From 9-14 October 2011, the Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene in Mumbai, India, served as a leading platform to discuss and advance issues of importance to billions of people.

In an address to Forum participants, WSSCC’s distinguished Chair, Prof . Anna Tibaijuka, stated that “a successful conference is a watershed of great things to come.” In particular, she pointed to the successful Lake Victoria Region Water and Sanitation Initiative and Mekong Region Water and Sanitation Initiative established by UN-Habitat following WSSCC’s 2004 Global WASH Forum in Senegal.

Seen in this light, the first Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene was a landmark event for the sector and a glimmer of a wave of change and potential yet to be realized. The Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene held 9-14 october 2011 in Mumbai, India, was not WSSCC’s first prominent global meeting. Indeed, previous WSSCC-arranged fora took place in the 1990s and as late as 2004 in Dakar and are considered milestones in the annals of water, sanitation and hygiene work over the past two decades.

The world, however, has changed a lot since 2004 and this Forum was distinctive in many respects. It came at a time when WSSCC was answering a clarion call from its members and the wider sector to help share learning, knowledge and experiences, in order to accelerate progress on the still-lagging UN-led Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target on sanitation. With its acknowledged and respected strategic focus on sanitation and hygiene, WSSCC seized this valuable opportunity to lead an all-encompassing interactive platform dedicated to sanitation and hygiene issues.

The Forum facilitated and showcased the latest knowledge and practice, communications and advocacy, partnerships and networking approaches and helped to strengthen national, regional, South-South and global dialogue .Almost 500 sanitation and hygiene professionals, including educators, communicators, health professionals, architects, academics, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists came together from across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, representing over 70 countries. Through the Forum, participants shared and learned about approaches, tools and lessons that resonated in their own reality.

They energized each other and reaffirmed pride in their work vis-a-vis a collective identity of development professionals hoping to instigate positive change in the world through a focus on sanitation and hygiene. The potential of cross-sectoral learning and building partnerships was a key feature of the Forum and as a collective, exploring solutions and ideas outside of the sector proved to be important. In this way, professionals were able to gain insights into how sanitation and hygiene – like other key global issues – could be transformed into a mainstream development consideration. For the very first time, a major sanitation conference did not focus exclusively on technology; instead it cut across many key disciplines and areas of work including sociology, economics, anthropology, health and education. It took inspiration from leadership and action demonstrated in other walks and professions of life that had changed behaviours or inspired people to act and ignite social transformation.

The need to help make sanitation more prominent in national, regional and global agenda as a key aim of the event was clearly highlighted, together with a number of important take-home messages. These messages captured the essence of the Forum: complex sectors such as sanitation and hygiene have a greater need for inspirational leadership to deliver results that matter; each individual has the potential to be a leader; total sanitation can only be achieved through social transformation based on partnership and collaboration; and changing mindsets and language to move away from beneficiaries to rights-holder is also critical. In line with the ethos of ensuring access for all, the Forum dedicated time to allow participants to explore sanitation and hygiene challenges through an equity lens – a key theme of the event. Many a challenge was discovered and shared on daily coping strategies – from using toilets and managing menstrual hygiene challenges to maintaining school facilities.

Additional and complementary plenaries, breakout sessions, trainings and field trips showcasing urban and rural sanitation initiatives, as well as collaborative workspaces (such as the WASH Fair, Venture Café and Community of Practice) created laboratories of innovation for participants in Mumbai. Insights on Leadership, Action and Change, the final report from the conference, seeks to present a snapshot of the creativity and vitality exhibited in the search for overcoming sanitation and hygiene challenges that prevent 40 percent of humanity from having safe sanitation.

There are compelling reasons why the appalling sanitation and hygiene global status quo must be changed. The fact that poor sanitation costs developing countries between three and seven percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year is reason enough. Frequent use of toilets and improved sanitation has the potential to reduce healthcare costs, improve productivity, increase earnings from tourism and promote greater educational attainment, particularly among young girls .Above all, sanitation is about human dignity – a daily human need and basic human right that when denied brings shame, disgust and stigma.

By design the Global Forum did not issue an official declaration, statement or manifesto, as many of these exist and remain unfulfilled . Instead the Forum provided participants with a muchneeded platform for dialogue and sharing of immensely rich and diverse knowledge about the sector, and a sense of community through a collective identity. The strong sense of pride and the value of cross-sectoral collaboration is highlighted, in part, by the selection of professional “learning jouneys” presented in the final Forum report.

At the end of the Global Forum, Executive Director Jon Lane unveiled WSSCC’s new outcomes-based Medium-Term Strategic Plan (MTSP) 2012-2016 (approved by the Steering Committee), which builds upon much of the content of the Global Forum. He also urged participants to carry on with their good work after Mumbai. WSSCC will continue to focus its efforts on implementing its strategic vision to ensure the maximum impact for the largest number of people. It is hoped that through the 2011 Global Forum and other learning events in the future, sector professionals can apply critical messages to their work and continue to progress towards improved sanitation and hygiene for people who need it most. 

Last updated: Fri, 05/04/2012 - 09:21