Global Drinking Water Strategy Meeting

January 27, 2010 • 7:00 – 9:00 pm EST

How do we reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goals for drinking water and sanitation?

Opening remarks from Valentina Valenta of the Congressional Water Caucus, and Larry Siegel of the Safe Water Initiative, emphasized the importance of strengthening cross-sector cooperative efforts to promote water quality improvement devices. The meeting began with Henk Holstag, consultant to Connect International, presenting 300 in 6, an initiative to stimulate and strengthen the use of home water treatment (HWT) technology. Currently only 40 million people use HWT for safe drinking water.

By placing the need for low-cost products on the agendas of organizations and individuals, the objective of 300 in 6 is to increase the number of people who use home water treatment options (excluding boiling) to 300 million by 2015. Holstag indicated the significance of social marketing strategies to raise awareness of safe water solutions at the family, community and policy levels. He also addressed the need to generate supply chains encouraging sustainable demand by selling HWT products instead of freely distributing these devices.

Holstag’s presentation was followed with a panel moderated by the director of the Global Strategy Institute and Senior Vice President of CSIS, Erik Peterson. The expert panel included John Sauer from Water Advocates, Megan Wilson from PSI, Katherine Bliss from CSIS, Dennis Warner from Catholic Relief Services, and Patrick Harvey from UNICEF.  Responses from the experts and questions from the attendees emphasized the benefits and challenges of 300 in 6.

Panel discussion emphasized the necessity of price flexibility for consumers living in poverty, and underscored the importance of marketing reliable products maintainable by these users. Comparisons of product price ranges revealed that no low-cost option for HWT was ideal. Moreover, it was agreed that HWT is only one piece of the expansive solution to the global water crisis. The marketing and public education goals of 300 in 6 compliment existing programs that target sanitation and hygiene improvement. The benefits of safe water availability in the home are subverted when individuals lack adequate hygienic behavior and store water in unsanitary containers.

Panelist Dennis Warner described the shift from a focus on water quantity post-WWII, to an emphasis on water quality in the 1960s.  During the water decade of the 1980s, efforts shifted back to water quantity with the creation of centralized treatment projects. By 1995, HWT initiatives emerged, and organizations began promoting water quality awareness at the household level.  Peter Harvey cited the report by Hutton et al that concluded HWT would have the biggest impact of all potential interventions—in terms of health and economic benefits.

Overall, panelists agreed that HWT is not a stand-alone, silver bullet solution. A range of solutions need to be applied on a case-by-case basis in each country; HWT needs to compliment water service delivery, hygiene education, and other efforts. If done right, this will have positive impacts for labor, education, and a host of other sectors.

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Katherine E. Bliss
Senior Fellow and Director, Immunizations and Health Systems Resilience, Global Health Policy Center