Welcome to Stockholm

Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen, WaterAid Sweden's Chief Executive, blogs ahead of World Water Week in Stockholm where WaterAid will be raising awareness of the importance of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.


1 Sep 2014
Cecilia Chaterjee-Martinsen, CEO of WaterAid Sweden

Stockholm World Water Week continues to grow from strength to strength, drawing in more and more international participants. It is a key conference and one of the best indicators of the importance and influence of global water challenges.

Stockholm World Water Week has always been the premier opportunity for WaterAid to discuss with international colleagues the challenges and successes of providing access to water and sanitation to some of the world’s poorest communities.

Learning from our own history

As a wealthy city, Stockholm is a world away from the communties WaterAid works with in the developing world, but this wasn’t always so. Until the 1860s, Stockholm’s residents drew water from wells and ponds. Diarrhoea and pneumonia were the main causes of child death, and cholera outbreaks killed people in the thousands.

In response to public demands, the city cleaned up its act during the next 30 years. As Dr Bo Burström of Stockholm University and Dr Gloria Macassa of the University of Gävle wrote a decade ago, the management of sanitation ‘was developed from an almost medieval system to a hygienic standard acceptable for the 20th century’.

The impact of the developments was remarkable. Improved access to water and sanitation contributed to a decrease in the mortality of children younger than two from 130 per 1,000 in 1878 to 31 per 1,000 by 1925. The death rate from diarrhoea dropped even more substantially, from 59 per 1,000 to just two per 1,000 during the same period.

In many ways, we are now attempting to replicate the impact experienced by Stockholm in the developing world, where one in ten lack access to water and a staggering one in three do not have adequate toilet facilities.

The understanding, tools and resources at our disposal are exponentially greater than anything Stockholm’s authorities could have imagined at the turn of the century. What took 19th century Stockholm three decades to achieve, WaterAid believes we can do globally in just half the time. That’s why WaterAid is calling for everyone, everywhere to have access to an improved water source and basic sanitation by 2030.

Business and sustainability

Making this happen will involve bringing together various different groups – one of the most important being businesses.

On Monday, I will be chairing the launch of the new CEO water mandate white paper on the business case for engagement in sanitation. Business can have an increased role in improving sanitation, from creating demand-led behavioural change to filling capacity gaps in local government or finding uses for sanitation by-products.

Later on Monday, Vincent Casey, WaterAid’s Technical Support Manager on Water Security, will present at a meeting organised by Adam Smith International on managing water variability and competing demands in complex river basins – balancing competing demands for water from agriculture, industry and people. This topic becomes more relevant as we look to a future in which the impacts of climate change become more extreme.

In a separate session, Vincent will also present on innovations in sustainability around water and sanitation services. Aiming to ensure everyone has access to water and sanitation by 2030 is ambitious, but leading on how to make these services sustainable is crucial if the gains are to be permanent.

Also on Monday, WaterAid, Earthwatch, WWF and HSBC will host an event on how we are bringing about Transformation through collaboration – How can partnerships maximise impact? We are delighted that WaterAid India’s Chief Executive Officer, Neeraj Jain, will be joining us to talk about the HSBC partnership and the impact it is having in India.

Dave Hillyard, WaterAid UK’s Head of Major Partnerships, will kick off Tuesday morning speaking at a session on Improving the impacts and effectiveness of corporate water stewardship partnerships. Like all sections of society, business needs water to grow, but huge gains can be made by working in partnership to improve how water is used.

Also on Tuesday, USAID, WaterAid and Plan International are holding a provocatively entitled event: Are you still pouring your post-2015 water investments down the drain? WaterAid’s Jane Wilbur, our Programme Principles Advisor, will be speaking on the crucial role of hygiene, particularly handwashing, in improving health and productivity.

Achieving equity

Jane will also be speaking late on Tuesday at a SHARE, WaterAid, IIED and UNICEF event on Addressing equity in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, focusing on the need for work around sanitation and hygiene to be truly inclusive. Reaching everyone means going beyond the low-hanging fruit to include people who are excluded geographically, economically and socially from progress, including the estimated one billion disabled people living in the developing world.

At a WaterAid session later on Tuesday, Tim Brewer, WaterAid Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability, will share initial learning from a wider report due later this year looking at the question How did the Asian Tigers improve their sanitation coverage so quickly?

The big questions

How do we achieve and sustain access to water and sanitation for the hundreds of millions who go without by 2030? We are trying hard to ask difficult questions and to engage with the tough discussions surrounding this target. We need those coming to Stockholm to jump into these debates, come to our sessions, and engage in these conversations. If you cannot attend you can take part by following the activities on and following WaterAid on social media channels.

We know that we don’t have all the answers, or even if we are asking all the right questions – but this is where Stockholm World Water Week always delivers. By bringing together different disciplines, expertise and experiences from around the world, we can find solutions and make the historic changes that universal access to water and sanitation will bring.