The waste that creates disease can save lives instead


Staff from across Tearfund teams gathered recently to discuss how using resources differently can create jobs, reduce waste and and the associated health problems. The circular economy is a new way to think about how we use products and services. In our linear economy, we take natural resources, make items, use them, then throw them away when we’re done with them. The circular economy instead keeps resources in use for as long as possible. As outlined in Tearfund’s recent policy report, Virtuous Circle, this can save lives (around 9 million people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants every year) and create job opportunities. [Read more…]


Waste of Olympic proportions a potential golden opportunity for the poor

RS77670_BRA_2016_EMB_0060-mdaAs the 2016 Rio Olympics close, Tearfund’s Senior Economics and Policy Associate, Richard Gower, reflects on the potential prizes to be won for athletes and the poor from valuing our waste better.

As pollution tainted Rio’s picturesque setting and the UN advised athletes to spend ‘as little time in the water as possible’, the wider issues – and surprising opportunities – arising from humanity’s waste problem came under the spotlight during the Olympics.   [Read more…]

An exciting day in the world of diarrhoea…

Yes that’s right, for those of us ‘special few’ who pride ourselves in working on this subject, today Picture 1marks the launch of a WHO & UNICEF global plan with the ambitious title ‘Ending Preventable Deaths from Pneumonia and Diarrhoea by 2025 – The integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea’ (or GAPPD as its affectionately called). This launch coincided with a launch of a series of The Lancet on Childhood Pneumonia and Diarrhoea.

Now no blog on the launch of a new report would be complete without some statistics – so here is run down in bullet point form of why this matters (taken from GAPPD and The Lancet)

  • Diarrhoea and Pneumonia are the leading killer diseases of children under five.
  • Together these account for 29% of all deaths in children under 5 – this amounts to 2 million lives each year.
  • In 2010 there were nearly 2 billion episodes of diarrhoea in children under 5 and a 120 million episodes of pneumonia.
  • 72% of deaths by diarrhoea, and 81% of deaths by pneumonia occur in children under the age of 2

What is significant about these illnesses (and what I have expressed many times as beyond belief) is that we know how to prevent children from contracting these in the first place and we know how to treat children and prevent them from dying if they do get it.

The plan lays out the different interventions to do this and what is unique is that it really does emphasise the need for an integrated response across the sectors, policies and programmes. It goes on to ‘provide a roadmap for national governments and their partners to implement integrated approaches’. This is something that Tearfund has been a long-term champion of, especially with calling for the key role of sanitation and hygiene in preventative health to be recognised and not ‘fall through the gaps’ between sectors.

In our report Diarrhoea Dialogues we called for the WHO and UNICEF to ‘encourage the promotion and uptake of their guidelines’ in their previous work on diarrhoea and it is exciting to see this be re-launched together with pneumonia.

We highlighted the role of community health workers as critical for delivering preventative water, sanitation and hygiene messages and it is encouraging to note the plan talks about this too. In addition, we pointed out that when programmes containing behaviour change aspects are implemented (such as community-led-total-sanitation, or work done by community health workers), this should be done in a coordinated way to ensure that households are supported through the long-term process of behaviour change.

While it is promising that this is referred to in the plan, it was highlighted at the launch event today that more needs to be done to look at behaviour change at a community level, especially given the importance of handwashing in preventing both diarrhoea and pneumonia.

The big question of course is ‘will this plan actually make any difference at all?’

In many ways the easy part is done – we have the evidence, we have a plan. There is a key issue of funding to consider – it was stated at the launch today that the cost of saving 95% of diarrhoeal deaths of diarrhoea is around $3 billion (which to put it in perspective is around a quarter of the cost of the Olympics!)

Now I, along with many others, will be waiting to see when and how it will be implemented. We will be waiting to see what difference it makes in communities and whether the proposed ambitious benefits of saving and improving the quality of thousands of young lives comes to fruition.

I for one – certainly hope so.


