Time to keep the promises of achieving sanitation and water for all

Posted 16 Mar 2016 by Barbara Frost

This week the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership gathers sector ministers here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to plan a journey towards the time when our world changes forever: 2030.

The United Nations has committed to realising the Global Goals for Sustainable Development by 2030. Nations have pledged that everyone in our world will have access to clean water and safe sanitation as part of eradicating extreme poverty.

Goal 6 to ensure access to water and sanitation for all comes as part of the wider Global Goals vision – to eradicate extreme poverty and create a fairer, more sustainable world.

It is an ambitious goal but it is achievable with a step change in political will, systems building and adequate financing. And it is critical to human development and prosperity.

The SWA meeting of ministers is a chance to celebrate what has already been accomplished. It is also an opportunity to identify obstacles to progress and build consensus around the steps needed to reach the 2030 Goal.

This is a critical time to build a new commitment to making change happen, and for collaboration. There is enough water on earth to meet everyone’s needs, but intense competition for scarce resources, lack of political attention and poor infrastructure means more than 650 million people in the world are without access to clean water.

Combine that with the nearly 2.4 billion who do not have access to safe, private toilets, and the billions without access to good hygiene or a way to wash their hands with soap, and you have a health crisis that claims 315,000 children under five every year from diarrhoeal diseases.

Yet the challenges to providing water and sanitation are growing even more complex. By 2050, it is predicted that at least one in four people around the world will live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

The aim of the new Global Goals is universal and equitable access – going beyond the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals with a pledge to leave no one behind.

How do we meet the Goals?

So the promises have been made. Now we must determine how we can all play our part and keep these promises. The gathering of ministers from across the developing world at the SWA partnership meeting – along with development partners and representatives from civil society, research institutions and the private sector – is crucial to this process.

What is clear is that business as usual will not be enough to meet the target date. If we are to succeed in 15 short years, we need to share best practices. And we must hold each other accountable for our progress towards the goals.

We also need to improve how we work with other development partners and sectors at the national and international level, including those in health, education and gender equality, to maximise our impact. This week’s meeting focuses on how we can all work together on this journey, promoting the four key approaches – known as ‘Collaborative Behaviours’ – identified by the SWA partnership as essential to enable the 2030 deadline to be met.

These behaviours include boosting the ability of governments to effectively lead in planning their country’s water and sanitation provision; strengthening in-country systems that ensure budgets are wisely spent and achieving results; ensuring that we all share reliable data and reporting systems; and building sustainable strategies to finance water and sanitation, to ensure that services will last.

Health Extension Worker Maritu says life has changed for the better with clean water at the health post.
Health Extension Worker Maritu says life has changed for the better with clean water at the health post where she works, Yiganda, Zegie peninsula, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. 

Setting great examples in Ethiopia

Here in Ethiopia, which is facing great challenges in provision of water to those in areas affected by drought, we see great examples of ambitious cross-sector planning and progress.

The Ethiopian Government’s OneWASH National Programme launched in September 2013 is one of the most ambitious in the water and sanitation sector anywhere, involving the Ministries of Water, Health, Education and Finance, and the Government’s main development partners.

Strong progress has been made in the provision of water and sanitation in Ethiopia, although challenges remain. Monitoring conducted by UNICEF and WHO show that some 57.3% of people now have access to an ‘improved’ water source, up from just 13.2% in 1990. Progress in sanitation is also dramatic, from just 2.6% of the population having access to safe, private toilets in 1990 to 28% in 2015.

WaterAid has been working in Ethiopia for more than 30 years, and in many other countries alongside local partners and communities to support affordable access to water and sanitation services. We welcome the SWA’s approach as an important step towards ensuring all players work together to improve long-term sustainability, and we are committed to do all we can in putting these collaborative behaviours into practice.

Building on success

There is progress to celebrate, with the Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of the world’s population without access to water met ahead of schedule. Last year, around 4.2 billion people had access to piped water, nearly double the 2.3 billion with access in 1990.

However, there is still so much work to be done. We have a chance to change the course of humanity and create a fairer and more prosperous future for everyone. The next generation is depending on us to meet these challenges head on, and keep these promises.

Barbara Frost is Chief Executive of WaterAid. She tweets as @barbarafrost and you can read more of her blogs here.


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