Partnerships with the private sector: Water


Sanitation: A theme not really suitable for discussion?

A Swiss public-private partnership breaks the taboo in observance of the International Year of Sanitation

The UN General Assembly has declared the year 2008 the International Year of Sanitation, and in so doing helped to remind the international community of the commitments made in adopting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Switzerland intends to do its share in contributing to the MDG targeting to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation. To this end, it has launched a national awareness-raising campaign bringing together public and private partners, to wit, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG), the Swiss Water Pollution Control Association (VSA), and the Wastewater Treatment Plant Association of Western Switzerland (GRESE). The purpose of this coordinated effort is to raise public awareness of the challenges raised by the "WC", and to launch an appeal to Swiss citizens, enterprises, and municipalities to take action on a theme which is still all too often passed over in silence.

A health disaster that takes away 2 million lives each year

Having access to a toilet is something we simply take for granted. And yet, even in this day and age of internet, 2.6 billion people, i.e., about 40% of the world's population, are still obliged to do without. Sanitary facilities, however, are hardly to be considered a luxury when we consider that every 20 seconds a child under the age of 5 is struck down by a diarrheal disease directly caused by the lack of sanitation, hygiene, and clean drinking water. Indeed, over the last ten years, the number of children killed by this silent tragedy has exceeded the number of all those who have fallen victim to the world's armed conflicts since 1945.

Sanitation in the spotlight thanks to a network of public and private actors

Switzerland has decided to react to this unspoken tragedy by launching a campaign on a national scale. The primary objectives of the campaign, led in concert with several public and private partners, are to raise public awareness of the abominable conditions with which a third of humanity is confronted day after day, to mobilize investments, and to refresh the memory of the historical importance of sanitation and hygiene in Switzerland, while not losing sight of the future challenges.

The SDC, FOEN, FOPH, and SECO are directing this campaign hand in hand with the EAWAG and with professionals in the domain of sanitation by way of their umbrella organizations such as the Swiss Water Pollution Control Association (VSA) and the Wastewater Treatment Plant Association of Western Switzerland.

Several awareness-raising initiatives underway

The Swiss organizers have already begun a number of information and awareness campaigns including the creation of an Internet website,, and the publication of an information brochure for the general public. Last May, forty wastewater treatment plants took part in an open-house initiative in which some 2,000 professionals responsible for protecting public health and the environment provided some 4,000 visitors with detailed information on their chosen profession. In addition, two traveling exhibitions organized by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and Lausanne's University of Art and Design (ECAL) have been set up, and a drawing contest organized in primary schools, in which 600 children participated.

Sanitation: a vital imperative for respecting the environment, fostering good health, and promoting dignity

For the seven partners engaged in this unprecedented Swiss campaign, the stakes are high. Indeed, in one of the world's cleanest countries, it is far from being a matter of course to place sanitation – a fundamental human right – in the center of the news, on par with access to drinking water. Yet, just the same, sanitation is the cornerstone of both social and economic development. Sanitation and hygiene lie at the very heart of:

human dignity and social development: 2.6 billion people enjoy no other alternative but to defecate in plastic bags, or to perform their bodily functions along the roadside or in hidden, dark corners, thereby risking their own personal safety (particularly the women).

public health: Every day throughout the world, 5,000 children die from diarrhea – 4 times the number of lives claimed by AIDS. Human excrement plays a major role in the transmission of numerous infectious diseases. The lack of appropriate sanitary facilities and the necessity of living in conditions devoid of proper hygiene leaves the human being prey to numerous diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, etc.

… preserving the environment: Every year, 200 million tons of untreated human fecal matter are dispersed into the environment. In the developing countries, approx. 90% of the wastewater and 70% of the industrial waste generated is simply discharged into nature’s flowing waters, often polluting at the same time the very source of the water supply. In those regions where a large proportion of the population lacks a sufficient supply of clean water and has no appropriate access to a system of sanitation, wastewater often spills directly into the streams, rivers, lakes, and swamps, thereby contaminating the costal and marine ecosystems, polluting the environment, and exposing millions of children to disease.

In the South, this is not a fatality provided we rally the needed solidarity

Concerted efforts are necessary to break the vicious circle - precarious health, polluted environment, poverty - created by the lack of sanitation. With the means at their disposal, the SDC and SECO are doing their share to reduce by half the number of people in the world with no access to basic sanitary installations. And sanitation is truly an economically profitable operation given that the return on one dollar of investment runs from 3 to even 9 dollars. The absence of sanitation is not a fatality. There are several promising examples where progress has been made, notably in Bangladesh. However, in order to meet the challenge, all of the pillars of society in the northern hemisphere need to act in a spirit of solidarity. This is the message permeating the Swiss campaign, which encourages citizens to support NGOs involved in the sanitation sector; municipalities, to join the Soliarit’eau cooperation network; and enterprises, to contribute to the Global Fund for Sanitation.

Geneva, world capital of health, is home to the first Global Fund for Sanitation

Further to the recommendation of the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report, the Global Fund was created under the aegis of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) in order to respond to the sanitation crisis. Founded in 1990 and placed under the aegis of the WHO, the WSSCC is also supported by the SDC which has been assisting this organization in the course of its development from the very start. Recognized as the worldwide leading agency on sanitation issues, it was upon the initiative of the WSSCC that the Global Fund for Sanitation (GFS) was created in March 2008. This Fund is a harmonized financial mechanism aiming both to concentrate its interventions in the most poverty-stricken countries where the demand for sanitation and hygiene is the greatest, and to facilitate the customized implementation of those projects and approaches that have proven their effectiveness, into the framework of the specific national sanitation policies defined by the governments.

To learn more, consult the Campaign’s Internet site at: and download the brochure « La santé, l’égalité et la dignité commencent ici »,

François Muenger, SDC, , tel. 031 325 92 52
Press Service of the FOEN, , tel: 031 322 90 00
Pierre Studer, FOPH, , tel: 031 322 95 05
Johan Gély, SECO, , tel: 031 324 08 68
Andri Bryner, EAWAG, , tel: 044 823 51 04
Urs Kupper, VSA, , tel: 043 343 70 72
Vincent Theurillat, GRESE, , tel: 032 422 02 52