SAHEL: Foundation money to allow long term approach to water problem

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A donation of US$150 million to a 10-year water project in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Senegal and nine other countries in Africa and Central America by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation could be the start of a much needed injection of donor innovation into the relief sector, non-governmental organisations involved in the project say.

The foundation’s money will be used to start the Global Water Initiative (GWI), a partnership of seven charities and relief organisations which will be given US$15 million a year for 10 years.

In the whole West Africa region in 2006, traditional donor spending on water and sanitation was US$130,000 – just 11 percent of the US$1,165 million aid agencies had asked for – according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“We have found a shift in the whole donor funding scene towards large amounts of money being given to direct budgetary support which is good for governments but has sapped energy and resources from locally defined and implemented activities,” said Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London.

“We’re trying to get more energy and resources back into the local-based agenda, which I hope this initiative can do.”

The Buffet Foundation-funded NGOs are to study how to provide communities with long-term access to clean water and sanitation, access to water for rural production, and protection and sustainable management of ecosystem services.

“Projects will deliver water and sanitation in rural communities,” the GWI said in a statement on 25 October.

“In addition, investments will be made to strengthen institutions, build capacity to enable organisations to initiate and sustain long term projects, increase community participation, improve local governance, facilitate inter-governmental coordination and cooperation, raise awareness, emphasise innovation and support the development of responsible water policies.”

“The GWI was designed to integrate all aspects of sound water resource management, from emergency relief and community needs to development and sustainable resource management,” said Youcef Hammache, project officer at Action Against Hunger (AAH) in Paris.

“The needs in the Sahel are varied and the GWI’s programs will attempt to tackle the full spectrum of needs in both the short- and longer-term - not just in the Sahel, but in all 13 countries covered by the GWI coalition.”

Traditional European donors and USAID came in for heavy criticism in a scathing report released in July 2007, co-authored by 10 NGOs including most of those involved in the GWI. The NGOs accused the donors of funding projects only for one to two years and for demanding results rather than letting NGOs experiment to find the best solutions.

“The Buffet Foundation is funding things that don’t necessarily produce rapid and immediate results and is prepared to find that some things we do don’t always produce the expected results,” said IIED’s Toulmin. “There’s extraordinary interest in seeing things over the long term and there aren’t many donors who are as open-minded and willing as that.”

Howard Buffet, the President of the Foundation said in a statement: “It is our objective to utilise and leverage the experience of our partners to create a flexible and spontaneous approach to providing poor communities access to safe drinking water. By building new constituencies, creating stronger alliances and engaging all stakeholders, it is our hope to create a new vision and an effective platform for change.”

Improving water in the Sahel region of West Africa is central to improving health and nutrition and to providing the predominantly rural communities with the ability to provide for themselves year round, not just during the annual July-October rainy season, experts say.

Worldwide, more than one billion people are estimated to lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion people lack sanitation. Countries in West Africa’s Sahel consistently feature at the bottom of human development indexes for the particularly high level of poverty found there and the poor access to water.

The NGOs involved in the GWI are Catholic Relief Services, CARE, IIED, IUCN, SOS Sahel, AAH and Oxfam. In addition to the Sahel, the project will cover El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Howard G. Buffet Foundation is multi-million dollar private foundation controlled by the eldest son of the billionaire American investor Warren Buffett.

Source: IRIN