More than just water and toilets

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Remissa Mak

If asked to identify which of the Sustainable Development Goals relate most to WaterAid’s work, most people would jump straight to Goal 6, which focuses on ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’.

But if you examine the other 16, you’ll start to notice there are plenty of other contenders. As we’ve seen already in this report, our work on menstrual hygiene management incorporates ‘Gender Equality’ (Goal 5) and ‘Quality Education’ (Goal 4), while ‘Good Health and Well-being’ (Goal 3) and ‘Reduce Inequalities’ (Goal 10) are also integral to our success.

This interconnectedness was an intentional feature of the goals, which emphasised that an integrated approach is needed to address the world’s biggest challenges. Likewise, WaterAid recognises that the only way that everyone, everywhere can gain access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by 2030 is if we work closely with and through other sectors.

The most obvious example of this has been our work with the health sector. Traditionally, the organisations that work in this space focus more on the medical or treatment side of things; as such, the quality of water, toilet and hygiene facilities are not typically at the forefront of their minds and their advocacy efforts. It’s not because it’s not essential to human health; it’s just been overlooked. That’s where we come in, lending our expertise to make sure these fundamental services are given the attention they deserve.

In Cambodia, we’ve been doing this at both a local and national level. Working with the Ministry of Health and through our local partners Rainwater Cambodia and Teuk Saat 1001, we’ve been testing affordable technologies at 12 health centres across the country. Using these centres as evidence of our success, we’ve successfully advocated for targets to be set at the national level so that similar improvements can be implemented in all 1100 public health centres across the country. These changes will allow more mothers to give birth in a safer and more hygienic environment with less risk of infections.

Following on from our success and learnings from working in Cambodia, we’re now trying to emulate a similar program in Timor-Leste where we know that many healthcare facilities are lacking basic services.

Simultaneously, our global voice in this area is rising in volume. Our contributions are well-respected and sought after by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the global leads in this area, as we advocate for clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to be a priority in healthcare services all across the whole world. These calls are becoming more urgent than ever due to the rise of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’; the more that health workers and patients have access to soap or clean water, the more they can curb the spread of superbugs by not over-relying on antibiotics.

Nutrition is another area with clear connections to our work, given the links between diarrhoea, malnutrition and stunting. Our collaboration with Hamutuk in Timor-Leste has specifically focused on reducing the prevalence of stunting in children under two. In Cambodia, we’re playing more of an advocacy role, building on existing programs that incorporate nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene. The Cambodian government and partners are currently acting on a set of jointly agreed recommendations we put forward on how they can better coordinate and align these two program areas and scale up the most successful elements across the country.

Case study

This article first appeared in WaterAid Australia's Annual Report 2018-19