Life Does Not Happen in Sectors

World Water Week for FRANK Water kicked off with a session on “nature based solutions”. The topic was collaboration between the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and conservation sectors. Speakers highlighted that WASH is all about investing in watershed development to make it sustainable. WASH interventions need a water source, and they produce waste which needs to go somewhere. Panelists highlighted that natural environments such as wetlands are adept at providing both a water source and a ‘sink’. Furthermore, wetlands are fantastic at filtering water, providing a natural way to purify water, particularly in areas where filtration equipment is not possible to implement. WASH interventions can therefore benefit from considering “green” as well as “grey infrastructure”. At the same time, the conservation sector must consider human well-being, and will not be sustainable unless poverty reduction is built into its programming. As Colleen Vollberg, from Conservation International said, “life does not happen in sectors”. When you ask people what their needs are, they will not categorise them as “health needs” or “water needs”. They are simply needs. Ron Clemmer from World Vision agreed, noting that communities are not divided into sectors - they are just divisions we have set up to make programming easier. And whilst collaborating across sectors does make things more difficult (more partners, different organizational cultures), there comes a point at which it is necessary. We look forward to the production of new guidelines that CI will be producing on integrating nature based solutions into WASH.

Collaboration is therefore important. But whilst there is much discussion surrounding collaboration between the WASH and other sectors, e.g the conservation sector, the energy sector, the public sector and the private sector, there is less mention of collaboration within the sector. There are multiple lessons that we can learn and share within the sector, to avoid making the same mistakes. In India, a group of water NGOs have got together to work on participatory groundwater management, training other NGOs and building capacity across the country. This kind of collaboration sets an example for others to follow.

Equally worthy of consideration is something that Paul Hicks from Catholic Relief Services said: “if you find conflict, you must be doing something right”.  In some cases, the interests of the marginalised will not be the same as those of the powerful, and the challenge lies in finding a solution that will take the interests of all parties into account. Whilst collaboration is important, as NGOs, it is critical to keep at the forefront those whose voices are marginalised.

Photography: G Plasmati; Bororo population, Niger