World Water Day 2013: Making cooperation and integration key priorities for development policy


Friday was a busy day in the world of water, sanitation and hygiene as we marked World Water Day. At Tearfund we’ve been working on these issues for many years, and our latest reports highlight the important of WASH for both child health, specifically in tackling diarrhoea, and also for wider impacts of improving peace and stability in a local area. Continuing to raise awareness and today, we are pleased to have the support of Lord Avebury with this guest blog below. You might also be interested in blogs from Baroness Kinnock and MP Jim Dobbin last week on the importance of WASH for child survival

By Lord Avebury

Friday was World Water Day and an opportunity to celebrate the excellent work being done to promote water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the developing world. The UK has played a leading role in making WASH a priority for international development funding and the Government’s commitment to doubling the number of people reached by WASH by 2015 sets an ambitious target for us, and other developed nations, to follow.

While much progress is undoubtedly being made, great inequality of access still remains with too many communities reliant on unclean water and inadequate sanitation facilities, whilst simultaneously employing poor hygiene practices. One of the biggest concerns about this inequality is the prevalence of diarrhoeal disease. This is of particular concern in Africa and Asia, where eighty percent of diarrhoea related child deaths occur. Staggeringly, around 80 children die every hour from diarrhoeal disease, making it the second largest killer of children under five worldwide, after pneumonia, and the most common cause of childhood illness. It is worth reflecting that in Britain we consider the condition little more than inconvenient.

Effective methods to both prevent and treat diarrhoeal disease exist and are being rolled out across the developing world. Improving access to WASH is a vital stage in this process. However we must also utilise all available tools to prevent and treat the condition, including vaccines, antibiotics, oral rehydration therapy (ORT), exclusive breastfeeding and zinc and other micronutrients. UNICEF estimates that combining all of these into one single package of care would cut deaths due to diarrhoea by around 60 percent.

This strategy of integrating care is gaining significant momentum in the development community, particularly in light of constrained public finances. In the vaccines sector, we are already seeing the benefits of integration in vaccine effectiveness and delivery. Vaccines are far less effective in environments where WASH access is poor and infrastructure development is becoming a key part of vaccine roll-out. Without adequate cold chain storage facilities and serviceable roads, it is extremely difficult to ensure that effective vaccines against a number of preventable diseases reach children in rural areas.

As Co-chair of the All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases, I have met with a number of the leading organisations in the WASH sector to establish how integrated packages of care can work on the ground. The theme for this year’s World Water Day, with events throughout the year, is Water Cooperation and today we are supporting our partners at WaterAid, Tearfund and PATH in calling on the Government to make cooperation and integration key priorities for future development policy. By working together and joining up our efforts, we can significantly reduce diarrhoeal disease, and other preventable conditions, and make substantial progress on attaining our Millennium Development Goal targets for improving child and maternal health.

The Battle for Water – Access to water pays double dividends in conflict-affected states

Guest blog by Nathanial Mason, a Research Officer in ODI’s Water Policy Programme

This blog has also appeared on Alertnet here –


Maper, on the outskirts of Aweil Town in South Sudan, is a host community in South Sudan, under stress from the influx of returnees from Sudan. Women return home after collecting water (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund)

‘Who is the government? Who are they? I have never seen them. They have not brought schools or clinics to the village.’

Frustration expressed by a Chef de Village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the lack of government-led development. Instead he turns to NGOs for help. But his questions also challenge NGOs, as well as aid agencies and the governments they aim to support. Immediate needs in a war-torn country like DRC are vast, and urgent.

In the long term these needs – for drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, and education – can only be met by a government that is trusted and able. Similarly the benefits of a water point, latrine or clinic can be undone if the local, root causes of conflict and peoples’ vulnerability aren’t addressed.

So how do you secure the double dividend: meeting immediate needs while making a positive contribution to peace and stability?

At the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) we’ve been working withTearfund, an NGO willing to ask this difficult question. It’s not the first time it has been asked, but good answers are few and far between. The question is also back on the table in a big way, thanks not least to the peacebuilding and statebuilding Goals agreed by some of the most fragile countries.

Funded by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), we asked the question specifically for water supply and sanitation, drawing on evidence on the ground in South Sudan as well as DRC.

