Francisco Noguera

Water and Sanitation Discussions at the Clinton Global Initiative

clintonLuckily there are live webcasts for the rest of us who were not able to sit at the sessions and ask questions during the sessions at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative. ?I have spent a handful of hours during the last few days browsing around the content of this year’s CGI, listening to some of the panel discussions and trying to get a feeling of the venue’s commitments, which are its cornerstone and measure of future accountability.

However, I was able to recruit a great guest blogger that sat in many of the sessions at CGI. Stay tuned for her posts about the venue later this week. (By the way, if you are interested in a more detailed coverage of CGI make sure to take a look at the good job done by Philantopic live-blogging the conference).

Today I just want to highlight one of the sessions that discussed the challenges of clean water, sanitation and hygiene, which have become a passion of mine as I’ve had the opportunity to dive deeper into them over the last few months. Here are a few takeaways but I encourage you to watch the full video.

Community-scale water treatment: The promise of decentralizing access to vital services

One of panelists was Mr. Tralance Addy, President and CEO of WaterHealth International. His presence in the panel signaled the increased relevance of an approach that is successfully in bringing safe drinking water to millions in rural communities all across India: community scale water treatment. As Mr. Addy says, underserved populations are often far beyond the reach of larger urban systems. WaterHealth’s model has been successful and commented several times before here in NextBillion, so I will not go into much detail.

WHI is not alone. Make sure to read Al Hammond’s post a couple of weeks back about the BoP water enterprises that he and I had the opportunity to work with during this year’s Global Social Benefit Incubator.

It is interesting to see how India has been able to figure out how to bring together village governments, NGOs, private enterprise and commercial finance in a way that is allowing these models to scale dramatically. We (meaning the team that worked on GSBI’s water sector effort) are currently finalizing a white paper that summarizes the technologies, business models and policy frameworks that have allowed for this transformative model to flourish so stay tuned for that.?We hope that it will serve to inform other entrepreneurs and Governments around the world interested in the role that the private sector can play in bringing clean water to underserved communities.

Re-thinking sanitation

Measured by the number of people that currently lack access to that service, the challenge of sanitation is more than twice as large as that of access to clean drinking water.? 2.5 billion people lack basic sanitation services; 1 billion lack access to a latrine at all. Such a massive challenge requires bold and creative solutions. ?Ms. Rohini Nilekani, of the Arghyam Trust, offered some interesting insights as did the other panelists. On a sidenote, the creation of a USD 30 million global sanitation fund?as one of the CGI commitments was also announced.??

The panelists pointed out that?a shift in the conventional approaches to sanitation must occur. The sector must move from the current mostly-charitable approach and head towards commercially viable, scalable models that enhance a sense of ownership and ensure proper maintenance of the toilets by the communities. This idea resonated with those expressed by Ian Thorpe, CEO of PumpAid, in a conversation we had a few weeks ago in California. He explained that growing demand and willingness to pay by rural communities in Malawi led him and his team to explore the possibility of launching WISH, a commercial venture to promote the a complete water and sanitation package including the Elephant Pump and the Elephant Toilet, Pump Aid’s award-winning answer to the sanitation challenge. The structuring of WISH brought Pump Aid?to GSBI, represented by co-founder?Tendai Mawunga. ?

Ms. Nilekani, also suggested a shift in the way we relate to human waste?by no longer calling it that and in stead start seeing it as a resource useful for for fertilization purposes, among others. The key is?smart toilet design, an example of which is, again, Pump Aid’s Elephant Toilet.?It is able to separating liquid and solid waste, thus allowing the reuse urine for?composting purposes?and fertilization of?nutrition gardens,?which are part of the solution offered to households and communities in rural Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It will be interesting to see how similar ventures in the sanitation area surface around the world. Through its recent investment in Ecotact, Acumen Fund is also helping shift the sector towards sustainable, commercially viable and scalable solutions, addressing the urban sanitation challenge in this case.

Are these solutions scalable worldwide?

The panel elaborated on the issues mentioned above, the role of public-private partnerships and many other aspects relevant to the clean water and sanitation challenges. The question in my mind is whether the innovative hybrid solutions that have flourished in India and Africa can actually take off all over the world.??

My answer so far lies in the policy and regulation realm. In countries like Colombia, water and sanitation continue to be seen among the services that are exclusive responsibility of Governments. The key in making these approaches globally scalable will be to replicate the policies that have allowed India to encourage cross-sector collaboration and the participation of commercial banking in the design of commercially viable ventures in these areas.??

Also key to these discussions is the question of adequate pricing for water. Should water be priced at market prices or treated as a special kind of asset? Certainly a controversial issue… so far more people tend to disagree?over at?the interesting debate that is currently?being hosted by?