Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

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  • Temple
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  • Temple is a Water and Environmental Engineer, currently practicing as an International Development Consultant with special focus on WASH consultancy services. Temple is the Program Coordinator of Nigeria Young Water Professionals and the Co-Lead of Leave-No-One-Behind Group at Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN)
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Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

(cross posted from RWSN Leave No-one Behind < equity@dgroups.org >)

An open letter released on 15 April, 2021.

"Recently there was an announcement of a US$30 million grant awarded to the nonprofit health organization PATH by the US government?s President?s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The grant funded a consortium of seven institutions in the USA, the UK and Australia to support African countries in the improved use of data for decision-making in malaria control and elimination.Not one African institution was named in the press release. The past year has been full of calls from staff and collaborators of various public-health entities for equality and inclusion, so one might imagine that such a partnership to support Africa should be led from Africa by African scientists, partnering with Western institutions where appropriate, especially where capacity has been demonstrated."

www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01307...auth-Ngozi_A_-Erondu

This is a thought-provoking open letter that shows the cross-cutting issue of decolonisation, across sectors. In as much as we share their goal, there is indeed a cogent need to rethink and redesign approach to interventions.

Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize Global WASH Interventions?

Temple Chukwuemeka Oraeki
International Development Consultant
Co-Lead, RWSN Leave-No-One-Behind Group
www.linkedin.com/in/temple-oraeki-4630a340  
Temple Chukwuemeka Oraeki
International Development Consultant
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  • Froggi VanRiper is a Graduate of Oregon State University with a PhD in Environmental Sciences (Humanitarian Engineering focus)
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

I would like to see such an initiative.  I am grateful to see this topic gaining steam, following the article by Euphresia Luseka.   
Among voices leading the charge are four scholars from Drexel University (Salamata Bah, Kaelah Grant, J'anne Mare Lue, and Leila Nzekele).  I had the opportunity to meet them at the Colorado WASH conference in March, where they presented a panel discussion and a poster, which I believe is in the process of becoming a publication. 
I don't know if these collaborators are active members of this forum, but I'd love to see them weigh in.
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  • AKSantaCruz
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

Yes, I believe that we do. There is way too much consolidation and professional gate keeping in the sector. 
Program Director, GiveLove.org — EcoSan Training Program
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

Yes ! Specificly in Africa 
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  • reidharvey7734
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

Forgive my posting this again but it's relevant to the topic:  De-colonizing WASH.  In any open letter perhaps the word 'de-colonizing' should not be used.  Some feel threatened and we owe sensitivity to those who ARE doing the good work of implementation.


Rather, the open letter might let people know that all over Africa and the developing world there are low-income potters who are knowledgeable in producing essential products like water containers and cook pots.  Once trained in quick production techniques they will be able to form candle water filters and fabricate clean cookstoves for the good health of their communities.  There is a serious need to train the potters in sound prototypes, then determining the 'evidence-base' for these, per project and community.  There appeasrs to be huge resistance to this among policy makers.


Without involving the poor in their own production and implementation, while the human and natural resources are abundant, their communities and countries will forever be dependent on resources from outside.  Developing nations will benefit by these newly skilled potters along with their neighbors, whose talent is at the origin of industrial development.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lMYxJP_ly-hcXLRIewTZP_7ZXLAyEl2X/view?usp=drivesdk
All the best,
Reid
Anthony Reid Harvey, ceramic industrial designer
Niagara Falls, NY USA
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  • FroggiVR
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  • Froggi VanRiper is a Graduate of Oregon State University with a PhD in Environmental Sciences (Humanitarian Engineering focus)
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

The word "colonize" is neither a subjective descriptor, nor an interpretive one.  Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of colonize: to "come to settle among and establish political control over", and to "appropriate (a place or domain) for one's own use".  The humanitarian sector has many historical and continuing examples of colonialism, with varying degrees of severity, intentionality, and/or subtlety.  Assuming we agree that this power dynamic and its associated exploitation is worthy of condemnation, we need not avoid the use of its objective definition.  

We can recognize a legacy of colonialism in our sector, or even our organizations, without taking personal offense.  A call for decolonization is a call for progress.  It is only a condemnation if someone is committed to continuing without examination or adjustment of problematic practices.  

Reid, nobody stands to be threatened by decolonization unless they have a vested interest in maintaining an advantage preserved by colonial power imbalance. 