Today is World Water Day – it’s theme is ‘water cooperation’. Our researchfound that water, and water services, can exacerbate tensions in communities: for example in North Kivu, DRC, resentment sprang up between host communities and the army about who contributed to the maintenance of facilities. But through careful negotiation, encouraging the army’s constructive participation, Tearfund’s staff were able to address this.

In and of themselves, water supply and sanitation are no cure-all. Meeting other needs, such as for education and rule of law, provide more obvious routes to supporting peaceful, stable societies.  But there are local windows of opportunity in the way that water supply and sanitation are delivered.

So, as Alertnet has urged, let’s get in the spirit of World Water Day with some ways water (and sanitation!) can help reinforce cooperation within communities, and between society and the state.


A first window of opportunity is in thinking through who is seen to deliver services. NGOs need to brand themselves to be accountable to communities. But where expectations are building for the government to lead service provision, they too need to play a visible role.

We found this in South Sudan, where the people interviewed tended to point to NGOs as their first point of call when things stopped working, rather than local government. In countries like DRC, where the state may be seen as absent at best, and predatory at worst, this is an even tougher dilemma. Still, gradually increasing the visible role for the state can be a goal in many situations.


Potential tensions and trade-offs can arise when NGOs and donors are seen as most visible in delivering services. Aweil Town, South Sudan (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund).

A second window we identified is around the scope for collective action and collaboration. In more stable parts of South Sudan, Tearfund has adopted a ‘Church and Community Mobilisation’ approach. The aim is to engage local people and church leaders to lead communities in finding solutions to their own problems. The research suggests this community-driven approach is working.

Again, we’re not talking panaceas here: these approaches take time, which may be of the essence in emergencies. The long term impacts, in terms of better services and stronger community relations, need to be tested further.


A third window of opportunity is to carefully manage the thorny issue of who is included and who is not when services are delivered. People move around in the aftermath of conflict and disasters, and we found the challenge was especially great in areas where displaced people and longer-term residents are living side-by-side.

As one resident in the Apada returnee camp in South Sudan put it, ‘the government has forgotten the returnee communities’. This points to the need to plan as best as possible for different users’ needs, but to remain responsive to the fact these needs change over time.

Many NGOs and relief agencies have good practice principles to minimise negative side-effects of their work. But we also need to consider the potential for positive side-effects, for local cooperation and community relations. Humanitarian organisations are rightly cautious about the messy politics involved – engaging too much with the wrong type of government, or stepping into community conflicts, can lead to loss of legitimacy or be seen as mission creep.

But there will always be a murky space between responding to humanitarian emergencies and longer-term development efforts. Tearfund have attempted to shine a light on this space, and their own practices.

The lesson for ‘water cooperation’? There will always be places where water resources themselves are at the root of conflict and cooperation, but it’s often the human part – the way water, and sanitation, are delivered – which we need to address.


Relief to recovery – how can the international community get better at it?

This is a joint blog post by Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Sudan and South Sudan Policy Officer and Caroline Maxwell.

We know that disasters and crises are becoming more frequent and prolonged. From the deep rooted conflicts in the DRC to crises currently in the news like Syria – many communities struggle to cope. The challenge is to meet both the immediate emergency needs but also develop longer term strategies so that those affected by the crisis can rebuild their lives.

When an agency like Tearfund responds to a disaster situation and then remains there for a long period, say over 10 years, the question inevitably gets asked; ‘how are you transitioning, from a relief context to recovery?’.  Surely just providing basic items such as food and shelter over a long period creates a culture of dependency. So how then do we resolve this challenge when we respond in a protracted and complex humanitarian situation, such as Darfur in Sudan?  These are key questions for NGOs like Tearfund as well as governments and donors that support agencies delivering aid.

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report commended Tearfund’s DFID funded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work in Darfur, for a number of the aspects and in particular how Tearfund’s approach is community-led and focussing on addressing longer term needs.

Our WASH projects both in Darfur, and in many other  prolonged crises where we are responding, can range from installing hand-dug wells, pumped water systems, constructing latrines and doing solid waste management to hygiene promotion activities through women and children’s groups and household visits. Not only do these projects play a part in meeting people’s immediate needs they also lead to more sustained ways of providing WASH services.


