Let’s make every $1 spent on emergency water provision count toward sustainable systems

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By Henrietta Fore

Every child has the right to survive and thrive. Today, the lack of investment in sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for fragile and conflict settings pose a direct threat to this right. As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to roll back years of development gains, it is more urgent than ever that the world’s most vulnerable are not left behind. Today more than 2 billion people lack access to safe water and 3 billion people lack handwashing facilities with water and soap at home. Limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene will leave these populations at greater risk of transmission. Coupled with the prevalence of underlying health conditions like malnutrition, malaria and anemia in developing countries, these conditions pose grave immediate risks to the world’s poorest.

UNICEF’s WASH team works in over 100 countries worldwide to improve water and sanitation services, as well as basic hygiene practices. Last year, we provided more than 32 million people with access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene in humanitarian situations — but we need to do more.

Despite these results, too often we are delivering water to communities with temporary and costly approaches that persist over years as protracted crises drag on. We truck water into displacement settings when we should be developing piped distribution systems, or we run water pumps off diesel-fed generators when we should be using renewable energy sources. While these short-term approaches are appropriate as provisional measures in new crises, our analysis shows that over years they cost donors multiples of the price of developed infrastructure. This runs counter to our commitment to build durable solutions for the most vulnerable. So why does it continue?

Durable infrastructure systems that last beyond a generation require upfront capital investment but most aid agencies are restricted from taking on debt to finance these critical projects. Humanitarian aid flows are unpredictable and largely restricted to annual budget cycles. Moreover, WASH needs in displacement settlements are typically overlooked in national plans and budgets, and often rely on parallel systems that are inadequate, costly and unsustainable. Too often we’re unable to bring either development aid or financing into fragile settings to address this gap.

That’s why UNICEF is partnering with KOIS to design and pilot an externally hosted financing facility for WASH systems in fragile contexts. KOIS is a leader in impact investing with a strong record in structuring innovative financial instruments in fragile contexts, including the ICRC Humanitarian Impact Bond. By leveraging UNICEF’s data, partnerships and operational presence in fragile contexts, we will be working together to match investor incentives between governments, aid donors and investors. We believe blended finance holds the answer to bringing sustainable WASH services to fragile settings.

Last year, UNICEF spent nearly one $1 billion on WASH programmes. With global financial constriction anticipated in the coming years as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, we need to stretch every dollar to do more for children. As the lead WASH agency within the humanitarian cluster system, UNICEF can identify where investments could drive significant cost savings and reduce carbon emissions — while also providing a higher level of service to affected populations. Bringing greater private sector investment into these systems could help make up the current funding shortfall but it will require collective action from host governments and donors alike.

To capture the largest-possible cost savings, we need donors to de-risk private investment in fragile contexts. Guarantees to investors in these projects pose little financial risk, since aid donors are collectively already paying more for the status quo with unacceptable long-term results.

Together, we can do better. The COVID-19 crisis has shown us above all, humanity’s interconnectedness and the imperative for collective action for the wellbeing of all. At this year’s Paris Peace Forum, we invite you to work with us to build a better future for children.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Henrietta H. Fore became UNICEF’s seventh Executive Director on 1 January 2018. She has worked to champion economic development, education, health, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in a public service, private sector and non-profit leadership career that spans more than four decades.

From 2007 to 2009, Ms. Fore served as the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Director of United States Foreign Assistance. The first woman to serve in these roles, she was responsible for managing $39.5 billion of U.S. foreign assistance annually, including support to peoples and countries recovering from disaster and building their futures economically, politically and socially.

Earlier in her career at USAID, Ms. Fore was appointed Assistant Administrator for Asia and Assistant Administrator for Private Enterprise (1989–1993). She served on the Boards of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In 2009, she received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow.

From 2005 to 2007, Ms. Fore served as Under Secretary of State for Management, the Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Department of State. She was responsible for the staff, resources, facilities, technology and security of the Department and was the Secretary of States principal advisor on management issues. She oversaw a management budget of $3.6 billion, 7,200 employees, 30,000 contractors and 267 embassies and posts in 172 countries.

From 2001 to 2005, Ms. Fore was the 37th Director of the United States Mint in the U.S. Department of Treasury, managing the world’s largest manufacturer of coins, medals and coin products. In 2005, she received the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Department of Treasury’s highest honor.

Immediately prior to her appointment with UNICEF, Ms. Fore was Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Holsman International, a manufacturing and investment company. She also served on the boards of a number of domestic and international public corporations, including as Global Co-Chair of the Asia Society, Chair of the Middle East Investment Initiative, and Co-Chair of WomenCorporateDirectors. She also served on the boards of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Aspen Institute, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) and the Center for Global Development (CGD).

Ms. Fore has a Bachelor of Arts in History from Wellesley College and a Master of Science in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado. She is married and has four children.

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