Regarding the attached newsletter:  Who is the intended audience (i.e. who is the "we" referenced in the first sentence)?  Is it to be assumed that "the poor" are not the audience of this newsletter?  If so, I must gently point out that this is an example of a colonial mindset: defining what another group needs, on the basis of the assumption that they lack the knowledge to solve their own problems, or possibly even the ability to define their own problems.  The problems referenced in this newsletter (poverty and inadequate sanitation) are the direct result of centuries of resource extraction and subjugation by outside groups from the global North.  Poor communities rely on "outside help" only because the same outsiders extracted centuries of natural and human resources without allowing any related benefits to accrue to the local population.  Numerous context-appropriate, innovative solutions for clean water and safe sanitation predate colonial society.  Such infrastructure and/or systems were viewed with distain by colonial forces, who destroyed both the physical resources, as well as the ability for practitioners to pass on the knowledge and skills important to their creation and maintenance of such systems.  Sometimes this was a deliberate act of sabotage, and sometimes it was the result of the arrogance and ignorance of assuming that European, "modern" approaches were superior.  "We" only perpetuate this phenomenon when, adhering to a false narrative of implicit shortcomings among communities in the global South, well-meaning Northern folks superimpose "solutions" generated by the same cultures responsible for the original damage and resource exploitation.

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Note by moderator (EvM): the subsequent posts of Froggi and Reid have been moved to a separate thread regarding "colonial language in the WASH sector", see here . This was done to refocus this existing thread on the idea of an open letter in the WASH sector.
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Re: Request to cross-post: [leave-no-one_rwsn] Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize Global WASH Interventions?

Note by moderator (EvM): This is a cross-post from the RWSN Dgroup  "leave-no-one behind"  regarding the topic: "Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize Global WASH Inverventions?".

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Greetings!
This is a very important Policy Issue for both demand and supply sides.
While recognising that there have been Factors which made that system to be
the norm, I would like to suggest that we push this Issue up the policy
ladder for its recognition. Fragility is no longer a reason - not all LICs
have a fragile situation.

Currently, the WASH sector is becoming more an economical tool {commercial}
than the way it has been perceived before Climate Change became a word of
the day. WATER is LIFE, HEALTH and MONEY as well...

That is my quick suggestion - if I may.

Aluta continua!

Yassin

Independent Consultant
Skype: yassinmshana1Twitter: @YassinMshana; LinkedIn: DrEngYMshana
"Fight as One or Die as Two" .
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  • Euphresia
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

“In the end, we will remember not thewords of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Archbishop Desmond Tutu affirms bystating, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice,you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

I pick up from Froggi’s sentiments on thispost, ‘turning the tables’ while  kickingit off with this article that’s no longer news https://www.sixdegreesnews.org/archives/30162/amidst-covid-uk-government-proposes-80-percent-aid-cut-for-water-and-sanitation-sector ; indeed if we had a stronger voice as WASH practitioners we should probably have protests over such from BIPOCs’ in our countries. Undeniably, we still need aid to support attain SDG 6 effectively. What does an 80% cut also mean on WASH research, jobs for all the great talent in UK supporting the WASH sector whether BIPOC or not? We need to strengthen our allyship as WASH practitioners!

Let’s give it up to the health sector forbeing consistent on championing decolonisation of global health, this article is on most of the websites of health organisations in BIPOC countries, their social media etc. - they all show up like foot soldiers! We can borrow alot from them on decolonisation of WASH, when we are keen on identifying supremacy gaps, raising our voice about it and enhancing our readiness for the resolves we propose and will be granted.

We absolutely need open letters. This iswhy… Though many ambitious BIPOCs want to advance into leading donor funded projects/programmes, clearly few have the ally support to assist them into getting those positions. Though many WASH stakeholders perceive themselves as supporters to BIPOCs’, they do not take enough action, such as publicly advocating for racial equality, publicly confronting discrimination, and publicly mentoring and sponsoring them. Though BIPOCs have the capacity to lead in the sector, there exist Geographic mismatches between us and opportunities so we remain underrepresented upto the ladder to success.

This open letter also demonstrates that thedecolonisation of aid needs to be looked into sector by sector, In Anne-Jenkins words, it also affirms that non-Western knowledge and even ways of seeing are virtually invisible. This alone represents narrow vision and missed
opportunities. But when you factor in that the invisible people in this equation are the ones whose lives are being tinkered with, either directly or secondarily...well then its disrespectful, harmful' and a moral failing. 

That said, I would say USAID is a listening organization also affirmed by the writers of the open letter as well as President Biden’s approach when he recently issued an executive order mandating that all government agencies review policies to identify barriers to racial inequity and report within 200 days. This process is just the beginning that can keep us optimistic as it can be marked as progress. Honestly I don’t know who has experienced a successfully decolonized WASH sector; sometimes it feels like Utopia but hey Martin Luther King Jr also had a dream on some of these issues and albeit slowly his dreams are coming true so let’s keep the momentum.

