3-Cities, 3-Days of Women, Water, Toilet discussions in Canada


A big thank-you goes out to our speakers, partners, funders and all of you who joined us at our events in Hamilton (September 18), Toronto (September 19) and Ottawa (September 20) last week!

Our gratitude particularly goes out to the Honourable Minister Mutagamba from Uganda who was the keynote speaker for the series. The Minister and Prisca Nandede travelled all the way from Uganda to share both their personal and professional experience in the WASH sector with us. They provided a human face for the statistics and spoke about what it is to be an African woman both working on the ground, monitoring projects and collecting data as Prisca does and or as a Minister, working as a high level decision maker, creating policy and formulating a realistic strategy for a path forward.

For those of you who were unable to join us, or were only able to join us for parts, here is a brief synopsis of the entire 3 days.

WASH Canada, along with partners UNU-INWEH and H2O4All, presented 3 days of discussion about the challenges and opportunities of the global WASH crisis to diverse and engaged audiences in Hamilton, Toronto, and Ottawa. This series highlighted the disproportionate burden WASH has on women in the world and the impact that certain powerful and passionate women are having on the global stage.

The discussion ranged from personal stories to business opportunity to policy development. In all three sessions, The Honorable Maria Mutagmaba, a Minister from the Republic of Uganda provided the keynote address. In total we featured 12 speakers, including:

Clarissa Brockelhurst, WaterAid, UK Board member; SWA; Independent Consultant

Santigo Alba Corrall, CARE Canada

Ron Denham, President, Water and Sanitation Rotary Action Group (WASRAG)

Linda Gowman, CTO Trojan Tehnologies, Board Member, Water TAP

Ella Lazarte, Water and Sanitation Program, World Bank

Dr. Tanjina Mirza, VP International Programs, PLAN Canada

Tim Muttoo, Executive Director and co-founder, H2O 4 All

Prisca Nandede, Social Scientist, Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda

Hilary Syme, Water and Santiation Specialist, CIDA

Richard Thomas, UNU-INWEH

Corinne Schuster Wallace, Program Manager, UNU-INWEH

Susan Watt, McMaster University

The series opened in Hamilton with ‘Why Women, Why Water, Why Me?’ Here speakers talked about their involvement with Water and Sanitation from a personal perspective. For example, in a world where so many young girls are forced to drop out of school to dedicate their days to fetching water, Dr. Tanjina Mirza embodies what young women can become when they are allowed to stay in school and complete their education. She shared her story growing up in a lower-middle class family in Bangladesh and her own experience having lived with no running water. She had parents who believed in education for girls and as such escaped the fate of being married at 16 and being forced to drop out of school. Dr. Mirza continued in school, became a medical doctor and, passionate about the human condition, eventually dedicated herself to international development.

On Wednesday, September 19, our luncheon discussion at the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club, focused on ‘Smart Investing in the water and Sanitation Crisis’. Here one of the speakers, Ella Lazarte, an MIT educated urban planner, described how she was pulled into the sector by a former professor who needed a Portuguese translator for a water related project. Twelve years later, she is still passionate about her work at the Water and Sanitation Project at the World Bank.

The Problem:

If we know so much about the problem and we have the technology to address it, why are there still 2, 500,000,000 people without living without toilets and 800,000,000 without access to clean drinking water? Why is the needle on the grand dial not moving faster towards 100% coverage?

As Linda Gowman, Water TAP, explained on Wednesday, “We know how to clean water and we know how to move water but we still do not know how to bring it to all people in the world sustainably.”

On Thursday, September 20, in Ottawa at the session ‘Top down, Bottom Up, Bridging Policy and Practice’, Clarissa Brockelhurst pointed out that there has been some progress. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water has been met. However, this MDG goal was only to half the percentage of people in the world without access to clean water. This still leaves 800,000,000 thirsty and sick from water born diseases. Those without sanitation and water are primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. To emphasize this point, the Minister pointed out that in Sub-Saharan Africa 61 out of 100 people do not have a safe place to go to the toilet.

All acknowledged that charity is not a sustainable solution. Both Minister Mutagamba and Ella Lazarte spoke to the importance of private/ partnerships. In the Minister’s case, she said that they are able to cover 10 towns per year but that towns in Uganda were popping up faster than they can provide sustainable coverage. Even if they were able to cover 20 towns per year, 100% coverage would take 35 years.

From the World Bank perspective, even the $7.5 billion portfolio that they have is not adequate. The key to long-term success is investment, business development, a holistic approach to allocating/protecting water resources that includes all water needs (agriculture, industrial, household etc) and most critically, stakeholder participation in the process. As Linda Gowman stated, “all water problems, either here in Canada or overseas are essentially local problems.”

Solutions must be monitored, improved upon and maintained. Communities must be empowered.

Even in Canada there is a need to reexamine our framework. Canadian urban systems are wasteful and inefficient. There is a 30% water loss in Canada’s urban infrastructure. Whereas in other parts of the world, the issue is access to toilets and clean water, here our primary concern must be conservation.

No discussion about international water issues is complete without a mention of corruption. The Minister underscored the importance on a global level of pointing fingers and more importantly of holding individuals publically accountable.

Santiago Alba Coral suggested that we reframe the language that we are using to better describe and understand the magnitude of the issue. This WASH issue is not one that is just affecting the “developing world” but is rather a burden that is critically affecting the “majority of the world” and preventing global social and economic growth.

How can we move forward and have an impact?

Richard Thomas from the UNU-INWEH gave us (both here and globally) a succinct TO DO list.

1. We need to be better advocates.

  • Enlist spokespeople
  • Develop strong messaging, communication materials speaking to the economic effectiveness and appealing to Ministers of Finance and not just Development.
  • Develop high-level advisory board
  • Enlist local, national, international media
  • Public Education Programs
  • Multi-constituent policy debate

2. We need to show effectiveness.

  • Bring evidence forward and demonstrate how investing in WASH meets Canada’s established objectives in Maternal Child Health and Child and Youth strategy.

3. We need to rally a big group to make a clamor

  • Using social media and new technology (text messaging). We should learn from cell phone industry – how they have been so successful at cell phone adoption. Why is there not as much interest in toilets? There are more cell phones than toilets in India.

We could not have stated the mission of WASH Canada better ourselves! Stay in touch and make your voice count. Join our WASH Canada network


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