinvent the toilet.” To us, reinventing the toilet is not just about science and technology, it’s about a whole new approach to working with poor communities in urban and rural areas of the developing world to create affordable, sustainable, and aspirational sanitation solutions.

We turned the usual distribution of funding and advocacy for water, sanitation and hygiene (WSH) programs from 90% water/10% sanitation on its head. By committing 90% of our funding to sanitation, we are trying to stimulate innovation in R&D, delivery models, and advocacy that can accelerate progress on sanitation. (Use the following links to read more about our strategy and awarded grants).

We see the components below as essential to achieving the long term vision of providing sustainable sanitation services that work for everyone.

  • Explore and Implement Sanitation without Sewers: Our long term goal is a household-scale reinvented toilet that safely removes pathogens and recovers resources. Therefore, government policies should move away from reliance on sewers and toward new and innovative solutions.
  • End Open Defecation: In both rural and urban areas, demand-led programs are moving the needle on increasing sustainable access to sanitation. A number of governments in Africa and Asia have adopted this approach into national campaigns aimed at ending open defecation. Lending the government’s voice and resources to this can help to deliver increased access and reach scale more quickly.
  • Provide Sustainable Services at Scale: In order to be able to effectively deliver sustainable services, we need to better calculate and understand the costs of these services. The use of the life cycle cost approach by donors, implementers, and governments, can improve the quality, targeting and cost-effectiveness of service delivery.
  • Promote Sanitation as a Business: Delivering sustainable sanitation services also requires a regulatory environment that encourages entrepreneurs and businesses to build profitable businesses.  Partnerships between government and the private sector can strengthen service delivery, build economies of scale, and drive down costs.
  • Cooperate and Partner: The crisis can’t be tackled without opportunities to build a collective evidence base, share lessons learned, and make specific commitments. This means endorsing political commitments like the eThekwini Declaration and participating in venues for collective engagement and problem-solving like Sanitation & Water for All (SWA).

In 2011, we committed $120 million in new commitments, grants and contracts, 90% of which was focused on sanitation. In many cases these investments were made in partnership with other donors and national governments in order to have the greatest impact.

  • Sanitation Science & Technology: To date, we have committed $79 m for sanitation science and technology, including grants to 8 universities to develop prototypes of affordable toilets that don’t need to be connected to sewers.
  • Delivery Models at Scale: To date, $47m has been committed to demand-led sanitation programs, with the aim of contributing to ending open defecation for 30 million people by 2015.
  • Policy & Advocacy: We have invested $18m to date in policy and advocacy grants that support sanitation policy development and advocacy campaigns.

We believe that with governments, advocates, researchers, investors, businesses, and donors we can accelerate the pace of change in sanitation and make an impact on the challenge that keeps 2.5 billion people without a toilet.

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