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OU Water Prize Winner Works To Address World's Sanitation And Security Issues

Peter Lochery delivering a talk at the University of Oklahoma in September 2015.
Jawanza Bassue
The University of Oklahoma
Peter Lochery delivering a talk at the University of Oklahoma in September.

Earlier this year the University of Oklahoma’s Water Technologies for Emerging Regions (WaTER) Center awarded Peter Lochery its biennial International Water Prize for his contributions to the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere.

CARE’s Director of Water has been working with the organization for two decades, expanding CARE’s water programs to include research and advocacy. He’s also focused on water in agriculture, founded the Millennium Water Alliance and addressed the issues that girls and women face due to poor water sanitation.

In areas where there is not clean water, Lochery says many women have to travel significant distances to collect water, which can lead to rape or sexual harassment in insecure and unstable areas. In schools, lack of clean water facilities is an issue for women who need to take care of themselves during their menstrual cycle.

But tackling these water issues can be difficult when it’s not clear what the people on the ground need. Non-governmental organizations can help, but it may not be enough to assist a community. Through CARE, Lochery hopes to meet the needs of the people by working with a team.

“Increasingly our work is not around service delivery,” Lochery said. “It's around analysis, research and advocacy done, of course, with our colleagues in the field, but also typically working with local and national government.”

Lochery also deals with the issue of water in agriculture. In places without running water, farmers rely on rainwater to feed crops. Lochery hopes to change this by improving the efficiency of rain-fed agriculture through filtration and collection methods.

Even though clean water scarcity seems to be an issue that does not affect the United States, drought in places such as California and Oklahoma has forced states to implement water use restrictions.

“If you live in the United States, you can think that water is an issue that is not affecting us here, even in Oklahoma,” Lochery said.

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REBECCA CRUISE, HOST: Peter Lochery, welcome to World Views

PETER LOCHERY: Thank you very much.

CRUISE: Well you have played a significant role in an organization known as CARE, this is an international relief, humanitarian aid organization. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about its history, its mission, perhaps how it's developed over the last 70 or so years and what they're doing right now?

LOCHERY: CARE: Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere. We're, as you said, an international non-governmental organization, and our overall mission is attacking global poverty. So, we started CARE but is was CARE USA in those days. Immediately after the Second World War, sending food parcels to Europe, so care packages in other words, you know care package is actually CARE's trademark, but it's passed into common language now. So, at the center of our work in those early days and continuing to this day has been around food and the distribution of food initially but then moving into programs that focused on food security, and we now, one of our major focus areas is food nutrition security. The other area that CARE USA focuses on is sexual reproductive and maternal health. So we have those two key programs, and then we also work in development and humanitarian assistance. So, we have some major operations going on at the moment in Turkey and Jordan dealing with the refugee crisis in Syria and some Iraqi refugees and we've also expanded beyond food nutrition, security, sexual reproduction and maternal health into areas that are associated with those main thrusts so water and sanitation, water for agriculture as far as water is concerned which has strong links with, for example, achieving food security. We also have significant programming in microfinance. We have a major program in Africa called Access Africa which supports setting up a village savings and loans associations, primarily women's groups. They then graduate to a sort of more significant lending and investment.

CRUISE: Sounds like a very large reach and a lot of players involved. So the overarching organization then works with these smaller like CARE USA, CARE Australia. Do they all have the same missions or is it determined on the interests of that particular country or the situation in that particular region?

LOCHERY: We now have a global program strategy after many years we came together about two years ago and developed a CARE global program strategy, and arranged for different members of the federation to take the lead in different area, and I talked about CARE USA taking the lead in food and nutrition security with other members of the Federation of course.

CRUISE: Well it seems to make sense. These are issues that do not stay put. They are not bound by state borders. They, of course, are global issues and so it will take a global effort to try to alleviate them. One of the ones that you mentioned, which I think is a huge issue, it's actually an issue here in Oklahoma as well, but obviously an international issue is water scarcity or water cleanliness. What activity specifically are you or the CARE organization working on in that regard?

LOCHERY: So, we essentially work on what we call water-plasts which is water sanitation hygiene but also has some elements of water resources and ecologically sustainable uses of water.

CRUISE: I think one of the other areas that you seem to focus on, and you've mentioned it a little bit is women's rights, if you will, in terms of healthcare. We also know that women are disproportionately affected by unclean water and unclean sanitation. Some of this is culturally based. Some of this is perhaps biologically based. Can you maybe talk a little bit about that and what specific efforts are underway to help women, particularly in the Global South.

LOCHERY: Certainly. If we take water and sanitation for example, it's presence or not has significant impact on women. For example, in many countries the job of collecting water falls to women and girls. Often, men are not involved.CRUISE: And they're often going long distances to collect this water may be unclean, may be dangerous.

