On Wednesday, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases co-hosted a seminar at World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. We were joined by the Howard G. Buffet Foundation to discuss the current state of water and NTD programs within the Latin America and Caribbean region. In the blog post below, Ann Kelly, representative of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s Global Water Initiative and co-founder and Partner at Global Philanthropy Group provides an overview of the event, and her experience at Wednesday’s event at the 2011 World Water Week.

By Ann Kelly, representative of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s Global Water Initiative and co-founder of Partner at Global Philanthropy Group

As another World Water Week comes to an end here in Stockholm, we are reminded how central water is to so many of the world’s development issues. The other night I had the honor to sit on a panel entitled “Fighting Poverty in Latin America: Integrating Water and Health Initiatives” sponsored by FEMSA Foundation, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases(Global Network) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). My co-panelists Vidal Garza Cantú, Director of the FEMSA Foundation; Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network; and Carlos de Paco, Principal Partnerships Officer at the IDB are already collaborating with the Pan-American Health Organization, and the government of Chiapas to eliminate trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. This collaboration illustrates three things: (1) it is impossible to work on water without also working on health; (2) it takes creative partnerships to do things that are as transformational and sustainable like eliminating trachoma and other NTDs; (3) all of this is achievable relatively easily and inexpensively – it just requires focus and determination as illustrated by the efforts in Chiapas.

As a representative of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s Global Water Initiative (GWI), a 10-year, $150 million investment to create an enabling environment for clean water access and security in 13 countries in Africa and Central America, I can say the Foundation did not set out to fund a health intervention. GWI Central America’s mission was to empower communities to manage their own water resources. Our partners in GWI found that the only way to achieve that mission was by focusing on (1) protecting and restoring water sources; (2) promoting equitable and affordable access to water; and (3) reducing water-borne illnesses, especially in young children. In other words, we cannot empower communities burdened by preventable, treatable water-borne diseases.

As a co-founder and Partner at Global Philanthropy Group, an advisory firm to individuals and institutions seeking to leverage their resources to achieve greater and sustained impact on the issues they care most about, I can tell you that today’s philanthropists are increasingly looking to address root causes of problems when possible – it’s typically faster, easier, and cheaper, and the impact can be even more dramatic. This is true for NTDs and water. As Dr. Mistry pointed out to the gathered group, Global Network estimates that for a mere $50 million in Latin America, and for a mere $250 million worldwide, we can eliminate – not improve, not contain, but eliminate – NTDs, unlocking the potential of millions of children and adults afflicted or at risk.

It is important for issue sectors to have their conferences – much specialized knowledge can and should be shared – but it is also important for us all to see and understand the relationship one issue like clean water has to so many others, and how that relationship informs our understanding of what is both necessary and possible. I for one look forward to following the story of Chiapas and seeing when that community is free of trachoma and other NTDs – they will show the world what is possible in water and in health.