We use our own and third-party cookies to improve our services and facilitate web usage by analysing your browsing preferences. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of these cookies. You can get more information, or find out how to change the settings, in our use of cookies policy.


Water, sanitation and hygiene, the pillars of resilience

Last summer two earthquakes and one tsunami devastated two of the poorest areas of Indonesia. The recovery of the access to water and sanitation is a priority so that those who have lost everything get their lives back. The Foundation takes action once again to help those affected by natural disasters, a tragedy aggravated by anthropogenic factors, such as exposure and vulnerability, whose reduction is one of the great challenges for a fair and sustainable future of mankind.

©Carlos Garriga/ We Are Water Foundation

Women in Haiderpur, in the Indian state of Haryana, have an opportunity for empowerment with respect to one of the great taboos that still plague the rural Indian community: menstruation. Providing them with the opportunity to make their own sanitary towels from materials within their reach and be able to market them is one of the objectives of the project developed by the We Are Water Foundation in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity India.

Empowerment for intimate hygiene

This is not a minor goal, as millions of women in India have never known clean water, toilets or intimate hygiene. On the other hand, the exclusion some of these women experience when they have their period is deeply rooted in many areas of the country, causing women not to talk about it and leading to a lack of information at a physiological and hygienic level.

The situation worsens for girls as only half of Indian schools have gender-separated toilets, so the shame caused by menstruation is added to the lack of privacy to wash. This is one of the reasons why 113 million girls drop out of school at puberty, mostly in poorer areas and lower castes, where adolescence often coincides with the need to take care of the family, fetch water and do household chores.

© Carlos Garriga/ We Are Water Foundation

The disaster surpassed in casualties and damage the earthquake that had struck two months earlier on the northern coast of the island of Lombok, located in the Lesser Sunda Islands province There, on the 29th July 2018, an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 on the Richter scale struck the island’s northern coast. Seven days later, when the community and the aid teams were in the midst of an emergency, another earthquake of magnitude 7 struck the island; and again, on the 19th August, an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 struck Lombok. The terrified population experienced more than 1,000 aftershocks over the following ten days. All this caused more than 500 deaths and 1,500 wounded and 396,032 people had to leave their homes.

Indonesia is one of the poorest countries with the greatest problems of access to water and sanitation in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area that concentrates intense seismic and volcanic activity. Indonesia’s history stands out for the repetition of this kind of disasters. Everyone remembers the terrible earthquake and tsunami with waves that reached 30 m that caused the death of 168,000 Indonesians and other 55,000 people in the coastal countries of the Indian Ocean in 2004 (disaster that inspired the film The Impossible by Juan Antonio Bayona). In 2006, nearly 6,000 people died in a violent earthquake that struck the island of Java.

Water, sanitation and hygiene, the foundation of resilience

© Erik de Castro - Reuters

On World Toilet Day, the We Are Water Foundation culminated another of its most significant projects in India by handing over the keys to 200 individual household latrines, known in India by their acronym IHHL (Individual House Hold Latrine), to the 200 beneficiary families in the town of Bhiwadi in the state of Rajasthan. The project, carried out in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity India was based on the construction of 200 toilets to prevent open defecation due to the scarcity of financial resources and the capacity and lack of knowledge of healthy practices. The Foundation provided technical assistance, and created work groups to train, educate and monitor the activities. The project is based on the program Swachh Bharat (Clean India) and was carried out in close cooperation with the local government.

Also in the state of Rajasthan, on World Toilet Day, the Foundation announced another project in collaboration with the Gramya Foundation. This is the launch of the school sanitation unit built by the Foundation in Rewari, also in Rajasthan, which will benefit more than 2,000 schoolchildren. The Foundation is fully engaged in supporting adequate sanitation in schools, another major challenge in India whose focus can be seen in the project of school sanitation facilities for girls in Alwar, Chennai, Ranipet and Vellore, in collaboration with World Vision India which will benefit more than 1,500 schoolchildren.

In this project it is clear that building toilets in schools is relatively easy, but making them functional and usable always requires a change in the mentality and behavior of schoolchildren, and the commitment of school teachers.

A huge challenge that is being met step by step

© World Vision

After the disasters in Indonesia, the Foundation has collaborated with World Vision in two projects to provide aid to Central Sulawesi and in Lombok. In the first disaster, in Sulawesi, in October it was estimated that more than 2,400,000 people were affected in 839 villages in Central Sulawesi and 95 in Western Sulawesi.

In this area, a special emphasis has been placed on restoring the autonomous maintenance of hygiene, a vital human need that is always affected by a natural disaster. Since last October the Foundation has collaborated in the distribution of 105 family hygiene kits and as many children’s hygiene kits to the poorest and most dependent families and children of the communities damaged by the earthquake, which are in a situation of maximum vulnerability to infections.

In Lombok, the large number of displaced people who have lost their homes, the lack of adequate medical care and the damages in infrastructures triggered different infectious and diarrheal diseases. All this in an extremely poor area where families work in subsistence agriculture as their only source of income, being very dependent on erratic rains to feed themselves.  

© Carlos Garriga/ We Are Water Foundation

After the end of the emergency phase, at the end of August, the Foundation started a project with World Vision to provide access to water and sanitation infrastructures to the displaced. The aid focuses on the construction of public water sources with hand washing facilities because, after the earthquake, 58% of them have been left without access to safe water. Emergency latrines will also be distributed to prevent open defecation which, according to World Vision, is practiced by 62% of the displaced who find themselves without any resources to cover their basic needs.

As in Sulawesi, the initiative is complemented with training courses to help communities make the right use of water, ensuring the sustainability of the facilities and implementing measures for adequate hygiene.

Less exposure, less vulnerability, less risk

© Asian Development Bank

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the situation experienced in Indonesia makes it necessary to remember and accelerate global awareness and world actions to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of millions of people to natural disasters, especially those of meteorological nature, which are increasing with the global warming of the atmosphere.

Exposure and vulnerability are anthropogenic factors, that is, caused by human beings, but their meaning is very different. Exposure can be defined as the presence of people, homes, buildings, facilities or any economic, social or cultural good in areas where violent phenomena may occur. Vulnerability is the predisposition for all of this to be damaged. Exposure and vulnerability make up what is caused the “risk factor”.

Disaster risk combines exposure and vulnerability. The IPCC defines it as the probability a community has of suffering serious disruptions in its normal functioning and human, economic or environmental damage due to dangerous physical events that occur in vulnerable social conditions. This is another great challenge we face towards the attainment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.