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WaterAid Japan -Wanting to Deliver Safe Water and Good Sanitation to Everybody, Everywhere-

©WaterAid Japan

Ms. Kaoru Takahashi,
the Executive Director of WaterAid Japan

March’s Close Up introduces WaterAid Japan. WaterAid is an international non-government organization (NGO) that works to improve water quality and sanitation in developing nations. Currently some 650 million people worldwide do not have the opportunity to use water that is safe, while another 2.3 billion are living in conditions without toilets. Populations who cannot use safe water and do not have access to sanitary facilities are unable to escape the negative cycle of poverty and disease. So as to change such livelihoods, WaterAid works to establish safe supplies of water and to install toilet facilities. Moreover, so that such improved living conditions may be maintained once they have been established, the organization undertakes its activities while cooperating with local partners. On this occasion, we spoke to Ms. Kaoru Takahashi, the Executive Director of WaterAid Japan, about the work that the organization undertakes in those areas in which it is active, and more generally about the water situation worldwide.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of WaterAid.

A. WaterAid came into being in the United Kingdom in 1981. What influenced its establishment was the United Nations, which designated 1981 to 1991 as “the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade.” Concurrently, WaterAid was created through a fundraising drive undertaken by water industry employees in the UK. They had the desire to deliver safe water to people living in developing nations. WaterAid now has offices in the UK, Australia, the United States, Sweden, Japan and Canada. Through these offices we undertake the support of programs in some 31 countries spread across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific.
WaterAid Japan commenced its activities in 2012, and in the following year we obtained the status of a non-profit organization. Concerning bilateral water and sanitary-facility assistance, Japan is the largest donor in the world. Moreover, if as a nation it could convey the message of “getting thoroughly involved in water and sanitation issues,” I feel Japan would also have the power to persuade and influence. It was with such thoughts in mind that WaterAid also established a presence in this country.

Q. Please tell me about WaterAid’s mission.

A. Concerning people in poor countries and communities who have been left behind by wider social developments, by delivering safe water, establishing sanitary facilities and improving sanitary practices, WaterAid’s mission is to bring change to livelihoods. Moreover, what supports our activities is our employment of local staff, and the partnerships we form with local NGOs and businesses. In saying this, concerning water and the use of toilets, both issues are closely aligned to the livelihoods of people. Furthermore, there exist even greater needs among women, the elderly and the disabled, etc., and almost all such groups are ones with which it can be very difficult for foreign aid workers to easily converse. Thus, the needs of such people can be more accurately understood by those who happen to be well-versed in local culture and customs, such being representatives working locally on the ground.

©Photo:WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya ©Photo:WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

Photo: WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Photo: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

Children enjoying water flowing from a tap (Left). The picture on the right shows young girls cleaning a communal toilet. The people who WaterAid assists learn about toilets, and also about the importance of thoroughly cleaning and maintaining such facilities themselves.

Q. Please tell me in detail about your activities.

A. So that people can use safe water, the first activity WaterAid undertakes is to establish the facilities to supply it. There is the example of an Ethiopian village where the women used to carry polyurethane tanks to the top of a mountain so as to fill them with spring water. We undertook a project to enclose the spring and to run a pipeline from it down to the village, where a tap was then established. In actual fact, the work of constructing the pipeline was done by the villagers themselves. This allowed them to both understand its structure and also feel inclined to thoroughly maintain it. Moreover, by having water brought to villages in such a manner, it is no longer necessary for people to go and draw it. This means that women can spend more time doing household chores and looking after small infants, etc., while children can attend school. Such developments represent a major change to peoples’ lives. Concerning such people whose everyday lives are a struggle to survive, something positive is felt in the changes that result from supplying them with water. Furthermore, in city slums, etc., by helping citizens in such areas understand their right to use clean water, WaterAid sometimes backs groups up as they negotiate with local bureaucracies to have existing water infrastructure extended to slum areas.

