Partner Highlight: Fighting Pneumonia through Sanitation as a Business

Partner Highlight: Fighting Pneumonia through Sanitation as a Business

by Water For People and Dan Erchick

Broken water pumps, filled latrines and unsustainable solutions. These challenges are what motivate Water For People, a nonprofit committed to the belief that everyone should have access to safe water and sanitation every day. And the connection to pneumonia is clear – clean water and hand washing reduce the incidence of respiratory infections. But development of water resources, sanitation facilities and hygiene programs in developing countries is not a small endeavor. Around the world today, there are nearly one billion people without safe drinking water and 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation.

Water For People takes an innovative approach to this problem. Through sustainable solutions that thrive on local ownership, they focus on entire districts and regions, rather than simply households and villages. Reaching full coverage in sanitation requires both the users to want the solution and for an affordable solution to exist. One such strategy, Sanitation as a Business, aims to strengthen the sanitation value chain and incentivize private sector participants to provide a variety of affordable and desirable sanitation products and services to lower income households and communities. Their goal is to facilitate a system whereby sanitation coverage is maintained at 100% over a prolonged period of time, without external grant support.

In Cuchumuela, Bolivia, for example, Water For People is working with local entrepreneurs to support urine-diverting toilets, not as a giveaway, but as a business idea. Here’s why it’s working: The area’s Monterrey pines are a perfect home for a mushroom called a bolete. This isn’t just any mushroom — a family in Cuchumuela can earn about $800 (US) per year from mushroom sales. More mushrooms require more pines. And pines thrive off of fertilizer from urine-diverting toilets. Now there’s demand for the toilets and income revenue to boot!

Improvements in water quality, sanitation and hygiene through strategies such as Sanitation as a Business stand to make a big impact on health. Yet the importance of working towards these necessary improvements is too often underemphasized in regions where child mortality and morbidity are highest.

Worldwide, the largest contributor to mortality in children is pneumonia, an illness that kills 1.5 million children each year, and has been firmly linked to poor hygiene and sanitation. Diarrheal disease, also attributable to poor hygiene and sanitation, results in almost as many fatalities as pneumonia. Repeated bouts of diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses resulting from dirty water leave children undernourished and with lowered immunity, increasing the risk of infection and severe illness.

The Global Coalition against Childhood pneumonia is excited about the innovative and sustainable strategies from partners like Water For People. Improved sanitation and hygiene are crucial to reducing the burden of pneumonia, diarrhea, and other deadly childhood diseases. Sanitation as a Business is a creative approach to improving child health, and supports long-lasting solutions on a global scale.

More about Water For People can be found at Dan Erchick is an MPH Student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.