Time for change – outcomes of the Ministerial meeting of Sanitation and Water for All

“A mother and child wait for you to return home” and put your commitments into action was the challenge from Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson to delegates at the Ministerial meeting of ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ (SWA) yesterday. She couldn’t be there in person but her word’s still carried the passion and authority she has for water and sanitation.

Friday 20th April was the 2nd Ministerial meeting of SWA, the global partnership that does what it says on the tin – working towards universal access for sanitation and water. Tearfund, alongside others, campaigned for the creation of this global partnership to increase the political and financial priority needed to deliver the basic right of access to water and sanitation for everyone. Since the partnership’s launch in 2010 it has grown in size and strength. Yesterday an unprecedented amount of finance, water/sanitation, health and development Ministers met from nearly 40 countries to demonstrate how they are committed to change and pushing sanitation and water higher up the global as well as national agenda’s.

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Ministers and other delegates commit to increasing access to water and sanitation at the High Level Meeting. Photo: WaterAid

After much anticipation and advocacy it was a day to celebrate and I was able to hear first hand the commitments made.  Donor governments stepped up to the bar and the UK government led the way by announcing it is doubling the amount of people it intends to reach with access to water and sanitation from 30 to 60 million people by 2015. Two new donor governments, the US and Australia, joined the partnership and called on other donor’s to do the same. The US also pledged $1million to SWA’s support to the most off-track countries.

A somewhat less ‘glitzy’ announcement but equally important came from Japan. They committed to improve the targeting of their funding to the people most in need. This was in response to the findings of a new report highlighting how globally, only 50% of aid for WASH goes to the countries most in need and only 26% on basic services. Japan is the largest bilateral donor for WASH and yet the majority of their funding is spent on larger infrastructure projects. So, if Japan does really does make a step change, it could make a huge difference to the most poor and vulnerable.

Developing country commitments included:

  • The Kenyan Minister for Water and Irrigation, Charity Ngilu, reflected that “the missing link in Africa is lack of access to water” and responded pledging that a further 20 million people would gain access to drinking water and sanitation by 2015.
  • Benin committed to increasing its budget allocations for 2013-2014 by 100% per year for basic sanitation
  • Burkina Faso promised to eradicate open defecation by 2015.

That’s just a snippet of the commitments. However, as with all such endeavours, there is never time to sit back and celebrate for too long. There were also some sobering reminders of why everyone had gathered. The Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development from Afghanistan was open about their shockingly low levels of sanitation coverage at only 5% of the population. The room went tangibly quieter as Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shared her personal story of contracting hook worm from poor sanitation in villages as a young lady and receiving life saving treatment years later.

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SWA Chair, John Kufour, is flanked by incoming UN Deputy Secretary General and moderator for the meeting, Ambassador Jan Eliasson, and Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF. Picture: WaterAid

Underlining President Johnson’s call at the beginning, ex Ghanian President and now Chair of SWA, John Kufour, reminded delegates “we’ll be judged by our actions and not our words”.  Truly appropriate words to sum up an historic occasion, and we’ll be working hard to ensure the commitments turn into action and the mother and child are no longer waiting.

Gavin Shuker MP guest blogs on World Water Day

ImageNext week I will travel with Tearfund to Zambia to witness firsthand the work Tearfund is doing on the ground to assist communities to access clean water.

As Shadow Minister for Water in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs it’s my job to consider water everyday. On a daily basis I try to hold our UK Government to account to ensure that we have access to safe uncontaminated water at an affordable price.

Tearfund also works everyday to help communities across the globe access better sanitation and clean drinking water, along with many other pursuits such as assisting farmers respond to threats from climate change.

Today, on World Water Day it is important for us all to take a step back and to recognise how lucky we in theUKare to have access to clean drinking water.

Couple this with the upcoming Rio+20 Summit being held in June, we have an incredible platform to raise water sanitation issues onto the global political agenda – and I urge our UK representatives to raise the issue of water infrastructure and sanitation at this forum.

We need an ambitious government that wants to lead the world on sustainable development, eradicating poverty and one that takes water and sanitation seriously.  With this in mind it is imperative that access to water and sanitation remains a priority for UK aid.

I agree with Tearfund, and believe that with a little bit of political ambition, DFID should increase its results in WASH in a way that reflects its equal priority compared with other basic services such as health and education.

I also urge the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell to make full use of the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership forum when it meets in April.

I look forward to my travels with Tearfund. I am sure I will able to return to Parliament and become a strong ambassador for the work they do every day across the globe.

Gavin Shuker is the Shadow Minister for Water and Waste at DEFRA and Tearfund supporter.  

MDG target on water met, but the devil is in the detail

At Tearfund we’ve been doing advocacy on water, sanitation and hygiene for nearly 15 years now, and ‘good news’ days are few and far between in terms of progress against the MDGs. However, today is one of those days.

The latest monitoring data was published today by WHO and UNICEF, reporting that the world has met the MDG target on water – to halve the proportion of people without access to safe water. This is definitely good news! Especially for the 2 billion people that have gained access between 1990 and 2010[1]. The fact that this was achieved 5 years ahead of the MDG deadline of 2015, is timely news; just ahead of World Water Day on 22nd March and a month later, the next high level meeting of the global partnership ‘‘Sanitation and Water for All’.

