The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


MARCH 2015

In Support of Sanitation

Tokyo charity backs clean water, hygiene, and toilets

Shortly before arriving in Japan last year Dr. Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid, had been in Mozambique. There, she had watched a long line of women waiting their turn to climb into a deep hole and laboriously scoop up mugs of brackish water.

The precious liquid was poured into a large plastic container that could take an hour or more to fill. Then the next woman in the line shuffled forward to begin the same process.

“I’m really passionate about what we do at WaterAid because I believe it should be a right for everyone in the world to have access to safe water and sanitation,” Frost told a Tokyo symposium held to promote the charity’s aims here.

On March 22 each year, World Water Day is celebrated to focus attention on the importance of fresh water.

WaterAid, operating in 26 countries, opened its Tokyo branch last year. The New York office, which was launched in 2004, helps coordinate and fund operations in various countries.

In December, the charity celebrated a major victory when US President Barack Obama signed the Water for the World Act, an effort it had lobbied in support of for at least six years. The bill will funnel federal funds to areas where they are needed most.

WaterAid projects are primarily in Africa and Southeast Asia, and have an impressive rate of return. Last year, the charity provided water to 1.7 million people, bringing the cumulative total to 19.2 million recipients since the organization was set up in 1981.

Also in 2014, it delivered sanitation facilities to 2.2 million people, raising the total to 15.1 million since 2004, and reached an estimated 2 million individuals with its hygiene education program.

The organization’s funds and profile in Japan both received a boost in late October, when some 30 sponsored runners wearing WaterAid T-shirts took part in the Osaka Marathon. “It was a really hot day, but they came together as a team and encouraged each other when they got tired,” said Kaoru Takahashi, the Japan representative of the organization.

“It was a good opportunity for us to get some donations and to raise the profile of WaterAid in Japan,” she added. Each runner was required to generate sponsorship of at least ¥70,000, although many earned much more, while additional funds came in through the sale of T-shirts and from collection boxes along the route.WaterPost1

WaterAid believes that by 2030—“if the world really wanted to”—there is no reason why everyone on the planet should not have access to facilities that those of us living in the developed world take for granted.

Each year, about as many children die of diseases caused by drinking dirty water and not having access to adequate sanitation as the number of children perishing of AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

According to the United Nations, some 768 million people do not have access to safe water supplies, approximately one in 10 of the global population, while 2.5 billion people remain without basic toilet facilities—36 percent of the world. Every year, some 700,000 children die as a result of diarrhea caused by unsanitary conditions.

The crisis goes well beyond simply being a health issue, Frost said, pointing out that women and girls are expected to fetch water for their communities—sometimes walking for many miles every day. This means that girls miss out on an education and women cannot contribute in other ways to the family, such as by earning a wage.

“WaterAid’s solutions are very simple,” Frost emphasized. “We aim to provide local, sustainable solutions that can be managed by communities with support from local governments.

“We invest in local organizations that can do things themselves, and this creates opportunities in terms of saving lives, investing in societies, and making a big difference in social and economic development,” she told the ACCJ Journal.
MECHEKE, Konso, Ethiopia.
WaterAid’s projects focus on promoting water supply, sanitation, and hygiene together, as a package. Water supply options include protected wells, boreholes with hand pumps, piped schemes with communal tap stands, and household connections.

The construction of toilets helps to stop the spread of infections and communicable diseases. Education programs are designed to instill good hygiene habits among adults and children alike—and start with such basic steps as encouraging people to wash their hands after using the toilet.

The organization does not work in conflict zones and prefers to focus on long-term projects with a high likelihood of success, Frost said.

“One thing we learned very early on is that ownership of a project is critical. WaterAid can provide the technology, but unless the community wants to take the project on, it won’t work. We have to make sure they want it and can manage it themselves before we go ahead with any project.”

That enthusiasm is also required at the local government level in countries in which WaterAid wants to work, she said. If an individual in a regional authority is really keen to provide clean water and sanitation facilities for all the local villages, then the work has a far higher likelihood of being successful.

Frost remains upbeat about what has been achieved to date, but accepts that a great deal remains to be done.

“We hope to inspire people, governments, and other organizations to make a difference, because we just don’t feel that it is right, in this day and age, that people do not have toilets,” she said.