Jack Sim is a funny man with a serious, yet unexpected mission: to revolutionize toilets for the base of the pyramid and to ensure worldwide sustainable sanitation. Often referred to as “Mr. Toilet” – a title he takes great pride in – he has worked tirelessly for fifteen years to make the availability of clean toilets a political priority and an economically feasible reality for the world’s ‘poor’. The need is big: 2.6 billion people currently lack access to a clean private toilet. When I met Jack Sim at a pre-WEF event at the HUB Zürich I couldn’t help but wonder about this curious man on stage. He was humming with energy, excited to share his story about the many issues concerning poop, making the audience laugh and yet providing relevant information about his cause.
Since the beginning of days humans have always tried to imitate nature, both in real life and in mythology (e.g. Daedalus and Icarus trying to imitate the flying of the birds). As technology advances, many advances return back to the concept of imitating nature in order to preserve a balance on earth. For example, the industrial and municipal water cycle are now being adapted to reuse wastewater. Water reclamation is a reflection of water’s value and increasing scarcity in many parts of the world – there simply isn’t enough fresh water to meet demands. In water reclamation, we emulate Mother Nature, where water is recylced and reused on a global scale. In fact, with the current technology we can do it faster and better. Water reclamation is the treatment of wastewater to make it reusable. The idea is that for some uses, like watering the lawn or some industrial uses, water does not need to be as clean as for others, such as drinking. Water reclamation can also mean that water is treated from toilet to tap, like in Singapore, where wastewater undergoes reverse osmosis and is immediately recycled. Further opportunity exists in reclaming minerals from wastewater, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are valuable for agriculture.
Student Reporters Iliana Sepulveda and Arjun Bhargava contributed equally to this post. Imagine living in Marwar, an area in the Thar Desert that translates to the “Land of Death” in the Sanskrit language. Imagine being part of a village which does not have a single source of safe drinking water within a radius of 1.6 kilometers. This area of high temperatures, low and erratic rainfall, saline groundwater and sparse vegetation also happens to be the most densely populated desert in the world. These are the conditions under which Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has successfully brought clean water and sanitation through sustainable water management techniques and community participation to the Marwar Region.
The World Water Forum provided a unique opportunity for some of the authors and directors of wH2O: The Journal for Gender, Water and Sanitation at the University of Pennsylvania to meet face-to-face for the first time. StudentReporter.org Editor Caroline D’Angelo, co-chair and Editor-in-Chief of wH2O, sat down with Marcia Brewster, an wH2O author, to discuss green growth, water and gender. Ms. Brewster is a phenom in the water and development world: she has worked with the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Water Association, Gender and Water Alliance and the World Water Council. She also is a contributing author to UNESCO’s World Water Development Report, and chaired the IANWGE Task Force on Gender and Water. While much of her work and expertise lies in gender and water, she has recently been a part of the Water and Green Growth Project.
With a cup of a native Finnish drink made from the flower of the fir tree, I sat down at Finland’s booth at the World Water Forum’s Exhibition Hall to learn about how the country has solved issues relating to the sustainable use of their waters. Finland has a unique position at the Forum in that it is one of the few countries to have plentiful reserves of fresh water, and whose total water use is only 2% of the total reserve. The country has been successful in protecting and managing their waters, and now feels like they are in the position to help other countries by teaching about best practices, particularly their experience in integrated water resources management and water and wastewater treatment. Finland is often at the top of the list for its environmental health, while the United States usually ranks around #50. This is due in large part to the country’s protection of land, how seriously it takes climate change, and how it responds to water pollution. As a student of public health and the environment, I was curious to learn more about Finland and their approach to such issues.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for sanitation is “to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” There are an estimated 2.5 billion people who currently lack access to basic sanitation, with more urban people lacking basic sanitation than rural people. These statistics alone make you realize what a challenge it is to reach the MDG, but what about the things we don’t usually think of? What about people with disabilities? What are their challenges to achieve basic sanitation? How do they gain access to a toilet without a ramp? How do they wash their hands when the tap is too low or too high? What about puberty-age school girls? How do they achieve basic sanitation when there are no proper facilities or disposal methods at school? Disability and gender issues don’t get nearly as much attention in the global conversation, but they are two very important issues that must be addressed to achieve the MDG for sanitation and hygiene. Basic sanitation for females and the disabled is linked to a whole host of socio-economic issues, including education, poverty, career choice, and ability to leave the home, even for the shortest and most basic trips. Increasing access may be as simple as adding a ramp so people in wheelchairs or on crutches gain access to toilets; increasing size of the toilet stall so a wheelchair will easily fit into the space; raising or lowering the height of the tap; providing disposal units for sanitary napkins; and providing a sink and soap for washing reusable pads.
