Category Archives: Water & Sanitation

World Water Day

Young Sudanees refugee drinks dirty water at Kashuni refugee camp in Eastern Chad - C 

It’s World Water Day 2007 (March 22), an annual, international day of recognition of the world’s most precious resource, established by the UN after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The theme this year is “Coping with Water Scarcity. Check the full entry from WorldChanging, listing a number of interesting water and sanitation initiatives underway in the various parts of the world, including:

On the subject, the World Bank’s Poverty and Growth Blog reproduces an article by Peruvian writed Mario Vargas Llosa, on the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2006:

From this reading, the first conclusion I reach is that the emblematic object of civilization and progress is not the book, the telephone, Internet or the atomic bomb, but the toilet. Where human beings empty their bladder and intestines is the decisive factor to know if they still find themselves in the cruel underdevelopment or if they have started to make progress. The repercussions that this simple and very important fact has on people’s life are vertiginous…

In Dharavi, a populous part of Mumbai, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people, and in the rainy season the water flooding the streets turns them into rivers of excrements. The abundance of the liquid element is, in this case as in many third world cities, a tragedy, because, given the condition in which people live, water, instead of being life is often times the instrument of sickness and death…

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote that “sewers are the conscience of the city” and … he tried to do a strange interpretation of history through human excrement. This terrific report does something similar, without the poetry and eloquence of the great French romantic, but with a much better scientific knowledge.

“We are born among feces and urine”, wrote Saint Agustin. A shiver should shake us when we think that a third of our contemporaries never leave the filth in which they came to this valley of tears.

See also World Water Day by WaterAid.

ASAQ – The $1 Future of Malaria Treatment


Sources: MSF, DNDi, Le Monde, La Repubblica.

On 1 March a revolutionary pharmaceutical product to treat malaria will be launched on the world markets. Why revolutionary? Because it is patent-free, it is not subject to intellectual property (IP) regimes, it is not-for-profit and anyone will be able to copy its formula. It’s called ASAQ and it is the result of an agreement between Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) – a not-for-profit research organisation created in 2003 by Médecins Sans Frontières – and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.

This is the first product manufactured by DNDi, and it represents MSF’s response to PhRMA, the powerful lobbying arm of the largest US pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies. The objective is to develop affordable cures for those ‘forgotten’ diseases that are not lucrative enough for the profit-making drug companies. Malaria is one of them. It is an infectious disease affecting some of the most vulnerable regions of the planet, where people do not have the economic resources to buy medicines at market value. Since the drug companies do not see profitable opportunities there, they have no incentive to develop life-saving medicines.

DNDi’s objective is to coordinate research into pharmaceutical products that can be developed and sold in developing countries at low cost, without IP restrictions. The launch of ASAQ – the first not-for-profit antimalarial drug – marks an entirely new way of conceptualising pharmaceutical products, similar to the way open source changed the way the software industry operates. No one owns the thinking behind a product, so anyone can take it, use it, improve it or – like in this case – save lives.

Update 02/03/07: See some further explanatory remarks by Jean-René Kiechel and Bernard Pecoul of DNDi on the Public Library of Science blog. The story has now been picked up by the NY Times, AP and Reuters.

Blog-hopping: Pienso (Luego Existo)


Another very interesting discovery, Pienso is an English-speaking blog on ‘development, economics, international business, social enterprise, latin america and more dismal thoughts‘. Tons of links to really interesting sites and blogs and weekly link-drops with tens of articles and occasional editorials, such as these:



Social Enterprise:

International Affairs:


A slightly economistic, pro-private sector and anti-third sector bias, if I spotted correctly, but certainly an informed author. Check him out.Update: on second thought, this guy’s right up my alley. I love almost all his links, now that I’ve checked them properly. Will keep a close eye on his posts.

Turning the tap off

Unisphere Fountain, NY 

There are echoes of Amarya Sen in the recently-published UNDP 2006 Human Development Report, which is entitled ‘Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and Global Water Crisis’:

Throughout history water has confronted humanity with some of its greatest challenges. Water is a source of life and a natural resource that sustains our environments and supports livelihoods – but it is also a source of risk and vulnerability. In the early 21st Century, prospects for human development are threatened by a deepening global water crisis. Debunking the myth that the crisis is the result of scarcity, this report argues poverty, power and inequality are at the heart of the problem.

The report goes on to argue that in a world of unprecedented wealth almost 2 million children die each year for want of a glass of clean water and adequate sanitation and that water-borne infectious diseases are holding back poverty reduction and economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries.

ODI’s Tom Slaymaker welcomes the report’s findings not least ‘because it exposes some of the myths which have infiltrated global water discourses including efforts to link lack of access with supposed ‘scarcity’ and scaremongering about imminent water wars’. From Alex Kirby on the BBC to Sandra Postel at the Worldwatch Institute, all seem all too eager to remind us that water-shortages are the Next Big Thing.

But a closer – and more sophisticated – look at the issue reveals that access, not scarcity, might be the real issue. Sen’s analysis of the causes and dynamics of food shortages, explained in his seminal study on Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, was clearly on the minds of those who wrote this UNDP report.

One of the central themes in the current debate on water management is of course the role of the private sector in delivering what is considered by many a public good. The UN report appears a little wary of the recent wave of faith in the private sector:

From Argentina to Bolivia, and from the Philippines to the United States, the conviction that the private sector offers a “magic bullet” for unleashing the equity and efficiency needed to accelerate progress towards water for all has proved to be misplaced.

Unfortunately Wateraid still makes no mention of the report on its website, although its views on the subject will probably be not too dissimilar to past arguments:

Privatisation and the involvement of the international private sector in water and sanitation services have met [sic!] with stiff opposition in many developing countries, yet donor governments have still to develop a different approach to helping reform water and sanitation services. WaterAid’s experience and research show that the only way to achieve more access to water and sanitation for the world’s poorest people is through the public sector taking responsibility to ensure equitable and sustainable access to basic water and sanitation services.

The Economist, on the other hand, backed by a recent study on the feasibility of cost recovery for water and electricity in Latin America by the World Bank’s Vivien Foster and Tito Yepes, could not disagree more:

Whether or not water is a right, it is also a commodity which […] is costly to provide. If those costs are not covered, water will not be supplied. […] If some people underpay and overconsume the stuff, there will be less of it for others. As the human development report puts it: “Underpricing (or zero pricing in some cases) has sustained overuse: if markets delivered Porsche cars at give-away prices, they too would be in short supply.”

Global Nomad adds a useful comment to the debate:

It is unfortunate that the best of intentions had led many to focus on an argument of public or private water supply, the HDR’s determined focus on practicalities and reality is refreshing. It would be marvellous if UNDP could translate this call for action into a concerted drive by its country offices to inform, monitor and shape government practice in support of appropriate private sector service provision.

Once more, the heated debates will spread like fire. Let’s hope there’s some water at hand to put out the flames…

Clean water

Water Glass and Jug, Chardin (c. 1760)

Via Sociolingo‘s blog, I came across this interesting article on the BBC about Tanzanian villagers who have started sterilising their drinking water by leaving it in bottles under the sun:

Solar radiation means a combination of ultra-violet rays and heat destroys the bacteria which cause common water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery and diarrhoea. After eight hours in the sun, it is ready to drink.

Plan International is apparently thinking about extending the system across the whole country.