Source: Paul Brigham, Tearfund

One way we’ve been adopting a sustainable community-led approach is by working with locals such as Ahmed Hashim Mustafa, a resident of Al Khanama village, who received awareness training about the importance of hygiene. Before the training Ahmed recalls that previously he did not know the importance of having a latrine and that every day he used to use the valley near his home as an open toilet. But after his village participated in a community-led sanitation campaign, he understood how dangerous this was, potentially causing several life-threatening diseases. As a result he dug his own latrine, and now says he will never go to the toilet in the open again. ‘I will also encourage others to dig their latrines to make their village an open defecation free zone’ he said.

Whilst we seek to respond with the most appropriate support according to the situations we are faced with, the key thread that runs through all our work is an emphasis on sustainability and engaging with the communities that we work in, so that they are empowered to analyse and respond to their WASH needs. It’s why years ago we started to move away from relief approaches to focus on early recovery for affected communities. We place a lot of emphasis on including the communities in our work, putting them in the driving seat and building on what they can do themselves by strengthening their knowledge. We strongly believe that this is what donors need to focus on supporting.

Ahmed’s story is just one example of  the approach we take – and we will continue to review and learn how we operate. The ICAI report had useful recommendations for donors as they consider delivery of water and sanitation in protracted crisis, including:

  • Flexibility in delivery: Donor’s initial response should be on emergency WASH service provision, but as the crisis develops and the needs and perceptions of the affected community changes, donors must adapt by changing how they work with partners and deliver aid that promotes longer term solutions.
  • Funding: Donors should have a balanced mix of funding mechanisms in order to spread the risk of working in crisis and for keeping track of how money is used at all stages of a response from strategic planning, allocating resources and monitoring impact. Multi-annual grants should be favoured to ensure a long lasting response.
  • Maximising impact and ensuring effectiveness: Donors should seek to support projects that are sustainable, directly engage communities throughout to ensure ownership (ultimately building their own capacity to deliver), promote learning and also take into account good environmental practices (such as solar powered water pumps etc). Only when these things are taken on board will people in these situations experience real change.

To contribute further to this debate Tearfund will shortly publish two pieces of broader research, one funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), looking at the best approaches to deliver WASH within complex emergencies, and the other funded by DFID, exploring whether delivery of WASH can contribute towards peace- and state-building.

We’ll be blogging more about this soon, with links to our reports so watch this space!

Monrovia’s Golden Moment

This is a guest blog by Rev Isaac Wheigar.  Isaac is the General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL), which aims to promote peace through the local church and advocate for the poor and marginalised.

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL. Source AEL

This week Monrovia, the capital of my country Liberia, is hosting the next stage of global talks on what happens after the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 .

The UN High Level Panel meeting will look at the national building blocks for sustained prosperity and, as we are in the business of rebuilding our lives and our nation after civil war, Liberians have much to contribute to this meeting.

The current MDGs have done a good job of focusing attention on some important areas that need to be tackled – like health, education and access to water and sanitation. But while there has been some progress in some areas, it has been patchy and the figures demonstrate the high levels of inequality that still face us across the globe. The political barriers to decreasing this inequality and to ensuring our planet’s resources are protected and shared more fairly just haven’t been addressed.

That’s the message we want the UN panel to hear and implement – we need a new model of growth which has the building blocks of peace, equality, transparent governance and environmental sustainability.

Liberia’s challenge

As one the largest Christian networks in Liberia, AEL works with those who have suffered from the damaging consequences of civil war. We resettle displaced families from refugee camps to their local villages. This can be a very traumatic process so in addition to providing emotional care we are also involved in physical development by distributing food packages and rebuilding homes.

But we continue to see the growing inequalities within communities, particularly for displaced people who lack the security, education, health, income, and employment opportunities to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

A root cause of this is the global obsession with economic growth at any cost – exploiting the environment, widening the gap between the wealthy and poor, fueling corruption and conflict over land and resources – has not resulted in fair, prosperous and flourishing nations.