At the 6th World Water Forum, a Village of Solutions was built in an attempt to raise participants’ awareness of global water and sanitation issues through exhibits and special events in an enjoyable and educational manner. The Village of Solutions had several exhibits that included a library, a school, a factory, and a town hall. On the outskirts of the Village of Solutions a slum module was open to visitors. This video was taken inside the 6th World Water Forum’s Village of Solutions “Slums” exhibit. You will see one of the solutions to a lack of sanitation services in slums, called Pee Poo. At the end of the video, Hamani Waziri Insa Abdou the Coordinator for the Niger-based NGO R.A.I.L. gives his opinion on the solutions proposed in the exhibit.
Inside the Alternative World Water Forum
On March 16, I attended the Alternative World Water Forum. The Forum Alternatif Modial de L’Eau (‘FAME’ for short) is situated at the Dock des Suds, and my first impression upon arriving was how buzzing the place was. This was no ‘occupy’ movement of the kind you tend to see lately in your local city plaza attended by fewer than ten people, most of whom look like unwashed hippies. FAME, in contrast, was crowded. Approximately six different sessions ran at any given time, and there were enough translators and earphones to accommodate several languages. Whatever might be said about the political ideologies behind the event, the popularity and organization of it was impressive considering it relies entirely on donations for its funding.
Have you ever engaged in political debate or taught an informational session IN A SLUM? That’s what some were doing at the World Water Forum last week in the Village of Solutions’ make-shift demonstration slum. Veolia, the largest private water service company in the world, presented the stand pictured above as a ‘solution’ to the water crisis. On Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to interview Thomas Hascoet, Project Manager for Veolia in Paris, about it. He began working with Veolia’s Social Connection Program in Morocco in 2006.
(post co-written with Caroline D’Angel0)
Student Reporter Maria-Tzina Leria interviewed Jean Marc Jahn, Chief Executive Officer of Société des Eaux et de l’Assainissement d’Alger (SEAAL) at the World Water Forum (you can listen to the podcast below). SEAAL is a private-public partnership between Algeria’s government and Suez Environment, the second largest private water company in the world . The partnership exists to expand water and sanitation access, as well as to build capacity at the local level through a specific program, Water International Knowledge Transfer Initiative (WIKTI), which provides videos, training and education to local operators. Suez presented this partnership and WIKTI as a ‘solutions’ in the Village of Solutions and on SolutionsforChange.org, the Forum’s online depository. Mr. Jahn brought Algerian operators with him to the World Water Forum and was clearly proud of the program. He says in the interview that in the past five years, there has been”…60,000 days of training in Algiers, and more than 50 percent of the trainers are Algerian. In the beginning it was zero.”
Ladies from all corners of the world dressed in a rainbow of colors of their national dress to create the most diverse modeling catwalk you’ve ever seen. On Wednesday morning, I walked with these women (and two gentlemen) down the “catwalk” at the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) “Presenting New Thinking New Challenges” session of the World Water Forum. The room was packed with both genders and people from around the world, which was exciting. WfWP is a strategic “alliance of local, national and international women’s organizations and networks, active in the areas of sustainable development, water & sanitation, poverty, and gender”, chaired by Alice M. Bouman-Dentener. My University of Pennsylvania Master of Environmental Studies colleagues work with WfWP Communications and Advocacy Chair Kusum Athukorala on Penn’s new journal on women and water issues, wH2O.
The Sixth World Water Forum has largely been an exercise in polite agreement. As a fly on the wall of any auditorium on the grounds of Parc Chanot, you would see a new combination of grey-faced experts shuffle in every two hours to expound upon the virtues of “good governance” or the importance of a stable regulatory environment to encourage financing. Bespectacled grey faces would nod in agreement. Serge Lepeltier favors coordination (credit: http://www.pdu-agglobourges.fr/)
With the departure of most firebrand activists to the Alternative Water Forum across town — set up to protest the supposed corporatization of water on display at WWF6 — avoidance of conflict has been the unwritten rule of engagement here. This hyper-aversion to conflict is confusing and dampening the effectiveness of the dialogue. Senior Water Economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and WWF6 panelist, David Zetland has diagnosed the conference with “multiple priority disorder.” Dr. Zetland suggests that a passive, non-confrontational deadlock is created by organizers’ and participants’ aversion to conflict and their subsequent declaration of “co-equal goals”. “…And that’s just as retarded as having co-equal winners in the Super Bowl. Here they have a dozen goals, so they have way more than just two winners.” Prioritization of goals is necessary, however, given limited resources and time.