Post-2015 WASH Targets & Indicators – Questions & Answers

Date: 20th February 2015

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Why should water, sanitation and hygiene be priorities in the Post-2015 development agenda?

Water, sanitation, and hygiene – WASH – are among the most basic human needs. Yet millions of people lack access to these services. Worldwide, 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and 1 billion people practise open defecation. Additionally, many of those with basic sanitation still have no means of safely managing the excreta produced which impacts on health and the environment.  Around 750 million people lack access to a basic drinking water source, and many more still have to collect their water from sources which are unsafe, unreliable or far from home.

On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Water, sanitation and hygiene are also fundamental to human development. Therefore, they need to be a high priority in the Post-2015 agenda. They are key determinants of health, nutrition and education outcomes, and are critical to economic growth and fundamental to human dignity. Ambitious yet realistic targets are crucial to guide the way towards better water, sanitation and hygiene for all people and in doing so will help reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

How can we improve on the MDG targets when setting the Post-2015 agenda?

While progress has been made under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework, there is still “unfinished business”: the part of the MDGs that won’t be achieved by 2015.  The world has met the MDG target for drinking water (to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water) well in advance of the MDG 2015 deadline. However we are still far from meeting the MDG target for sanitation (to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation) and are unlikely to do so by 2015.

Further, the MDG targets were limited in scope and ambition and 2015 is an opportunity to improve on them. The MDGs aimed only to reduce the population without access by half, leaving large numbers of people unserved. The new proposals include a call for universal access to basic services, while at the same time increasing coverage of higher levels of service that include water quality and excreta management.

In terms of scope, the MDGs did not include hygiene or access to essential services outside households; they did not account for inequality, accessibility, water safety, safe management of sanitation nor the sustainability of services. The new proposals significantly extend and improve on the existing targets.

The proposed Post-2015 targets aim for universal access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, leaving no one behind. This is especially important if we are to reduce inequality and ensure these universal basic human rights. At the same time, higher levels of service, now included, will make the targets relevant for all countries.

Has consensus been reached on what the Post-2015 target for water, sanitation, and hygiene should be?

Thanks to an extensive and rigorous consultation process, there is broad consensus among experts and organizations working in the fields of WASH and human rights that the overall vision should be universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.  Although this overall vision will take many years to realize, there is increasing agreement on the following time-bound target which has four main components:

By 2030:

  • eliminate open defecation;
  • achieve universal access to basic drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for households, schools and health facilities;
  • halve the proportion of the population without access at home to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services; and
  • progressively eliminate inequalities in access.

What has the process been to reach the Post-2015 targets on water, sanitation, and hygiene?

A consultative process over more than two years, involving over 200 individuals and over 70 leading organizations, has resulted in the development of four inter-related proposed targets which are ambitious yet considered by leaders in the field to be achievable.

This process was initiated in 2011 by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP). It was clear that, with the MDG end date being 2015, there would inevitably be discussions about what goals, targets and indicators would be appropriate beyond that date. As the group responsible for monitoring progress against the current MDG targets on water and sanitation, JMP was well placed to lead this discussion.

A first consultation meeting was held in Berlin to review the current global drinking water and sanitation monitoring landscape, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current MDG target and indicators and to discuss the relevance of the principles underlying the human right to water and sanitation to future goals and targets. Four technical working groups were created: Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Equity and Non-Discrimination. Each was led by a major sector partner and made up of 30 to 60 academics, specialists, representatives from donor agencies and WASH sector practitioners from developing countries and experts in WASH, monitoring or human rights.

Over the following 18 months, the four working groups developed proposals for targets and indicators. These were presented to the wider development community during the second consultation meeting held in The Hague in December 2012. The aim of this consultation was to move towards consensus on a set of detailed targets. It was recognized that, regardless of the framework for the Post-2015 development agenda, these targets, developed through a rigorous process by experts in their fields, would provide the basis for monitoring progress towards better access and use of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all people.

During 2013, the proposed indicators and their data sources were further validated to ensure that the indicators robustly measure the proposed targets. The WHO/UNICEF JMP has collected information on the indicators where data are available, in order to be able to establish a credible baseline by 2015. Further, the proposed targets and indicators are being continuously refined in response to feedback and the emerging direction of the Post-2015 debate. For example, when the process was started, there was no clear sense of what the end date for any Post-2015 goals and targets would be. While still not decided, there is convergence around 2030 as a possible end date. Accordingly, the WASH sector recommendations have been restated in terms of what would be ambitious, yet achievable, by 2030.

Who are the actors involved in setting these targets and indicators? Has civil society been involved?

