Q&A With Matteo Cinquemani, Americares WASH Technical Advisor
In 2020, Xylem joined forces with Americares, the health-focused relief and development organization, as part of our efforts to bring water security and sanitation (WASH) to the world’s most impoverished communities. The partnership is bringing real change to communities in need, already reaching over 3.5 million people. In 2020, Americares onboarded a new WASH advisor, Matteo Cinquemani, who worked across Americares global network of health partners to develop COVID-19 training for workers, and to identify needs for WASH Infrastructure upgrades. We spoke with Matteo about how Americares is customizing COVID-19 WASH interventions around the world.
In your role you are enabling access to clean safe water, and through this practice saving lives. What inspired you to follow this career path?
I began with an interest in protecting the environment and earned my master’s degree in environmental engineering. Meanwhile, I began to travel a lot, everywhere from Uganda to Mexico, and was struck by how many people lack access to water — billions. I realized I could use my skills and knowledge to ensure that people have adequate quantity and quality of safe water, so I got my master’s of public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
As I began to deploy widely – to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, for example, and then to Haiti, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil and Kenya – I saw people desperate to find water for themselves and their families. In Sri Lanka, for example, water was everywhere — it was even the cause of the disaster — but it wasn’t safe to drink. People resigned to drinking water that they knew would make them sick, because it was their only option. I remember that every day – whether I’m working on projects with Americares and Xylem or filling the bath for my twin daughters.
Tell us about your work as WASH Technical Advisor for Americares
What I like about my role as technical lead for WASH is that I can share my knowledge with Americares staff and local partners around the world, and in return, have my finger on the pulse of evolving WASH needs in their communities. It’s critical that we have local partners who can provide direct access to communities so we can accurately identify their needs. Having these connections has been valuable during COVID-19 when I couldn’t deploy. I have information from all over the globe and can stay closely connected to the progress and impact of projects. We’re constantly communicating: Brainstorming WASH solutions with the local teams is actually what I enjoy most.
Here’s an example: In Malawi, the staff at our partner clinic in Epicenter One was concerned that the well would run dry and suggested we drill another well. After a few conversations, we realized that the well could be fixed. The pump was oversized and by expanding storage capacity and pumping when water use is low – at night, for example – we could ensure a constant supply. Part of solving water problems is asking the right questions and knowing that some solutions will be complex, while others will be quite simple.
And while I look forward to traveling to project sites, on a personal level, it’s been great this year to support teams in different places from my home office in New York with my daughters playing nearby and my wife working down the hall. She also works for Americares in a different area of public health.
How do these interventions change lives for the communities you serve?
Significantly! In the Dominican Republic, the water supply at four clinics in a very poor coastal community had multiple issues: salinity; high mineral content; chemical pollutants, including heavy metals from nearby refineries; and microbiological contamination due to lack of sewers and other infrastructure. Creating a reliable supply of safe water required an upfront investment and sophisticated equipment, which Americares and Xylem could provide, and it changed the lives of everyone, from health center workers to patients and their relatives. We got feedback from the director of the health center that this was a game changer. Finally, there was safe water! The clinic wouldn't have been able to do it alone: Americares relationship with the health centers was critical as was Xylem’s support. Projects like this one might seem relatively small, but they really have a significant impact and show the power of collaboration.
Your work is much broader than COVID-19 interventions. What else are you working on right now, what problems are you solving?
In my position as WASH Technical Advisor for Americares, I also work with our Emergency Response team in a couple of ways. First, I advise on projects in disaster areas. In Honduras, after Hurricanes Eta and Iota, Americares supported a local partner in a project to treat raw water and distribute it to clinics and schools and provide water treatment sachets for households. Longer term after disasters, we address WASH in a comprehensive manner, ranging from sanitation to waste management and storm water management and drainage. These interventions are important to prevent the contamination of water sources and reduce vector-borne diseases like Zika, dengue and malaria. I also advise our Emergency Medical Teams, reviewing standard operating procedures and the purchases of equipment so the medical teams can be self-sufficient and produce the water needed to treat patients when they deploy.
What are the biggest opportunities for Americares and Xylem to make a difference into the future?
At Americares, we believe that health is fundamental to all aspects of development, and we know clean water and sanitation are fundamental to health. The Xylem and Americares partnership is built on the idea that we can leverage our respective expertise areas to bring water security and better health to disaster-prone, under-resourced communities around the world and, in so doing, save lives and improve health for millions.
I believe the greatest strengths of this partnership are its flexibility to operate in different scenarios and tackle different water-related problems and, even more important, the long-term commitment, which allows us to conceive interventions that are sustainable and take some risks in testing new products and adopting new approaches.
We know that an estimated 896 million people use health care facilities with no water service and 1.5 billion seek care at facilities with no sanitation service, which jeopardizes the health and safety of patients and health providers. Xylem and Americares are working together to change this. In just the first year of our partnership, we reached over 3.5 million people across 10 countries with WASH interventions that will have long term impact on their health. The challenge — and our accomplishments so far — inspire me every day.
Learn more about Xylem Watermark and our partnership with Americares: Americares and Xylem – Solving Water Together By Delivering Clean Water and Sanitation to 3.5 Million People In 2020