India’s economy may be booming, but most of its growing population still has no access to clean water and sanitation.
charity: water builds water wells and installs latrines to give the people of India a better chance at beating poverty.
India’s economy may be booming, but most of its growing population still has no access to clean water and sanitation.
At charity: water, we know that building a water project is the easy part. Keeping clean water flowing over time, however, is a complex business that requires money, training and innovative thinking. It’s something we’ve always been committed to.
In some cases, up to 30% of the cost of a charity: water project goes into training and educating the community about how to take care of the well long after we’re gone.
We’re in India, monitoring our work and learning how the programs we’ve funded here have taken off.
First stop: the Water Aid office in Lucknow. We partnered with them to fund several well repair centers in Mahoba district, in remote Uttar Pradesh. We’re spending the next five days getting to know the pump mechanics and seeing first-hand how their hard work has impacted communities during India’s hottest time of the year.
Stay tuned for much more on the well mechanics program — but for now, here are glimpses of some of the incredible people we’ve met so far in Mohaba district.
You have probably heard us say, Tweet or write: $20 can provide clean and safe drinking water to one person for 20 years. In the past few weeks, we’ve removed the “20 years” part from this message. We want to take a minute to explain how we arrived at this number in the first place and why we’re changing it.
The simple math: $20 is the average cost per person to build a charity: water project. That includes funds for sanitation, hygiene training and our partners’ existing maintenance models.
The technologies we fund depend on the region, the local culture and the program of our local implementing partner. Construction in some places can be relatively cheap; in others, even getting out to the project site in the first place costs a fortune. Here’s the breakdown of the average costs per country we work in, to give you an idea of just how much the cost of building a project can vary from program to program:
why 20 years?
Four years ago, the accepted average lifespan of many of our water technologies was 20 years. Since then, charity: water — and the water sector as a whole — has been reevaluating what “sustainability” really means. We’ve always known that $20 per person covers the implementation of the water project on the ground. But we’re now unclear about how much it will cost to maintain our water projects over time; so we don’t want to continue to tell you (and ask you to tell your friends and supporters) that $20 can cover the cost of water for one person for 20 years.
A $20 donation can still give one person access to safe water, since it pays for construction of the project. But keeping the project running over the next 20 years could cost more. This all depends on what maintenance model works best and how (and when) the community fully takes ownership of their project. For now, we’ve eliminated the “20 years” portion of our messaging. We don’t want to promise that a project will last that long on its own. As we determine the cost of project maintenance over time, please know that your $20 still averages out to helping one person gain access to safe water through the construction of a project. We just have yet to know how much that project will continue to cost over decades of time.
so how will charity: water projects last?
For each charity: water project we fund, from drilled wells to household BioSand filters, we work with our local partner to include some sort of maintenance component. Just like the cost of building projects, this also varies; in some countries, we form and support local Water Committees to look after the projects. In others, we fund training for individual families to learn how to repair their projects.
We’re also dedicated to innovation in water project sustainability. The water sector as a whole is shifting its focus from the number of projects built to the longevity of these water sources. It’s an exciting time; new opportunities that have come up in just the last few years have potential to drastically increase accountability for water projects and monitor their sustainability.
We’re already piloting or supporting new systems to oversee our projects in the field. Here are a few examples:
Public-Private Partnerships in India.
We’ve supported the establishment of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Centers in two urban districts of India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The program trains local youth and women to repair and maintain hand pumps. This provides jobs, ensures a repair option for locals and best of all — the center is a business, so it sustains itself. The PPP centers serve as demonstration sites, whose best practices can then be replicated by local government, with our partners indirect involvement and support.
Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW) with Water for People.
One of our implementing partners, Water for People, has created an innovative visual data system to make managing projects more transparent and reliable. They upload data — GPS coordinates, populations served, state of the water project — from the field on mobile devices (usually smart phones). This data is then available online for anyone to assess the status of projects. Since we already prove every charity: water project using GPS and photos, we’re hoping FLOW helps us get more information on our projects and get it faster, too.
Clustering in rural Ethiopia.
Monitoring projects in remote areas is very challenging. Our local partners in Ethiopia have adapted by “clustering” many of their charity: water projects to concentrated areas. This makes gathering data easier, as it’s all in one place. It also fosters region-wide accountability; communities learn best practices from others who are taking care of their projects.
want to learn more?
We believe in transparency. Whether you’re a long-time supporter or just now hearing about us, we want you to know how we’re fighting the water crisis. Here’s a quick list of other places to learn the specifics of our work; who we’re helping, what technologies we’re using, how we use 100% of donations to fund water projects and more:
- Why water? A brief overview on how clean water changes everything.