I attach some interesting reads on thesubject:
https://www.engineeringforchange.org/news/white-saviors-foreign-aid-might-face-reckoning-lets-start-gently/ - May 2021
Committeddevelopment workers: you are not alone  (Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, 2 December 2020)
Shamof Equality and Dignity in Development  (Kishor Pradhan, 21 November 2020)
Colonialityand wilful hermaneutic injustice  (20 November 2020)
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  • reidharvey7734
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

The need to de-colonize WASH is a wonderful sentiment but as they say in West Africa:  "Since you say you are a pineapple you must show me your juice."  I.e., what would those expressing this sentiment suggest, as to the sustainable interventions?  It is not enough to say that we want to de-colonize WASH.  Those expressing this need to say how this will be done.  Be as explicit as possible.  Generalities are not convincing.
All the best,
Reid
Anthony Reid Harvey, ceramic industrial designer
Niagara Falls, NY USA
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  • elizabethtilley
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

It's not an open letter per se,  but colleague  and  I recently wrote an article (available here: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13696815.2021.1884972 ) that addresses the gatekeeping burden of the African Academic; we propose some specific actions  that are a useful starting point for decolonizing research, of all types.
Elizabeth Tilley
Senior Lecturer
University of Malawi- The Polytechnic
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Do we need an Open Letter to Decolonize WASH Interventions?

Thanks for your post, Liz! It so happens that it's a good answer for Reid's suggestion of "Those expressing this need to say how this will be done.  Be as explicit as possible. " (which was also my first reaction when I heard the term "decolonize WASH"; meanwhile, I have come to cherish the discussions and food for thought that have come out of it so far).

The paper in the Journal of African Cultural Studies  that Liz and Marc wrote is well worth a read. Anyone who has ever taken trips to African countries on (academic) work assignments (including me) will blush and think "gosh, was I taking those airport pickups, drivers, hospitality etc. for granted? Was I as bad as everyone else?" (I hope not!).

The article's title is well chosen:
“My Flight Arrives at 5 am, Can You Pick Me Up?”: The Gatekeeping Burden of the African Academic

Abstract:

Over the past decade, there has been increased awareness and discourse around the inequalities which structure North–South academic collaboration. The purpose of this discussion is to look at the other side of this dynamic: the gatekeeping burden of African scholars in facilitating Northern fieldwork within the African continent. We argue that this burden further exacerbates inherent inequalities within North–South relationships. By way of conclusion, we offer a number of practical steps that Northern researchers can take when engaging African academics which will contribute to more ethical collaboration, and a more positive and lasting impact within African institutions.

To provide context: Liz is not an African academic but she was working at an African university (Malawi Polytech) for 5.5 years. There, one of her roles was that of gatekeeping (a term new to me). 

Copied from the intro:

In this piece, we examine our roles as white, Africa-based gatekeepers, reflect on the burden of gatekeeping and its importance to the global structure of North–South “cooperation” and highlight the simple, as well as more complex ways in which partnerships can and must change if the academic success of the African academic is to become a genuine feature of global development. We, the authors, have a unique perspective: as researchers and educators in Malawi and South Africa who have spent most of our careers in the Global South, we both pass as Northern, and are afforded all of the privilege that comes with being white in Africa, but are simultaneously burdened with the unpaid labour and gatekeeping that comes with being “local”. We cannot, and will not, attempt to describe the demands put on our Black African colleagues, but can only assume that it is far more than what we have experienced during our comparatively short, insulated time working in research partnerships. Nonetheless, we hope a brief account of some of our experiences will open up a larger discussion among academics from across the African continent, while encouraging reflection, and ultimately change, among those who have benefited from the unequal “partnerships” of the past.

Also from the intro (careful: satire):

On 1 September 2020, the editor of the Journal of African Cultural Studies on the JACS Twitter profile (@AfricaJacs) posed to followers an unfamiliar scenario,
Imagine this: a young woman, a Tanzanian researcher, arriving in the UK for a 2 month long fieldwork, to write the definitive study on the sexual practices of academics in North Oxford. Demanding access, expecting intimacy, being invited into homes. Welcomed.

At the end of the publication the authors propose "a further 10 concrete actions you can take that will leave lasting impacts and contribute to academic excellence within African institutions".

The publication is geared towards Northern academics doing research in Africa. Not specific to WASH but very relevant to the WASH sector. I am sure not everyone will agree with everything that is said in the paper. That's fine. Treat it as food for thought. Some people might think "guilty as charged" for some of the statements or "me? Never!" for other statements... 

I think it is very gutsy to write a publication like this. I welcome the fact that this publication can help us with our ongoing discussions about how we can all contribute to decolonising efforts in the WASH sector. We all have a role to play. Let's learn, think, reflect, be open minded and improve.

Regards,
Elisabeth
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(formerly with financial support by WSSCC, now SHF)

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