These recommendations have been developed through an extensive technical consultation involving over 200 individuals and over 70 leading organizations in the sector. Working Groups were led by, UNICEF, WHO, WaterAid, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program, WSSCC, USAID, IRC, UN SG’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water & Sanitation. Wherever possible, civil society has been involved in the process, and further input is welcome.

What is the timeline for next steps? When will the Post-2015 goals be announced?

The process for developing the Post-2015 agenda is complex and includes multiple inter-governmental and inter-agency initiatives at country, regional and global levels.

The development of the Post-2015 agenda is anchored in four central intergovernmental processes:

  • the Inter-governmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (the Committee);
  • the High Level Political Forum (HLPF);
  • the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and
  • the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

These four processes are interlinked and contribute in separate areas to the Post-2015 development agenda.

The Inter-governmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing reviews options on effective financing strategies to facilitate resource mobilization in achieving sustainable development objectives. Its findings will be one of the inputs to the UN Secretary General’s synthesis report feeding into the intergovernmental process leading to the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The HLPF provides political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development and will meet in June and July. During these fora it may be determined that the HLPF may become responsible for implementation and monitoring of the SDGs once they are established.

The Open Working Group (OWG) [1], co-chaired by Kenya and Hungary, has organized eight stocktaking consultations, among them one on water and sanitation, held in May 2013. Additionally the UNGA held a thematic debate on water, sanitation and energy in February 2014 to increase discussions on priority areas. The OWG’s final report, submitted to the General Assembly in September 2014, contains post-MDG focus areas that are universal and limited in number.

In November 2014, the Secretary General will provide a synthesis report for consideration by the General Assembly, taking into account the full range of inputs on Post-2015 development. This report will be the basis upon which inter-governmental negotiations will take place.

Other key inputs to the negotiations that are already available are: the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda; the report of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network: the UN Global Compact report; and “A million voices”, the report of a global consultation undertaken by the UN Development Group.

Between September 2014 and September 2015, the UN General Assembly is engaging in an intergovernmental process under the Ugandan Presidency bringing all to consensus on the Post-2015 framework, culminating in the Post-2015 Summit in September 2015.

Will there definitely be a Post-2015 goal that includes water, sanitation and hygiene?

No, nothing is definite yet. The exact nature of the framework for the Post-2015 development agenda is yet to be decided.  Debate about possible goals, targets and indicators is ongoing.

However, no matter what shape the Post-2015 development agenda takes, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene must be a high priority. A focus on WASH is integral to efforts to reduce inequality and poverty and to promote human rights and sustainable development.

Lack of access to WASH affects disadvantaged populations in all countries, rich and poor, and is an indicator of inequality in middle-income countries. WASH is central to achieving many of the other emerging targets for tackling poverty, nutrition, health, education, gender and inequality.

Universal access to WASH is also integral to wider efforts to improve the management of water resources and wastewater, and to reduce the risk of water and sanitation related disasters.

Will specific targets for sanitation and hygiene be included under the umbrella of a Post-2015 goal for Water?

No decision has yet been made about how the Post-2015 development agenda will be framed, much less about specific goals. There was a Global Thematic Consultation on Water, and the report of this consultation reflected growing consensus on the need for a goal on water, but this does not mean that such a goal is certain to be agreed.

Further, the target on WASH that was developed through this technical consultation has been incorporated into the UN-Water technical advice “A Post-2015 Global Goal for Water” which also covers a broader range of freshwater-related issues for the Post-2015 development agenda.

Why do we need specific reference to eliminating open defecation if there will be universal access to basic sanitation by 2030?

Open defecation is primarily a problem for the poorest in societies. Placing emphasis on the need to eliminate open defecation ensures that the needs of the poorest are prioritized. Technical experts support the aim of eliminating open defecation by 2025, as a necessary preliminary step towards ensuring universal access to basic sanitation by 2030.  Ambassador Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, launched a Call to Action on Sanitation on the 21st March 2013. In the presence of leaders of agencies within the UN system, the World Bank, governments, private sector and civil society he called for urgent action to end the crisis of 2.5 billion people without basic sanitation and specifically, an end to open defecation by 2025.

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Credit: WSSCC/Katherine Anderson

Why is hygiene emphasized in the goal – surely that’s down to individual behaviours?

Hygiene is emphasized in the goal because handwashing can significantly reduce the risk of illness and even death, particularly amongst children and other vulnerable populations. Menstrual hygiene management with safety, privacy and dignity is critical to keeping girls in school and women in the workplace. Furthermore, hygiene works in collaboration with water and sanitation to improve the overall health of a community.

