WaterAid is a British non-governmental organization with 25 years of experience in water, sanitation and hygiene education worldwide. It will join Church World Service (CWS) in addressing West Africa's water needs next year. WaterAid America's Development Director Emily Boyd-Carpenter spoke to Church World Service's Thomas Abraham about the partnership.
CWS: What will WaterAid and Church World Service do in West Africa?
Boyd-Carpenter: We'll be working together on a project to address water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and Mauritania. The aim is to map the needs, find out what's working and what isn't, what the financing gap is and how it can be met. There are specific issues for each country: what exists in different [government] ministries in each country, if there's a cohesive budget line, if authority for water and sanitation rests across different ministries like agriculture, health, education, and what powers and responsibilities each has. The key is to put local governments in control even though NGOs may be the ones implementing the projects.
The project started with a workshop in November 2004 which set out the scope of work of the work ahead of us. The next workshop will be in Accra. The six countries will look at implementing the MDGs at the local level. Each country will focus on a different area: Nigeria on monitoring and evaluation; Ghana on the role of NGOs in supporting local government staff; Burkina Faso on local planning and the nuts and bolts of implementing MDGs; Mauritania on mobilizing the partner base. We want to have an e-forum and newsletter coming out of the workshop. The next stage is to do a baseline study of the region and to raise public awareness of the issues within the six countries. We'll also be looking at decentralization and how that's happened. We'll need to involve local communities and local governments. And we'll monitor and evaluate how these projects move towards the fulfillment of the MDGs.
CWS: What value does each agency bring to the partnership?
Boyd-Carpenter: Water and sanitation are fundamental to the work CWS is doing in Africa, but it doesn't have much experience at the level we're talking about. In West Africa we already have a partnership with the Environmental Development Action in the Third World, a Senegalese NGO. But with the addition of CWS, it will change the way we work in Africa. Right now there is terrible duplication and lack of cohesion in partnerships in Africa. Local governments with responsibility for water and sanitation have been decentralized, and have no funding. Support from UNICEF and international agencies like it are jamming up. Other NGOs are going off doing their own thing without telling each other. CWS is already contributing its thoughts to the design of the project and doing education and advocacy on water. It has a huge profile in the US. It's not just a matter of throwing money at the situation, but raising awareness amongst stakeholders. WaterAid doesn't have the network here to do this.
CWS: What prompted WaterAid America?
Boyd-Carpenter: We experienced lot of growth in the UK and had a lot of backing to do this. Also, we were seeing a rise in the international awareness of water issues and interest by US foundations. We were invited to be part of the West African Water Initiative (a $40 million public-private partnership to provide potable water and sanitation to rural villages in Ghana, Mali and Niger, announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell on the eve of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development), a strong US presence which includes UNICEF, World Vision, Cornell University, Desert Research Institute, etc. We were approached since we're well known as the world's leading specialist. It's not amazing that they found us. But we wondered: why us? We're not a big US business organization. We realized there was no one of our size involved in the US. If we want to make the MDGs a reality, then the US has to be involved. Water and sanitation doesn't have a high priority among US foundations or the public. It has to be seen as underlying roots of poverty. We fill this gap. So there's a need to raise awareness and funds in the US.
In the US, support for charity is more of a way of life. People are very educated about what they support. Of course, everybody throws $10 here or there but many people have given thought to what they're giving to. There's a large foundation market. The amount of money available for international causes is vast, but very competitive, so we had to think very carefully if we can find a niche. Fortunately, we received strong signals that there was such a role. There's a long way to go in giving for water and sanitation, but people ask more questions here. It gives us the opportunity to explain our mission.
CWS: One particular niche WaterAid fills is sanitation and hygiene education. How come?
Boyd-Carpenter: It's been a learning process for us. A lot of our early projects involved water supply. When we looked at advocacy, at the long-term efficacy of our projects, it was clear that water does not provide all the answers if you have issues with sanitation. By 2010, 30 percent of WaterAid work is going to be urban, where the need for sanitation is shockingly apparent. So we place a strong emphasis on this. Hygiene education is equally vital for sustainability and community management.
CWS: Does WaterAid America have other partners in the US?
Boyd-Carpenter: The West Africa Water Initiative was the first. We've had some support from other foundations and companies: Fox Searchlight funded us through its movie "Millions". There is another partnership with the Ethos bottled water company, which is not yet selling on the East Coast. Starbucks recently bought Ethos, and it will be in shops in August.
CWS: WaterAid was started by state-run water suppliers in the UK that went private, and has several US industry figures on its Board like Marilyn Ware, who was appointed by President Bush to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. How does WaterAid handle the issue of privatization of water supply and distribution?
Boyd-Carpenter: We were (originally) funded by UK water companies that went private in1991 and are still supported by them. But we've always maintained our independence. Ware is very interested in West Asia and the developing world. None of this has any bearing on the stand we take on privatization. We very much support the role of private enterprises in small scale projects if appropriate. For example, when we look at the sanitation needs of a community, some of the simple tasks in building a latrine are not difficult, but a mason may be needed to make the sanitary platform, the concrete footplate that covers the pit of a latrine. That mason may very well go on to sell that product in the local market. We see this (kind of entrepreneurial initiative) as an important part of supporting sanitation. When you put in water supply, making sure parts are available is important. People must be able to find the parts needed to repair and maintain the system. The technology needs to be appropriate for the local community. We want to address supply chain issues.
But we don't see a role for big multinational corporations. In our experience, such a role doesn't work for poor people. There are issues of control. It's not a viable solution for the poor. The cost recovery is low. It's not profitable for the big companies. We've done some research with RWE (the world's third largest water supply corporation, also involved in electricity, gas, waste disposal and recycling). We're not seeing any big interest in poor countries now, on the part of the multinationals. In the 90's there was a lot of excitement, but it's died down. The problem is that a lot of attention is given to privatization by the media. It's a fragment of the overall delivery of water: under five percent is privatized and it's not likely to go above that. We're asking: why is everybody talking about privatization? It's not relevant. We have serious concerns about privatization, but if privatization serves the need, with government as regulator, then we're for it. We would never rule out a role for privatization if it serves the purpose. There's an interesting example in Uganda where the local government retained ownership of the facilities but has outsourced billing.
CWS: What education and advocacy role does WaterAid play within the corporations that promote privatization and commercial use of water?
Boyd-Carpenter: We don't work with any water companies in implementing any of our projects. They are not interested in rural communities in Ghana, for example. We have done research and communicated our studies to several water companies. Many of them, along with a number of governments, are interested in what we do. We don't see it as our role to educate water companies on privatization, but we'll communicate our position to anyone who wants to know. It's important for us to be involved, so we can make sure we represent the views of poor people. That's one way we're involved in education and advocacy.