In the fight against the spread of Covid-19, handwashing remains essential. But how does that play out in regions where there is little or no access to clean water? “Covid-19 has made the importance of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) painfully visible,” says Patricia Vermeulen, CEO of Amref Flying Doctors, member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). “It shows, once again, that governments, the private sector and NGOs like us need to continue working together on sustainable, long-term solutions. Businesses can play an important role in this joint effort. We already have some innovative business collaboration programmes for WASH in place, but we are always looking for new entrepreneurial cooperation models. And I hope that NWP will keep on connecting us to new business partners, especially those whom we do not usually meet.”
‘Established 60 years ago as the well-known ‘Flying Doctors’, we have gradually transformed into a community-based organisation (CBO) that provides healthcare information and education in sub-Saharan Africa. We are now the largest healthcare organisation in Africa and one of the largest health training providers on the continent. Outside the Netherlands, we are known as Amref Health Africa.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is at the heart of much of what we do. Simply providing access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to communities immediately improves the health of all those living in their areas. The health impact is often huge because even very simple measures can save lives. With so many young children still unnecessarily dying of diarrhoea, and with so many mothers and newborns dying because of poor hygiene around the birth, the importance of WASH should be self-explanatory.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought about a drastic increase in water issues and related problems. Even in many places with access to clean water, water does not come free. Even if the costs are low, lockdowns are preventing many people from earning an income. Buying water for drinking and cooking becomes challenging and consequently, less priority is given to spending money on water for handwashing. Governments and NGOs are trying to help by installing hand washing points, for instance, but these activities are often short-term solutions.
We also see some good social actions from the private sector. There is a local brewery in Kenya, for example, that is temporarily producing sanitisers which Amref and the Red Cross are distributing free in the communities. And there are several companies that have reorganised their facilities to produce face masks. Any help is welcome, but this too, is only short term.
The corona crisis is revealing what we already knew. We need solid, long-term solutions. And the clearest way forward is described in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Amref believes that these goals are best reached through strong collaboration with governments, local communities, partner organisations and businesses. This is also one of the reasons why we are an NWP member. There are some good examples of collaboration in which other NWP members are involved, such as the WASH Alliance International (WAI) in which we work together with Simavi, Wetlands International, WASTE, RUAF/HIVOS, IRC, AKVO, RAIN and the Practica Foundation. Or the Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation and Health programme (FINISH Mondial) in which we cooperate with NWP members WASTE and Aqua for All and local entities in Africa.
Running projects with water companies and businesses can bring sustainable change, unexpected advantages and innovative ways of working. For instance, we are increasingly finding entrepreneurial ways of making drinking water and safe toilets available. And companies willing to push this can certainly count on us to help them understand and access local markets.
Our cooperation with NWP member Dunea is a good example of how we can set up successful partnerships. Under the framework of the WaterWorX programme, Dunea wanted to help set up a water cleaning station in Kenya. Setting this up is one thing, and understanding the local circumstances is another. You need communities that understand and accept these type of developments and are willing to pay for its services. This is where Amref comes in. We know the places, the language, the culture, the governments and, most importantly, we understand the demand side and work closely with the communities. The same goes for our WaterStarters programme in Kenya in which we collaborate with the local government and other organisations, including NWP member MegaGroup. We have worked on developing social enterprise models, using commercial ways of working to achieve sustainable WASH solutions, even in challenging places and in communities that are hard to reach.
We are part of the NWP network, and I am happy that through the NGO platform and country meetings we are able to connect to other partner organisations in the WASH sector. This leads to synergy and inspiration. However, I would also like to encourage NWP to keep on boosting cross-sectoral connections within the network. For example, as CEO of an NGO, I would be interested in exploring the possibilities of collaborating with potential partners such as large water engineering firms or commercial technology start-ups. Who knows where these might lead? Maybe it is not an obvious choice for companies to partner an NGO like Amref, and this is where NWP can keep playing a key role by bringing potential partners together. We have a lot to offer each other in providing quality and sustainable WASH services in rural and urban communities.’
Patricia Vermeulen will also be one of the main speakers at our NWP Meet-up on 2 July. This online event will focus on the challenges that the worldwide water sector is facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We will take a virtual world tour and share a brief overview of what is happening in the international water sector. We will connect and focus on WASH, SDGs, investing in water, the challenges water intense industries face and the need for sustainable water technology solutions.
If you are interested in potential partnership opportunities with Amref, please contact Margriet Ebbink, Partnerships Manager at Amref Flying Doctors, at Margriet.Ebbink@Amref.nl.