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Getting Aid Where It's Needed Most

WaterAid is calling on governments to double the amount of aid going to water and sanitation. But whatever is spent, it should be targeted at those communities that need it the most, where it can do the most good for the most people.

A woman and her daughter carry jerrycans of dirty water back to their home in Konso, Ethiopia. Just over half of Ethiopians still don't have a source of safe drinking water. Credit: Anna Kari/WaterAid

Thirty years ago this year, the world began to see the terrible images of starving children streaming out of Ethiopia, in what was the country's worst famine in a century.

A massive crisis appeal, made famous by BandAid, followed. Hundreds of thousands were saved through these efforts, but an estimated 1 million died in the crisis. WaterAid was a fledgling organisation then, with some of its first projects in Ethiopia.

Today, Ethiopia demonstrates how good governance and aid make a significant difference. In 1990 only 14% per cent of Ethiopians had safe drinking water, and only one in 50 people had a toilet. Twenty years later, nearly half the population are drinking clean water, and one in five has a toilet.

WaterAid has invested in local partner organisations in Ethiopia over the past three decades, resulting in 1.2 million people gaining safe water to drink, half a million people gaining toilets and school children and communities benefiting from improved hygiene and health.

More taps and toilets to build

But our work is far from being done. Our new report, Bridging the Divide, released for World Water Day, demonstrates stark and unacceptable inequalities in people's access to clean water and basic sanitation.

The startling finding is that much of the international aid for water and sanitation is not reaching the poorest communities. In fact, only a little more than one-quarter of all water and sanitation aid is actually going to the world's poorest countries.

Take, for example, Jordan, Mauritius and Bosnia-Herzegovina - these are nations on their way to full economic development, with more than 90 per cent of their people with water and sanitation. Yet Jordan receives US $855 in aid per person without access to water and sanitation per year while Mauritius receives $588, and Bosnia-Herzegovina $192.

Compare this to Ethiopia, where international aid amounts to just $1.56 for each person living without water and sanitation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo it's just $0.80 and in Madagascar $0.42.

Just not right

These are among the poorest nations in the world, classified by the UN as the least-developed countries. More than half of their populations go without drinking water and sanitation.

In Ethiopia alone, 33,000 children under the age of five die each year of diarrhoeal disease. Nine out of 10 of these children could have escaped these illnesses if they and their families had clean water, proper latrines and the ability to wash their hands properly.

It's simply not right that comparatively richer nations are receiving so much more aid for water and sanitation when there is massive need elsewhere.

The answer to this imbalance has to be better targeted, effective and more transparent investment in aid.

We know that of the $81 billion in foreign aid pledged by donors over the last decade, as much as $27.6 billion never made it to its destination. As many as one-third of the developed world's promises to help the poorest gain access to something as basic and vital as taps and toilets have not materialised.

WaterAid is calling on governments to double the amount of aid going to water and sanitation. But whatever is spent, it should be targeted at those communities that need it the most, where it can do the most good for the most people.

Water for everyone, everywhere

Next month our Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, will join government ministers from around the globe alongside UN and World Bank officials at a High Level Meeting on Sanitation and Water for All in Washington, D.C., just ahead of the World Bank Spring Meetings. Ministers from all sides will be pressed for stronger commitments to tackle the water and sanitation crisis.

WaterAid is calling for spending on water and sanitation aid to double, but money alone cannot be the answer. Effective governance and targeted, effective, transparent aid is just as critical.

Our goal is to persuade governments around the globe to commit to getting everyone, everywhere access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation by 2030. This year the aid community has a chance to redouble our efforts on this, in the final stage of consultations before the UN sets its new Sustainable Development Goals for post-2015.

We have another chance to make water, sanitation and hygiene a central focus - and to help the rest of the world reap the benefits to health, education, productivity, quality of life and dignity that these services bring to those of us in the developed world every day.

If we fail in our quest, we fail the 768million people without access to safe drinking water, and the 2.5billion people without proper sanitation.

The next time you pour yourself a refreshing cold glass of water, flush the toilet,or take that long hot morning shower, it is worth reflecting on how these simple things remain unobtainable luxuries for hundreds of millions of people.

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