For instance our water and sanitation services deteriorated as a result of the civil war. Many people had no choice but to drink from local creeks, which also serve as their latrine, leading to diarrhea .  This is why we advocate for a Water Supply and Sanitation Commission to improve delivery especially in hard to reach communities.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

While most of the world is on track to meet the drinking water MDG target – to halve the proportion of people without safe water and basic sanitation – Liberia is not. Neither is any other country affected by conflict. Approximately 1.2 million Liberians – that’s 32 per cent of the population – lack access to safe drinking water and 83 per cent do not have access to sanitation. Girls suffer most as they bear the burden of collecting water and suffer from lack of privacy in open defecation which makes them vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence.

This kind of inequality can’t continue. While the world has set overall goals to halve poverty, if the poorest are left behind then we are all poorer for it. We need to set goals which don’t just measure overall progress but which seek to improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalised – like girls collecting water in Liberia.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

That’s why we can’t rely on aspirational global goals, but we also need national level targets which set out the ambition to reduce inequality in access, to make sure that the poorest men, women, girls and boys see a tangible difference in their lives too.

The church around the world also has an important role to play in reminding our leaders what the point of the new framework for development should be and what values should drive it.

The widow who lost her spouse in conflict, the unemployed farmer who lost his livelihood due to climate change, the child suffering from diarrhoea who cannot access safe drinking water – we owe it to them to address not just their symptoms but the root causes of their distress.

I pray that the meeting in Monrovia doesn’t just focus on technical solutions to specific problems, but helps to build consensus around a new vision for development which is fairer and puts our planet on a sustainable footing.

Love food, hate waste

This blog was published on Reuters Alertnet first here

Half of all the food produced globally is wasted and never makes it onto the plate.

Half of the food bought in Europe and the US is thrown away.

That’s like throwing cash in the bin. The latest report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Global Food: Waste not, Want not addresses one of today’s biggest challenges: how to produce more food and eat sustainably in world of finite resources.

I buy peaches in my local shop in the UK fully intending to eat them, but then discover them a week later all rotten.

So why do I do it?  Do I really need to buy a whole punnet of peaches, when I have other food to eat?

It doesn’t always cross my mind that I’m throwing away a harvest which farmers in developing countries worked hard to produce.  But that’s what it means for farmers like Haringa Ram in India who are often limited to growing one crop a year, cut down meals, and have to take loans to feed their family and to buy animal fodder for his cattle.  It’s scandalous that we throw away food, while one person in eight – the equivalent of the combined populations of Europe, Canada, Australia and the US – goes hungry every night.

Largely, we waste food because we get used to buying more than we need and we have the choice.  But farmers like Haringa Ram don’t have that choice.  And they struggle with poor storage facilities, roads, transport and markets.  China, for example, loses 45% of all rice produced.


Women farming in India. Pic: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

On my travels with Tearfund, farmers have woefully described food rotting in poor storage facilities in India, rats eating harvests in Myanmar, locusts in the Sahel (West Africa) and elephants trampling all over crops in Chad.

It’s not just the food that is wasted, but also all the resources used to produce food: land, energy, water and fertilizers.  That’s an unnecessary waste of valuable resources that are gone forever, once used.

This is crazy, as we face an increasing pressure on resources needed to produce food – water, land and energy – for a growing population.

Meat eating will almost double by 2050, according to the report. Already a third of all cereal produced globally is fed to animals. Beef requires 50 times more water than vegetables in the processing stage.

It worries me when my friend in Nigeria tells me that he sees a trend in people wanting the ‘good life’ that they see in the West, and modelling their lifestyle in a similar way.  Clearly, that is not sustainable all over the world.

We have lost our connection with food producers. We cannot continue with unsustainable eating patterns that mean there is less food available globally, especially for people in developing countries, and that degrade land, soil, and water.  We must change our attitudes and behaviour: farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers alike.

