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Partners meet to discuss the global challenges in water and sanitation

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By Sadia Kaenzig and Reeni Amin Chua

The global picture about water and sanitation is stark. Today, 2.6 billion people are exposed to a variety of preventable diseases through poor access to basic sanitation, and 880 million lack clean water supplies. Recently more than 50 participants from National Societies, donors and peer organizations came to Geneva for the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI) to take stock of the global situation and discuss the best ways to move promote and provide good sanitation for all.

Uli Jaspers Manager of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' (IFRC) Water, Sanitation and Emergency Health Unit, said it was shocking how far water and sanitation had slipped down the global agenda. "The idea for the Red Cross Red Crescent is not to deemphasize the need to safe water, but to increase focus on sanitation. We need to carry on scaling up our efforts collectively in order to reach the Millennium Development Goal targets and go to beyond that,” he said. “To do this, we need to align with other global water and sanitation efforts carried out by other key players, and to encourage partnership and generate support, while always trying to meet first the basic needs as set by the local communities we serve."

In 2005, the IFRC launched its ten-year GWSI; a common approach by Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to establish larger-scale, longer-term sustainable water and sanitation programmes.

In the second phase of the initiative, leading up to 2015, particular focus will be placed on addressing sanitation challenges in South Asia, both by increasing the scale of existing projects and considering new project start-ups. GWSI focuses on community-based approaches with National Societies as prime implementers at grass roots, acting in their auxiliary role to governments. And through its network of volunteers, the Red Cross Red Crescent engages with communities with a view to achieving sustainable sanitation solutions.

Anemari Ciurea, Programme Manager at the European Union Water Facility, said the Red Cross Red Crescent was among the organization's best partners, especially as they were able to reach areas where existing schemes were not yet established. "Their projects reach a big number of end beneficiaries not only in terms of water supply and improved sanitation, but also in hygiene promotion," she said "I can now say I understand better the work they do and am convinced they can do more and contribute to our shared goals.”

The largest sanitation shortfall is in Asia, home to 72% of the 2.6 billion people who lack basic sanitation. Across India, Pakistan and Nepal, open latrines remains the only option for over 700 million people.

Amar Poudel, Nepal Red Cross Society's Water and Sanintation Coordinator, said that in Nepal, 17 million people are still practicing open defecation. "It is a major issue but still not getting the attention it deserves. As a result, 13,000 children die each year from water and sanitation related diseases. Our duty is to reach out to the communities that are living in remote areas in order to address their needs in the most practical terms possible adapted to their local realities” (Watch the video.)

Kathryn Clarkson, water and sanitation coordinator for the IFRC in Asia Pacific, said that poor sanitation leaves people vulnerable to a multitude of negative health and economic problems. “Lack of access to appropriate sanitation not only relates to the health of communities, but also has much broader impacts on the well-being of families and their dignity, security and safety. Toilets in schools would encourage children to go to school, particularly girls,” she said.