November 2022

10 Aquaya Insights from the 2022 UNC Water and Health Conference

Aquaya’s insights from the 2022 UNC Water and Health Conference:

1. Everyone is talking about climate resilience, but we have trouble tangibly expressing what it looks like.

Climate resilience has become a buzzword in the sector, and many funders have requirements for implementation or evaluation. It is unclear what climate resilience means in action, especially for small rural water supplies. A common definition and unified approach are necessary for us to measure progress toward climate resilience in WASH systems.

2. “Professionalizing” small water systems takes more than money.

To “professionalize” small water systems, programs must invest in the whole person and not just cover workers’ wages. This includes considerations such as career growth, continued education, job stability, peer support, union membership, and social status so customers can interact with the professional system (e.g., join, question, or support it).

3. We are not on track to meet the SDG goal of universal access to safe drinking water.

WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank released The State of the World’s Drinking Water report. Meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target of universal access to safe drinking water by 2030 will require a considerable acceleration: a quadrupling of progress. The recommendations for accelerating progress revolve around the five Sustainable Development Goal Accelerators: Governance, Financing, Capacity Development, Innovation, and Data and Information.

4. Failures remain underreported.

This is true for practitioners, donors, governments, and academics. When organizations pilot an approach, they tend to emphasize the successes and tone down the challenges. With greater openness, the sector could be learning more efficiently. Take a look at these WASH Failures.

5. Advancing the use of data for decision-making is critical.

Data and Information is one of five Sustainable Development Goal 6 Accelerators to increase progress towards universal water and sanitation. Recent advances in data availability and analytics provide opportunities to better support water and sanitation planning, investment, and management. Getting the right data to the right people in the right format is critical to facilitate data-driven insights. 

6. Community-level dissemination is critical to drive change.

Having a dialogue with community members involves an investment of time and resources, but it can lead to an understanding of findings well-grounded in community perspectives. Donors are increasingly willing to support community-level dissemination, which should be factored into project budgets.

7. Water treatment reduces child mortality by 30%.

A meta-analysis by Michael Kremer and colleagues found that water treatment reduces child mortality by 30%, which is more than one might expect (according to 2019 Global Burden of Disease estimates, 13% of deaths among children under five in low-income countries are attributable to diarrhea). By reducing exposure to fecal pathogens, it seems that water treatment not only reduces deaths directly caused by diarrhea, but also deaths caused by other ailments in children weakened by diarrhea or waterborne infections.

8. There are opportunities to build additional WASH sector capacity in qualitative research.

A lack of qualitative methods coursework in WASH-related curricula has led to a lack of understanding and capacity for publication and abstract review, as well as a common vocabulary to have conversations about it. Thus, we’re missing out on a big chunk of demonstrated methods, evidence, and benefits!

9. Easier, cheaper water testing, and monitoring remains high on our radar.

The quest for easier, cheaper water testing and monitoring continues: from WHO laboratory verification of portable microbial test kits to simple at-home lead and fluoride testing, to a new sensor to measure fecal contamination, and another sensor for chlorine monitoring – the race toward innovation is still heating up. As described in our recent report, Technological Innovations for Rural Water Supply in Low-resource Settings, innovation can take the form of novel methods or applications in novel contexts. 

10. Let’s examine our positioning.

In general, the WASH sector tends to “other” people who we want to change their WASH behaviors, expecting them to do things we wouldn’t do (e.g., volunteer 50% of their time, pay for something expensive), which reinforces colonialism and existing inequities. An alternative might be to examine our and their motivations and return to the “platinum rule”: treat others how they want to be treated.

Aquaya was represented at the 2022 UNC Water and Health conference by Anna Murray, Caroline Delaire, Joyce Kisiangani, Karen Setty, Rachel Peletz and Valerie Bauza. This article was prepared by Vanessa Guenther. Tag us on social media and let us know what your takeaways were! Watch the full recordings of our session.

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