The UK’s Prime Minister has promised to tackle hunger at the G8 summit this year, which could be a key step forward in ending hunger.  He must stick to his promises to increase both aid and funding for farmers to adapt to changes in the climate through the UN Green Climate Fund. Farmers and herders, especially women, need seeds, livestock, land, tools and technologies that can equip them to feed their families, to produce more nutritious food, store it, get it to market, earn money and stop their children being hungry.

We must tackle the deep inequalities in the global food system which allow a few to make billions while leaving hardworking smallscale farmers and ordinary people to struggle to eat enough.

Consumers in developed countries could change the world by shopping more simply. Everyone has different eating habits, but we can buy little and often, not more than we need, plan meals before shopping, be creative with leftovers, buy fair-trade, shop locally and buy food in season. We all have a key role to play, from farm to plate.

How to follow our blog

Happy New Year!  Enough time off – now back to work.  To mark the start of 2013 we’ve made some changes to Just Policy, so that it’s easier for you to follow the items you’re interested in.

If you’d like to receive all blog posts, then please follow us by email (sign up in the box to the right).

If you’d only like to receive blog posts only on a particular topic(s), then please sign up to the relevant RSS feed on the right.  [See here for a brilliant explanation of what RSS is, and why it’s useful – h/t Owen Barder.]  Our current topics are as follows:

  • Aid
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For the most part, our regular authors are also on twitter.  If you’re interested in following us, our twitter handles are as follows:

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And myself, at 1SarahHulme (food security)

You’ll also find mini profiles of each author to the right (click on the photo squares), which will tell you a bit more about who we are.  At the top of each blog post you will find who posted that blog, and what their speciality is.

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Do global partnerships work?

Five years on from the launch of ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ – which is a global partnership to increase the political and financial priority on water, sanitation and hygiene –  and I’ve just been with 100+ other participants from around the world to take a bit of a stock check on progress.

With World Toilet Day today, it acts as a global reminder of the need to focus on the critical but highly neglected issue of water and sanitation and it’s both timely and important to consider whether Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is the right mechanism to help deliver what its name declares.

Tearfund helped campaign for the creation of SWA as we recognise these issues are low down the political and financial priorities of both donor and national budgets, despite the numerous commitments and platitudes of how essential water and sanitation are for any pathway out of poverty.

The achievements from the second High Level Meeting are impressive and you can find out more from my previous blog and the SWA website.

So how is the partnership doing over all? Below are a few of my reflections

1.    Political aspirations should reign over technocratic objectives – don’t lose sight of the original vision

When we assess progress on anything it’s easy to get a bit over zealous and want to change direction, bring in new objectives etc. While new approaches may be needed, we need to hold true to the original and bold vision and not shrink back to aims that can be easily measured, but lack political aspiration. Measuring the success of the long term change we wish to see can be difficult and slow going, but we must resist the temptation to move away from the vision towards short term, more easily controlled objectives.

2.    Patience

Political change, and the increased investment that needs to follow, takes time but we won’t see large scale investment and a world where everyone has the basic right to clean water and somewhere safe to go to the toilet, without it. Progress can be frustrating, but SWA is doing the right thing in not setting up a global fund and instead trying to get finance ministers in developing countries to recognise the need for increased investment in water and sanitation. Furthermore, any support to help strengthen national plans and policies (to aid confidence for increased investment), will be country-, rather than donor-, driven.

3.    A partnership is the sum of its partners

A partnership will only be as strong and active as its partners are. As civil society we identified clear actions in support of SWA that we committed to but this needs to be reflected across all the partner constituencies. Donor membership, whilst reflective of a large proportion of the main donors on water and sanitation, is still limited and there seems to be hesitancy in committing actions and resources to the partnership. But what donor engagement there is, including by the UK, is encouraging and can be cultivated.

4.    Communication, communication, communication

There is often high turnover of personnel involved – be it from developing country governments, donors, development banks or NGOs, so it’s great that SWA is beginning to increase its own investment in communication. It takes a long time to build understanding, buy-in and to become known outside of the circles of those working on water and sanitation – so investment in this area is crucial.

So, in my view, yes global partnerships do work – but they need commitment and action from its partners and at Tearfund we’ll continue to support SWA to ensure it delivers on its vision.