Basic Information on Water and Sanitation Issues

This post originially appeared in – another blogging project I’m involved in with the folks from World Vision Australia. To see the original post in all of it’s glory, please go here. 

One of the biggest issues facing countries struggling with endemic poverty is the states of their water sources. In many countries, such as in Iraq and Zimbabwe, many people lack basic access to water and sanitation infrastructure. This week, Pay Drechsel from the International Water Management Institute (IMWI) guest posted at the blog about the issues facing communities using polluted irrigation water. He posted a video (below) which describes the problem very well which is well worth a watch.

According to the World Health Organisations Guidelines for the Safe Use of Water and Excreta and Grey Water, sufficient achievement of the Millenium Development Goals 1 (Eliminate extreme poverty and hunger) and 7 (ensure environmental sustainability) require the use of water. It then goes on to stress that despite the desperate need, use of water should be done safely so as not to endanger human life.

A farmer moulds his irrigation channels

This is why we like Pays’ video and thoughts posted on – because they take in to account that in developing countries things we take for granted (such as money for capital works, infrastructure such as aqua-ducts and dams and organisational bodies to manage our water) often don’t exist.

Thus, we thought the following list may prove useful for you.

Key Information when thinking about Water and Sanitation

  1. Water is required for agriculture and development of sustainable economies in developing countries.
  2. Often, however, this water will be mixed with excreta, grey water and various other detrimental matter.
  3. Roughly three quaters of the worlds countries only 10% of the population are connected to sewerage systems, making capital investment in creating an integrated system incredibly expensive and unrealistic for many communities.
  4. However, with good community engagement and support, practices can be put into place to lower the amount of water born diseas present in agricultural water at low cost.
  5. The leading cause of disease, despite the poor health of many communities water pipeline, is still born in the preparation of food.

Open House for Social Entrepreneurs in Melbourne, Thursday

Just a quick one from me today, to let you all know about the amazing project which is starting on Thursday. If you’re in Melbourne, feel free to come on down and have a look around the new Donkey Wheel building. The details are as follows.

Time: 4pm-7pm

When: Thursday, 18th of December, 2008.

Where: 673 Bourke St, Melbourne, VIC. 3000


Donkey Wheel is a non-profit Trust, which focuses on giving funding to social initiatives which otherwise would find it very difficult to operate. They fund the ‘unfundables.’ The people doing truly cutting edge work. I’ve met the people behind it, and they are truly energised about creating something of immense value in our city, of which I feel immensely proud and excited. Col Duthie, from the Ergo blog, is also heavily involved. As part of this vision, they have purchased a building in the old ‘West End’ area of Melbourne town. (Above)

Their vision for this building is truly inspiring, which is why I’m blogging about it to let you all know. They plan to turn the building into a melting pot of social ventures and start-up ventures, allowing for a truly unique mix of the like which is close to impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Thursday’s open house is the first day on the journey to realising that vision. I will be there from 4pm till about 5:30pm but the building will be open till 7pm, with tours operating through-out every half-hour. I hope to see you there.

Outliers, 10,000 hours and the Generation 'Z'

I have just finished the new Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fantastic, but instead of give you a standard review I thought I would elaborate and theorise around a question of my own which hit me somewhere through the last third of the book.

“If it takes 10,000 hours to ever get really good at something, and teenagers today cannot focus for more than 5 minutes on one task, where will we be in 10 years time?

In the book, Gladwell discusses a clip of film depicting how a women named Renee went about solving a math problem. Renee, a nurse, has not done any maths since her days at school many years ago. In the clip, she struggles with a basic algebraic problem. It takes her a full 22 minutes, and a heap of iterations, to solve it. What does this mean? Renee is slow? She is terrible at maths? No. Not even the right question, according to Gladwell.

How can solving a maths problem in 22 minutes be a good thing? 

It simply highlights that Renee, for any number of reasons (which Gladwell elaborates on in the book), has the ability to work at a problem until it is solved.Gladwell goes on to interview a teacher who claims the average 8th grader would probably have a stab for a maximum of 5 minutes before asking him to show him to solve the problem.