LOCHERY: Exactly. So, they often have to spend, you know, four hours a day is not untypical, and that uses energy. It uses time which could be devoted to other work around the household and cultural work et cetera. It also opens them up to sexual harassment, and there have been cases of rape and so on on their way backwards and forwards to collecting water. So, from the securities perspective, it's a big issue. Add to that that in schools, for example, women or girls have a much harder time when they're in inadequate facilities, particularly when they get to puberty. There's nowhere for them to sort of manage their menses. So, we have put a lot of effort in our work with schools into changing or improving facilities so there are washrooms so girls can wash their cloths if they use cloths or looking at ways in ways to set up school health clubs that can advise girls when they're puberty, that can provide sanitary pads on emergency basis, etcetera. So, a lot of work done in that respect.

CRUISE:  And what is the approach to dealing with these girls or some of the other projects that are in the Global South. There's often been this criticism that the north is the ones that, they have the resources and so they go south and advocate for very worthwhile things but don't always incorporate the cultural context or perhaps the realities on the ground. It sounds like this program that you're talking about here specifically has been quite successful. How have you gone about getting the buy in at the local level that's so important. 

LOCHERY: Well you are not working alone. You of course are working with governments. You're also doing analysis and, preferably, working with, you know, local governments or, in some cases, with central governments. So, you're working as a team to do the analysis. Identify what the issues are, and making agreements on what the changes in policy are that need to be put in place, how the government budget needs to be adjusted to meet these requirements. So we're not imposing. We are working closely with governments in many cases, both the local and national level, to identify the problems and figure out ways of overcoming them. So, increasingly our work is not around service delivery. It's around analysis, research and advocacy done, of course, with our colleagues in the field, but also typically working with local and national government, as I said, but also with local academic institutions. So trying to get them involved in addressing some of the problems and the barriers that are identified by girls at school, their parents, ministries of education, local education authorities, et cetera. 

CRUISE: So, sounds like a very important piece of the puzzle: getting the proper information, disseminating that information, the advocacy portion, not just the delivery. 

LOCHERY: Exactly, and actually there's some sort of tension between the service delivery and focusing on research and advocacy. The problem is that governments have social compacts with their populations to provide services and, if we as NGOs, go in and start providing those services directly, A. We may be providing the wrong service and it may have unintended consequences, and secondly we're undermining, or we're letting government off the hook in a way. It's their responsibility. So, yes we're in the role of supporting or assisting them, advising them, but not doing their job for them. 

CRUISE: And this advocacy goes even broader than that. It goes international in some sense. I think water security be it social security or national security, international security affected by water is one of the largest issues we now face as a global society, but it certainly is only going to increase, and it's really easy for us, perhaps in the north or in the west to say that these are issues that are happening elsewhere, that these are not things that we need to be concerned about because they're not directly affecting us. How has your advocacy or information sharing attempted to convince everyone that these are global issues, that we should be paying attention to them?

LOCHERY: Well, I don't think, if you live in the United States, you can think that water is an issue that is not affecting us here, even in Oklahoma. I don't know so much about Oklahoma, but I know a lot about California. 

CRUISE: Oh, it's affecting us here, but I do still hear this from people, that dirty water and sanitation, those are issues of the global south. Those are not issues of the global north, but these things affect us all. 

LOCHERY: Okay. So, when you look at water security for example and you look at where the bulk of water is, it's not in the form of blue water i.e. the water in rivers in streams and lakes and the groundwater. It's in the form of soil moisture. They extend into which soil can capture and retain soil moisture is dependent on the condition of the soil. So, when you start looking at water security, you very quickly move into soil and water management, landscape management approaches. From some work that we've been doing in east Africa, we came up with the term "water smart agriculture" as a way of trying to advocate for the appropriate balance between green water, the water in the soil, and blue water in agriculture. The idea being that, in many countries, the bulk of the food is being produced by smallholders, many of whom are women and many of whom do not have access, or are likely to have access to irrigation. So they're dependent on rain fed agriculture. So, the issue is around investing in rain fed agriculture, improving the efficiency of rain fed agriculture. So, just in the way that we, a decade ago, came up with this idea if you invest in washboard sanitation and hygiene, then it will lead to the following benefits. Then we have also parallel. The idea is invest in water smart agriculture. We don't have time to go into all the details of what that means, but then it will lead to following benefits. So basically what it's about is significantly improving the efficiency of rain fed agriculture, and a lot of it has to do with how soils are managed to increase capture and filtration rates and retention. 

CRUISE: So as we move forward in trying to deal with this large issue, it sounds like it's going to take investment, imagination and information, if you will. Thank you so much for joining us today.

LOCHERY: Thank you.

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