Handwashing is a behaviour. In order to practise hygienic behaviour, facilities are needed, and these can be measured. Functioning handwashing facilities with soap and water in locations such as schools and health facilities are essential and their presence can be monitored. In addition, handwashing can be integrated into community approaches to total sanitation and other household-level initiatives. Handwashing is already measured in two global household surveys, but inclusion in the Post-2015 development agenda will ensure that more countries monitor handwashing determinants.

Why is there a specific reference to ‘safely managed’ water and sanitation?

While access to basic water and sanitation at home and in other settings has huge benefits for individual health and wellbeing, without a structure of maintenance, monitoring and governance in place there is no certainty that these services will be sustainable and of sufficient quality, or that waste will be safely treated. Beyond basic access, a safely managed service is the ultimate goal to ensure that everyone has access to a good service over the long term, with investments made to maintain facilities, monitor quality and ensure the sustainability of the services.

Why do the recommendations mention schools and hospitals, but not prisons, markets, workplaces, refugee camps or other settings?

While all settings where people need water and sanitation are important, the working groups chose to give priority to settings where there was the greatest risk and exposure. Health facilities, including hospitals, represent the setting outside the household where people are most at risk, and schools are where children, a particularly vulnerable group, spend a great deal of time. All governments have major programmes involving schools and health facilities, which can serve as entry points for monitoring systems.

Why not have separate targets for sanitation and hygiene?

Sanitation and hygiene are both urgent and important issues, and addressing them has the potential to yield substantial health, social and economic benefits. For this reason, some argue that they each merit a dedicated goal or a target. However, the challenge with global development goals and targets is to focus on the highest priorities, and avoid a multiplicity of recommendations that lose political traction because of their diversity and complication. As water, sanitation and hygiene are commonly understood and addressed together, and as achievements on each of these areas are mutually reinforcing, there are good reasons to treat them as a “package” and to give all of them priority at the same time.

How will success be measured?

Detailed indicators against which progress could be monitored have been developed for each of the target elements that have been proposed. Each indicator has been judged by experts in the field to be both valid and measurable. Suggested indicators include:

  • the percentage of households in which no one practises open defecation
  • the percentage of households with soap and water at a handwashing facility in or near the food preparation area; and
  • the percentage of primary and secondary schools with an improved water source on or near premises and water points accessible to all users during school hours.

To measure the progressive reduction of inequalities between disadvantaged groups and the general population, data will be disaggregated on four dimensions (rich and poor, urban and rural, informal and formal urban settlements, disadvantaged groups and the general population).

By measuring the rate of progress for both the worst-off and better-off and comparing these, it will be possible to assess: the progress required to meet the target; the reduction in inequalities; and the necessary rate of progress to meet the target.

What are the underlying assumptions and principles behind the WASH target?  

The proposed target addresses the objectives of progressive realization through increasing the numbers of people using services, through reducing inequalities, through increases in service levels, by driving progress in schools and health facilities as well as households, by achieving universal coverage for as many parameters as possible within the 2015–2030 timeframe and by sustained coverage over the long term. At its core, the target is aspirational and visionary. It does not merely formulate what is practical to achieve, but instead strives for the best we can do as a global society.

The target is formulated in the context of a simple, inspirational vision, articulated around universal use of water, sanitation and hygiene and is based on the following assumptions and principles:

  • Targets should focus primarily on outcomes.
  • Targets should reflect the human right to water and sanitation and the concept of progressive realization of the rights.
  • The target should reflect the aspiration of both an increase in the number of people using water, sanitation and hygiene, and improvements in their level of service, and both are considered progressive realization.
  • Targets are global and must therefore be relevant to all countries.
  • Targets should look beyond the home to schools and health facilities.
  • There must be a focus on the poor, disadvantaged and excluded.
  • There must be a focus on the elimination of inequalities and inequities.

What will it cost to achieve the WASH target?

The economic returns that accrue from access to these services primarily affect the poorest and most marginalized, meaning that any goal to eradicate poverty cannot be achieved without first achieving universal access to WASH.

The disproportionate impact of poor water, sanitation and hygiene on children make these services a priority action for reducing high infant mortality rates. Similarly, the impact of education, rather than merely enrollment, depends on healthy, well-nourished children having the time to attend classes. Sustainable economic development that reduces inequality is therefore dependent on meeting these targets. We cannot afford not to.

The four elements of the proposed target are ambitious yet considered by leaders in the field to be achievable. They are based on an examination of existing trends and access levels, but will require a substantial increase in financing. All existing estimates show that the costs of inaction vastly outweigh the costs of providing these human rights.

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