The contention of Gladwells book, to me, was that success is dependant on a whole host of unique, often inherited, factors which each combine to create an environment where success is able to happen. There is no overnight success story – every successful person, event or idea is actually the result of a whole host of previous, even generational, occurrences and massive amounts of good ol’ fashioned hard work.

Small attention spans and success – the future?

So, if we take Gladwells contention to it’s most extreme point, we see a world where the youth of today (in the Western world, primarily) are potentially being disadvantaged by their own addictions to ‘noise.’ Many kids now don’t have attention span beyond 2 minutes, let alone 22. Watching my brother do homework earlier this year for his Year 12 exams really brought it home. He would sit himself in front of the computer, with MSN, MySpace and music on as well as a game of World of Warcraft on in the background. He gets his results on Monday.

The point I’m trying to make is, in a world where we really need 20 minutes to solve a basic problem and 10,000 hours to master a given subject, our new ability to multitask on 20 different items could create a real problem. Mark Sayers thinks many kids will face a ‘quarter-life crisis’ as they struggle to make meaning of their hyper-consumer lives. Anxiety looks set to become the new depression as the mental illness young people will ‘have to have’. (Excuse the Keating pun).

Mindfulness and ‘batching’ – the new TQM and Six Sigma?

I’ve riffed on Mindfullness before – but Outliers goes one step beyond simply saying we need to have discipline in our thoughts and actions. It goes to say that success is only born from incredibly hard work and intuitively aligned opportunities.

But how will this success be born in a generation (including myself here) who don’t really focus on any one thing for more than 3-5 minutes? Do we need to introduce an idea of Six Sigma quality into our thinking patterns? I’ll follow this up with another post when the thought has had a bit more time to stew, but for now here is my current train of thinking.

Six Sigma = Eliminate Defects*

Mindfulness = Eliminate Distractions**

* where a defect is anything that leads to customer dissatisfaction

**Where a distraction is anything which takes a persons individual focus away from solving a problem in the pursuit of mastery of a subject.


Do yourself a favour and buy the book. It’s a great read, and Gladwell has now truly mastered the art of capturing, synthesising and telling a ripping story that teachers and captures our world. Modern day Aesop? Huge call, but i’ll go with it. Enjoy!


From Vision Drive to Corporate Drive

Recently, my life journey has taken me to some amazing places – including helping to set up, working at World Vision Australia generally and taking part in some pretty alive communities such as Start Up Camp Melbourne, Melbourne Jelly (intermittently, but I aim to make it a more common thing), The Hive and serving on the Marketing Sub-Committee of a great little Mental Health service provider in the Southern Region, Reach Out Southern Mental Health. But, it has come time to move on in one major aspect of my life so far which bares special mention.

 I have moved on from World Vision Australia and am now working at South East Water Limited. Or, more poetically, I have moved from working at 1 Vision Drive, Burwood East to 20 Corporate Drive, Heatherton.


I feel amazingly privileged to have worked alongside the amazing people at World Vision these past 18 months or so, and I have learned an incredible amount about myself, the International Humanitarian and Aid Industry and grass roots activism. But, I felt it was time to move on and learn some new things, and what better place to continue to cut my teeth than in the Water Industry. These sure are interesting times.

I look forward to my new role with great interest and anticipation, working in the Innovations Unit at SEWL looking to help our organisation ideate and create new business ventures which help further reduce our water consumption as well as drive revenue to continue investments in alternative water technologies. As always, I’ll be looking to see how we need to change as an organisation and hopefully getting up behind a flywheel again to help create momentum and drive a more sustainable future. I will also be continuing as co-editor of the Learn About Poverty blog with my good friends Nigel Preston and Joely Wilkenson-Hayes. World Vision has certainly awoken in me a sense of what is left to be done in the world, and through the blog I hope to contribute in some small way to better uncovering what is happening and what we can do together to make a difference.

As always, I hope you’ll join with me for the ride. Thanks for your support and contribution to my work so far, it has certainly made a difference in my life. Scanning back through my blog posts today in a moment of reflection I was reminded of the amazing comments, insights and thoughts you have shared with me this past year of so since I have been blogging. I look forward to hearing from, and meeting, more of you as this journey through our squiggly reality continues.

Cheers and thanks,

Steve Hopkins