zambiawaterCanada’s aid contribution towards clean water and sanitation has been lacking, yet some remain hopeful

Mary Banda is a single mother of six children living in Zambia. For a long time she struggled to understand why she and her children were continuously getting sick. As a result she struggled to afford both the costs of healthcare and keeping her children in school.

Finally a doctor told Banda that the source of their illnesses could be the result from unsafe drinking water. That led to her attending a training session delivered by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology.

By attending these sessions, she was able to build her own water filter and started using it. Soon, the family’s health problems disappeared. This created a ripple effect where her kids could go to school, she could go to work and health care costs vanished.

Banda, whose story was shared with the Calgary Journal by CAWST’s communications officer Chris Mason, was able to make the connection that if her family was suffering from these issues, others in the community would be as well. She now works as a filter technician, having built over 5,500 filters and is a volunteer community health promoter, educating people on health issues and what they can do to be healthier.

MaryBandaMary Banda, a single mother of six, works as a water filter technician, having built over 5,500 filters and is a volunteer community health promoter, educating people on health issues and what they can do to be healthier. Photo Courtesy of Taryn MeyersThanks to people like Banda and programs offered through organizations such as CAWST, sanitation and water quality is improving around the world- improving the overall health, education and quality of life for families and communities. In order to achieve this, there needs to be strong aid commitments towards clean water and sanitation.

However, in recent years, Canada’s aid strategy and contributions towards these kinds of clean water and sanitation initiatives has been lacking. But with the introduction of the United Nations sustainable development goals there is hope the new government will do more to help obtain this human right.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2014 Canada only contributed 1.3 per cent of its total aid towards water supply and sanitation aid. By comparison, other OECD members, on average, contributed 4.0 per cent of their total aid towards initiatives.

The lack of investment stands against a backdrop of mediocre foreign aid contributions by Canada. David Morgan, a PhD candidate with the department of political science at Dalhousie University says in an email that for many years the country has been a “middle of the pack” aid donor, particularly in comparison to other OECD members.

He writes that Canada’s “aid policy has struggled to establish a coherent and principled approach to development, and has lacked a sense of clear direction and strong leadership at the ministerial level.” According to Morgan, “Canadian aid policy has been reluctant to 'think big' in its approach to international development assistance, and therefore has had a modest impact at best.”

Hunter McGill, an international development policy consultant, and senior fellow at the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa echoes Morgan’s sentiments. McGill says “part of the difficulty was there was no overall strategy published by the Canadian government about development cooperation.” Canada provided no major goals or overarching objectives for the money that was being committed towards aid development. 

Chris Williams, the executive director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council writes in an email that Canada should fund in clean water and sanitation because investing in this area has extremely good value for money. It contributes to improving health and poverty reduction, education, equality, women’s empowerment, productivity and sustainable cities.

“Investing in sanitation and hygiene is a crucial component of any public health strategy,
particularly in a world where one in three people still live without access to adequate sanitation, 1 billion people defecate in the open, and 748 million people live without access to improved drinking water.”

Chris Mason of CAWST, which focuses on training and education of organizations, communities and countries in clean water and sanitation initiatives agrees.

“Investing in sanitation and hygiene is a crucial component of any public health strategy, particularly in a world where one in three people still live without access to adequate sanitation, 1 billion people defecate in the open, and 748 million people live without access to improved drinking water.” - Chris Williams

Mason says CAWST always supports increased water and sanitation support. The group has argued for years that such support is one of the most effective interventions. It impacts health, children’s ability to receive an education as opposed to fetching water and, with access to clean water, the parents are in a better situation to support themselves economically.

“We’ve long made the argument that when you address the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene you have this ripple effect that reaches across a whole broad range of sectors. So we’ll always advocate that it’s a really effective way to improve lives worldwide.”

Along with CAWST, Wateraid Canada is advocating for access to clean water and sanitation worldwide.

Wateraid Canada is part of the Wateraid International Federation which works in 37 countries around the world to help bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene countries and communities. Graham Milner, the senior communications manager of Wateraid Canada says their vision is a world where everyone has access to clean water by 2030.

“Part of our work here in Canada as well as around the world is an advocacy tool where we advocate for our constituents, which would be those who receive water and sanitation as part of our projects.”

In order to ensure that people around the world would receive clean water and sanitation, Wateraid had representatives in New York advocating for this right. The result that, in 2015, the United States included availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all as part of its. This is a step forward in aid development as the previous millennium development goals, established in 2000, had not included water and sanitation. The aim is for the sustainable development goals to be completed by 2030.

When asked about what more could be done towards providing aid for water and sanitation, Amy Mills, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada writes in an email that in the coming months the department will be “seeking evidence and advice from thought leaders around the world to make sure that Canada's engagement on the world stage makes an even bigger difference to those most affected by poverty and conflict, and aligns well with our international commitments.” Mills’ statements echo those in the mandate letter for Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, the minister of International Development and La Francophonie.

“Availability and equitable access to sufficient, quality water is critical to human health, a healthy environment, poverty-reduction, a sustainable economy, gender equality, and peace and security. This is why Canada takes a crosscutting approach to environmental sustainability, integrating important water and sanitation considerations across our development assistance.”

Thumbnail photo courtest of Pierre Holtz/UNICEF under creative commons license with commerical use permission

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