It’s an incredible feeling to be surrounded by nearly 4,000 participants from 1,200 organizations and 127 countries, all committed to one purpose: ending the global water crisis.
Last week, for the third year, Water Mission staff members attended World Water Week. Hosted by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Stockholm, Sweden, the conference is an unparalleled opportunity for collaboration and innovation in the water sector.
Seth Womble (Executive Vice President of Programs), Lara Lambert (Director of Community Development), Andrew Armstrong (Senior Program Advisor), and Craig Williams (Strategic Partnership Manager) comprised the Water Mission team. With calendars full of meetings and panel presentations attended by like-minded organizations, they built and strengthened connections that will help us move forward as we seek to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: safe water and sanitation for all.
The theme of World Water Week this year, Water for society: including all, was particularly relevant to Water Mission’s work as we focus primarily on last-mile, often-forgotten communities and people groups. Sessions and conversations at the conference covered topics including serving refugees, host communities, and indigenous peoples; empowering women, youth, and people with disabilities; and ensuring reliable safe water access for all people.
In order to truly provide sustainable access, it was often emphasized throughout the week that organizations should involve the communities being served in decision-making processes from the very beginning of a project. This concept is foundational to Water Mission’s work. Extensive community engagement provides us with the unique ability to understand the distinct challenges that each community faces.
For example, through our work in Tanzania and Uganda, we’ve learned about the burden that ever-growing refugee settlements place on already-strained host communities and the ways refugees are often prevented from gaining employment. Because of these insights, we work to provide host communities with their own customized water systems, and we offer employment to refugees throughout the process of installing and operating safe water solutions in settlement areas.
Water Mission’s work also empowers women and youth. Throughout World Water Week, the concept of meaningful engagement continued to reemerge, meaning that women and people from other often-marginalized groups must be given equal opportunity to be active co-creators of the policies and programs that affect them and their communities.
In the context of Water Mission’s work, women are purposefully included in the safe water committees that determine tariffs on safe water; approaches to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) promotion; saving and investment strategies; and more. Women, men, and young people educate their own communities on healthy WASH behaviors such as handwashing.
Accessible WASH solutions were a frequent topic of conversation as well, and this is an area in which we hope to grow in the years to come. Already, we are providing latrines uniquely made for persons with disabilities in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement and elsewhere, and we hope to expand these efforts as we learn and grow as an organization.
Above all, our partners, new and old, are the reason we so greatly value attending World Water Week each year. We are all working to end the global water crisis, and we know we can’t do it alone. As partners, we strengthen one another through collaboration and innovation. Collectively, we have the knowledge and the tools to help end this crisis.
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