(The article below was originally published with support from WSSCC by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, here)
Presented by Water Supply and Sanitation Collaboration Council (WSSCC), State of Qatar (Qatar Fund for Development), Global Citizen, and Education Cannot Wait, this side event focused on sanitation as a key determinant of health and education. Panelists shared examples of successful projects, celebrated effective partnerships, identified ongoing challenges, and highlighted the need for continued progress.
Moderator Madge Thomas, Global Citizen, opened the event, saying it is not possible to have transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies without addressing the crosscutting issue of sanitation. Thomas announced that Global Citizen is launching an accountability report which makes reference to and tracks sanitation, health and education commitments, and underscores what is possible through partnerships.
Rolf Luyendijk, WSSCC, highlighted the importance of safe water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), noting that 40 years ago the Alma Ata declaration on primary health care recognized the interlinkages. Emphasizing the value of multi-sectoral partnerships, he said investments in sanitation offer an overall five-to-one return in related health-care benefits. He offered concrete examples, including: improved neonatal health; a 36% reduction in diarrhea; a 23% reduction in stunting; and a 26% reduction in acute respiratory infections, which he called the “number one child killer.” On education impacts, he said access to gender-segregated sanitation facilities keeps girls in schools. Luyendijk announced WSSCC would be signing an agreement with Qatar Charity at the close of the event, representing important investments in fragile areas. The agreement will facilitate exchange of information, allow for coordination, and support sanitation and hygiene programme design and development, specifically in the Darfur Region of Sudan.
Ali Abdulla AL Dabbagh, Qatar Fund for Development, outlined his country’s commitment to and strategy for promoting peace and justice, in alignment with progress on the SDGs focused on health, education, and sustainable economic empowerment. On financing and education, he said every dollar invested produces two dollars in economic benefit and noted that when communities are educated about the importance of sanitation, they express a higher demand for improved facilities. He also underscored the need for tangible progress on SDG 6 (water and sanitation) and its linkage with SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth).
Irene Gai, Kenya Water for Health Organization, outlined her organization’s WASH initiatives, including links to education. She described the pressing need for action and offered examples: a school where enrollment jumped from 200 to 1,000 students without improving sanitation facilities; and that 6 million people still defecate in the open in Kenya, often in the rain, a situation especially challenging for women, who often must be accompanied outside. She said investment in sanitation and hygiene must also address issues of equity and human rights.
Yasmine Sherif, Education Cannot Wait, said delivery on education goals, under SDG 4, is not a stand-alone process, but must be tied to other sectors. She noted that quality learning is not possible without access to drinkable water or to sanitation facilities, saying 42% of girls in Uganda have their schooling interrupted because they have to fetch water. She stressed the role of national NGOs who know the country, problems and solutions, and emphasized the need for collaboration, such as through joint needs assessments, and for multi-year programs.
During the ensuing discussion, panelists shared perspectives on:
Luyendijk closed the event, noting that 40 years have passed since the Alma Ata declaration, and urged accelerated action on WASH.
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