Water and Health Conference draws cross-sector crowd to address water, sanitation, hygiene

Oct. 23, 2013

Five hundred people from 47 countries made their way to Chapel Hill Oct. 14-18 to attend the fourth annual Water and Health Conference, hosted by the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Water Institute at UNC.
The diverse group of participants, which included global policy makers, researchers, implementers, funders and entrepreneurs, explored critical global issues in water, health and development and presented the latest water-related research, education and outreach efforts.

The Conference featured more than 200 talks and poster presentations on the topics of hygiene and behavioral change, monitoring and evaluation, institutions, finance and sustainability, sanitation and health and water supply and quality.

In addition, 45 collaborating institutions convened “side event” sessions that allowed for interactive engagement on issues related to water, health and development.
In his keynote lecture, serial entrepreneur Al Hammond, PhD, an expert on low-income business models, discussed ways to reach the most disadvantaged and described the use of mobile technology in social enterprise.
“WaSH [water, sanitation and hygiene] is a major area for social entrepreneurs,” Hammond said. “But the problem with social enterprises is getting them to scale, so we need patient capital to grow them.”
Hammond, a member of the leadership group at Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, is principal author of The Next 4 Billion, a landmark study of base-of-the-pyramid business strategies. Such strategies aim to include, often through the use of new technologies, the largest but poorest socio-economic group — those four billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day.
Another conference highlight was the panel discussion, Is Aid a Part of the Solution?, during which audience members were invited to play an active role in a conversation focused upon the effect of aid on the WaSH sector over the past 20 years. 
Panelists included Tessie San Martin, PhD, president and chief executive officer of Plan International USA; Fred Muhumuza, of the Uganda Ministry of Finance; Jan Willem Rosenboom, MSc, senior program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Patrick Apoya, director of the African Sanitation Think Tank at Water and Sanitation for Africa.  

“We should ensure that efforts to provide access to WaSH are accompanied by efforts to sustain them,” said Jamie Bartram, PhD, Water Institute director and Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School.

Bartram said sustainability could be brought about by improving governance and making institutions effective at all levels – accountable, through monitoring; transparent; informed by relevant evidence from well-focused science; and collaborative in ways that improve implementation and impact.
Conference presentations and video of the keynote speech and panel discussion are available at whconference.unc.edu.
The Water Institute will host two new conferences in 2014, in addition to its fifth annual Water and Health Conference in October. From March 3 to 7, the Nexus 2014: Water, Food, Climate and Energy Conference will address the intersection of the world’s water, food and energy needs and uses in a changing climate. From May 5 to 9, the 2014 Water Microbiology Conference: Microbial Contaminants from Watersheds to Human Exposure will be a forum for researchers and practitioners focused on the intersection of microbiology and public health.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.

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