- Sponsoring a water project: a timeline of what happens to your money.
- Proving it: GPS coordinates and photos of our completed projects.
Our partner Water For People dropped by the office to talk program expansion with Becky, our water projects director, and give the rest of the staff a peek at what they’re planning for the future.
Here’s their background: In the early 90s, the North American water and wastewater community was struck by the vastness of the world water crisis. How could such a tragedy persist when the water industry in developed nations was more than equipped to help? They realized that it was the social responsibility of the water industry to do something big to change it.
Their ideas — to bring water and sanitation to people in the developing world while instilling community responsibility for each project — were contagious, and leaders from the American Water Works Association and other orgs joined in. By 1991, they’d formed a new org called Water For People. Water For People now partners on water project construction and sanitation programs in 11 nations around the world. Their most extensive work is in Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, India and Malawi; we’ve been working with them in Malawi now for more than two years.
Water For People is one of the most innovative orgs in the water sector. Like many, they hope to scale their water programs. But we noticed there are three main areas that set them apart: (1) achieving full water coverage in targeted districts (“solving the water crisis in chunks at a time”); (2) using ecological water technologies appropriate for the particular area; and (3) making themselves eventually unneeded in every community they work.
Ned, Water for People’s CEO, summed up their mission for us:
“We don’t think the problem is just that people don’t have access to water or toilets; another enormous part is that there’s a huge waste in the existing effort. We don’t get overwhelmed by how many don’t have things, but instead want to show solvable solutions.”
And they do — we saw their eco-latrines in Rwanda just last month ourselves (video to come).
Their programs in Honduras and Bolivia prove how narrowing in on a concentrated area pays off. The significantly lower disease rates and improved living conditions of communities with Water For People-supported projects has led to near full water coverage for two municipalities here. This has prompted mayors of other cities nearby to say, “We want to do this, too” — and the government is willing to pay for 50% of the projects in Bolivia. In a district of India, Water For People has succeeded in government investments of 75%.
Ned mentioned a statistic you may have heard before: there are more cell phones in India than there are toilets. Most people are shocked when they hear this for the first time. But are we really surprised by that? To Ned, this isn’t really that staggering — and it actually offers hope, it’s actually something we can use:
“We’ve been trying to figure out, what do cell phones teach us about sanitation?”
In other words, what if we thought of sanitation as an ongoing service? What if the toilet was simply a means to achieve a business end, much like a cell phone is simply a means for years of cell phone service to a person?
Right now, Water For People is trying a new program called “Sanitation as a Business.” They create a “network” of toilets; the user pays for the construction, then pays a fee to have someone clean it out. The clean-out service is monthly — like cell phone service — and it draws the private sector, which is always actively looking for customers, into a community’s sanitation. Even better, the person collecting the waste uses it or sells it to local farmers to use as composted fertilizer.
Here’s a further explanation, shot by Ned in the field:
Water For People never funds 100% of water project costs. Rather, each project is co-financed by the community and the government, building community ownership and also leveraging government funds. We saw this while we were in Rwanda, where Water For People teams up with the government water services, RWASCO, to pipe water to rural villages.
Here’s what the 10-year plan looks like for those receiving a Water For People project:
the community helps pay for construction and starts paying dues in case the project needs repairs or extensions.
the community has enough money collected to replace most expensive part. They’ve demonstrated any problems can be fixed with basic operation and maintenance by the local community.
the community can replace the entire well, if needed, with the dues they’ve pooled and with finance from the local government. They don’t need help or oversight from NGO’s.
“To us, it’s a success if they don’t really need us anymore,” explained Ned. “In Bolivia, we invested in this community years ago, where the government paid 50% of the project, we paid 30%, and the community paid 20%. By now, they’ve bought their own water meters for everyone. They’ve extended new water services to additional families on their own and don’t need financial support from us. They’ve collected enough money to replace their electric pump after only three years.”
Water For People is right beside us on proving and tracking each project using GPS coordinates. They follow up annually on each of their water technologies and sanitation networks. Collecting data to study what’s working (and what’s not) is crucial, says Ned. It’s also interesting and… fun? Yes. “We like this stuff. We’re nerds, really.”
Feb. 2, 2010 – A couple of days ago, I traveled with our partners Water for People to the island of Patharprotima in West Bengal, India. They had identified several schools without enough clean water or toilets and wanted our help. The school you see in the video had 1,350 students attending and only one well. They also had a few broken-down toilets. A tube well should serve about 250 people, not 1,350 students.
Special thanks to Water For People.Music by DNA Productions.