©Photo:WaterAid/Mustafah Abdulaziz ©Photo:WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos

Photo: WaterAid/Mustafah Abdulaziz

Photo: WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos

A pregnant woman forced to climb a steep slope four times a day to draw water (Left).
Women required to walk 10~15 kilometers during the dry season so as to draw water (Right).

Q. Please tell me about sanitary facilities and WaterAid’s efforts to improve sanitary practices.

A. No matter how clean water happens to be, if people don’t have a toilet in their homes, but instead are forced to relieve themselves outside, the water table will become contaminated and the risk of disease heightened. Thus, under such circumstances the adoption of toilets is important, as is spreading the message about people washing their hands. However, it can be very difficult to convince people well accustomed to an outdoor lifestyle about the importance of such issues. Concerning men in particular, you sense there is some resistance to the idea of them relieving themselves in confined spaces. Accordingly, even if toilets are built, they might not be used very often. We hold workshops in light of such circumstances, and by having participants both confirm with a map where they are relieving themselves and by actually walking around, etc., we help residents understand just how unsanitary conditions in their village might be. Additionally, we display to people the “negative impact that human waste can have on their health when transmitted by way of food, etc.,” and it is at this point that the consciousness of the villagers themselves proceeds to the point of suggesting that “human waste at least be covered up to prevent contact with it.” All that being said, however, it is rather difficult to get people to adapt to the idea of using a toilet.

©Photo:WaterAid/Anna Kari ©Photo:WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

Photo: WaterAid/Anna Kari

Photo: WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

A simple toilet built above a river. If the tide rises, then along with water, human waste will be deposited within homes.
That means that many people will end up becoming sick (Left).
A slum with large stretches of water that have been contaminated due to people both relieving themselves
outside and the absence of toilet facilities (Right).

Q. What is the current water situation worldwide?

A. When you consider water shortages, the tendency is to think of developing countries. However, water, or the lack thereof, is becoming an issue for industrialized nations as well. Take Australia, a country confronted by drought, there was a murder case there involving somebody who was watering their garden. Meanwhile in the United States in areas such as the Great Plains, etc., subterranean water resources have dried up due to center-pivot irrigation farming. With climate change as well, it is predicted that rain patterns and volumes will become irregular, and there are concerns that “water in itself shall no longer be readily available.” shall no longer apply. Such developments represent something very serious, and in that the entire world is joined together by water, it is important to be interested in the issue and to not consider it to be somebody else’s problem.

Q. So what about for Japanese people who are blessed with an abundance of clean, safe water? What should we be doing?

A. Although you may believe that here in Japan we lead a lifestyle complete with sufficient water resources, in actual fact, a lot of what we eat and wear comes from overseas. Accordingly, in the production processes involved in the manufacture of such products, much water is used in each of the countries concerned. For example, for a single cup of Ethiopian coffee, approximately 200 liters of Ethiopian water is used in cultivating the coffee beans and subsequent processing. Meanwhile, concerning the Australian steak eaten by a single person, perhaps water equivalent to one or two water tankers is used in raising the cow who subsequently ends up on the plate. Thus, our lives here in Japan depend on water used in other countries. Moreover, I think that we need to feel concerned about this in that it is not always the case that such countries have sufficient water for themselves, and sometimes their people do not have access to clean water.

Q. Please tell me about future developments.

©WaterAid Japan

A. By the year 2030, WaterAid aims to give everybody in all regions of the world access to safe and clean water, toilets and a sanitary environment. Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that just through our efforts alone we will be able to develop networks that encompass all regions of the world. However, we plan to adopt a broad-ranging approach whereby regions that are able to gain access to clean water through WaterAid support are then proposed to governments, etc., as model cases of what can be achieved. Here at WaterAid Japan as well, through cooperation and strengthened partnerships with both business and other NGOs, we want to take steps so as to achieve the aforementioned aim. Moreover, we want to be able to transmit information in the future so that people here in Japan become more interested in water and sanitation issues in developing countries.