Yet, the devil is in the detail. Notwithstanding the fact that 783 million people are still without access to safe water – over 10% of the global population – the figures hide various disparities of progress across and within countries. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 40% of the global population without access to improved drinking water.

However, with diarrhoea being the biggest cause of death among children in Africa– we must not forget that the twin target of reducing the proportion of people without access to sanitation is far from being met. Although off track globally, it’s in Africa where the statistics are most startling: at current rates of progress, sub Saharan Africa won’t meet the target on sanitation for another two centuries. I’m still astounded at how this can be the case in such ‘modern’ times.

When talking about the billions of people affected by lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation, it’s all too easy to forget the human impact and daily grind this means in practice. When in Haiti recently, I was reminded of the fast pace at which cholera can spread and the devastating death toll it leaves in its wake.  Indeed, as the WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan has reflected “today, even with this exciting new progress, almost 10 per cent of all diseases are still linked to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Whilst today has brought encouraging news of the MDG progress, this is no time to sit on our laurels – much work remains to be done. The ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ partnership mentioned above, aims to garner the much needed political and financial priority required so that everyone in the world has access to sanitation and water. It’s crucial that donors and developing countries alike step up to the mark and show the leadership, backed up with action, that’s required.


[1] There is a 2 year lag between data collection in 2010 and publishing the report

Dangerous Liaisons?

The annual ‘Stockholm World Water Week’ has been and gone, where about 2,500 delegates from all over the world met in a glorified warehouse to discuss all things water and sanitation. Like most years, I attended, and was able to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience represented. My networking skills were honed and now, still some what exhaustedly, I have much to reflect on and mull over.

One subject that has seen a re-emergence recently is the issue of the role of the private or corporate sector. A decade or so ago this issue would have caused heated debate, with clear battle lines drawn on whether the private sector had any role to play in increasing access to water and sanitation services in developing countries. As an NGO, working with the private sector would have been considered a dangerous liaison. Driving up profits, protecting the interests of share holders and pursuing aggressive marketing tactics Vs not-for-profit, protecting the needs of poor and vulnerable people and pursuing community-led approaches – how can the two come together?

But the debate has moved on since then and it seems to be less about whether business should be involved but how. To start with, however, the term ‘involving the private sector’ is a broad brush statement that needs a lot of unpacking. What do we mean by the ‘private sector (for example, local enterprises or large international corporates?) and what kind of involvement (privatisation of utilities or corporate social responsibility?).

Whilst inStockholmI was involved in a session on NGOs partnering with the private sector in disaster relief. At Tearfund, we’re dipping our toe in the water and I gave a presentation about how we’ve been supporting a small, local company inHaiti, Gadyen Dlo. This support is aimed at increasing coverage of a household water treatment system (key to preventing another cholera outbreak) through assisting their marketing, advertising and production. The session was hosted by the NGO Mercy Corps and ITT Watermark, the corporate social responsibility arm of ITT- a multi-national corporation that has become one of the funders of Mercy Corps disaster risk reduction work. It was encouraging to hear about ITT Watermarks level of support and enthusiasm for their work with Mercy Corps but I was left wondering ‘what’s in it for them’?

No doubt ITT want to see increased markets for their water and wastewater products and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many INGOs focus their support in rural areas, helping communities to find their own solutions, whilst tackling large scale waste and water coverage in urban areas does need private sector investment to assist cash-strapped governments. Companies such as ITT Watermark can bring big bucks, but assistance needs to be appropriate to the context and wanted by the government and people, or we could be in danger of seeing another form of ‘tied aid’ wrapped up with a corporate social responsibility bow.

The role of the private sector in water and sanitation is an issue Tearfund has been thinking about for some time, including a joint research project with WaterAid back in 2003. Here we looked specifically at public-private partnerships and sought to gain a greater understanding of the practical implications for poor people. More recently, with our ‘Theory of Poverty’ (forthcoming) we affirm the distinct and important role of business in transformation of societies, whilst recognising the need for checks and balances, but not at the risk of creating cumbersome bureaucracy. This includes, for example, ensuring that the focus on growth and profit doesn’t override responsibility to the wider community. Equally, checks and balances also apply to the other key actors in transformation: civil society and government, so that the influence of all three sectors is used for the benefit of all rather than a few.

DFID has also placed renewed energy into the issue of tapping into the resources and expertise of the private sector and their latest policy, entitled ‘the engine of growth’, encapsulates the central role they think business can play. Indeed, as DFID points out, there are areas of mutual concern between development organisations and business such as developing markets that work for poor people, with solutions that are sustainable.

There are an increasing number of INGOs partnering with large companies, providing examples of both successes and failures as they’ve jointly have stepped out to take the risk –with some reaping great dividends for poor people. Tearfund’s main concern will always be poverty reduction and addressing the needs of poor people but we probably do need to re-think how we can engage with business, in the many forms this can take, and challenge ourselves to take some risks.