Executive Director Chris Williams highlights 7 challenges and opportunities during UN Post-2015 thematic debate on water, sanitation and hygiene

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WSSCC Executive Director Christopher Williams was a key speaker on day one of the Thematic Debate on 'Water, Sanitation, and Sustainable Energy in the Post-2015 Development Agenda' convened in New York at UN Headquarters on 18-19 February 2014.  Dr. Williams highlighted 7 important areas that the international and national development communities must address in order to speed up progress on current and future water and sanitation goals and targets. 

He joined UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, Mr. Girish Menon from WaterAid, and other leading sector professionals at the event. The President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), John Ashe, in his opening remarks said the thematic debate aims to facilitate discussion on the means of implementation and financing, increasing awareness, and overcoming challenges for water, sanitation and other key issues. A background paper and additional information about the debate is found here

Dr. Williams full remarks can be viewed in the United Nations Web TV coverage of the event, found here (scroll to the 50-minute mark). In presenting the challenges and opportunities, he said:

  • Segmentation. The water (including water resources, water supply), sanitation and hygiene sector is “atomized,” he said. There are many issues and sector interests, from Integrated Water Resources Management to sanitation to transboundary water management. “We need to come together – the Post-2015 process should engender this conversation (of coming together).”
  • Voice. The people impacted by poor water and sanitation – billions worldwide – need to be heard in the Post-2015 discussions, he said. 
  • Public financing. The vast amount of assistance in water, sanitation and hygiene work comes from the international community, which he said is not sustainable. “How can we diversify sources of funding?” he asked through spearheading local initiatives and leveraging communities and households and their own resources. 
  • Coordination. Because of segmentation, he said, coordination is a challenge among and between NGOs, governments (including their different ministries, which often have overlapping responsibilities), external support agencies such as WSSCC and others, etc.
  • Equity. The aim is universal access to water supply and sanitation services, but does that mean equal access? Underserved populations, women, disabled people, and other peopled traditionally considered marginalized in some way must be included in water and sanitation programming from the beginning, rather than after-the-fact as an “add on.”
  • Scale. The scope of the global sanitation problem, in particular, is massive. “How do we achieve results that are not a community here, a community there, a city here, or a town there?” he asked. What works, he said, is to look at approaches that are territorial in scale, where entire districts are covered, and which can inspire other districts and national governments with their operational plans. 
  • Monitoring. A major challenge, he said, is to get good evidence through improved monitoring systems of what is working and what is not working. Ministers are hard pressed to get this information, and have tough jobs as many interests come to them seeking support. “Where is the evidence that justifies their further investment in water and sanitation?” he asked.

Below are comments from other speakers at the event.

Statements by John Ashe (http://papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/1731889/pga-statement.pdf)

“We are already in agreement that energy, water and sanitation are essential to the achievement of many development goals. They are inextricably linked to climate change, agriculture, food security, health, gender and education, among others. Ongoing discussions have indicated that there is interest in a sustainable water goal, with a possible target for sanitation.”

“Today, you will be called upon to look at some diverse and challenging questions such as: what are the gaps and obstacles to accessing safe water and sanitation; how can we manage our water resources sustainably; what is the role of various actors, including the private sector and how can we leverage each for the best possible outcome; and given the world’s diverse needs and the many facets of water management – what would a water goal look like, and what kind of target(s) could it have?”

“We are here for this debate because we believe in a post 2015 world that is just, equitable, peaceful and sustainable, where every citizen of every country is able to drink clean water and access sanitation that promotes health and hygiene, both of which our General Assembly has recognized as basic human rights.”

Statements by Ban Ki-Moon (http://papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/1731881/1-sg.pdf)

“I know you are all busy working to define a post-2015 development agenda. Erradicating extreme poverty is our most urgent priority, sustainable development our guide. Universal access to safe water, sanitation and energy will be critical.”

“Access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene must feature prominently in the post-2015 development agenda […] This is a matter of justice and opportunity”

Statements by Girish Menon, WaterAid (http://papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/1731890/director-interantional-progdep-chief.pdf)

“We need to recognize that we cannot eradicate poverty unless we tackle the water, sanitation and hygiene crisis. No village, no city, and no country has ever lifted themselves out of poverty without first improving water, sanitation and hygiene. The economic gains of investing in water and sanitation are huge. The World Health Organisation states that as much as $5-$8 is returned for every $1 spent on sanitation.“

“Women and girls bear the brunt of the burden when water, sanitation and hygiene facilities cannot be accessed by them…”

“The sector agrees what can and should be done. Now it’s up to governments to put safe water, sanitation and hygiene at the forefront of the future framework, recognizing that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right, and absolutely central to human development and ensuring dignity. ”

Statement by Thailand, on behalf of Thailand, Finland, Hungary, Switzerland, and Tajikistan (http://papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/1731879/1-thailand.pdf)

“Therefore, in order to build the future we want, the Friends of Water consider that water shall receive the serious attention it deserves and shall be addressed comprehensively in the post 2015 framework and future sustainable development goals, namely through a dedicated water SDG, as called on by many countries.”

“Thailand is of the view that four important elements in relation to water must be incorporated into the new post 2015 framework, namely ensuring stability, building resilience, reducing inequality and enhancing effective international cooperation.”

Statement by Guinea, on behalf of the African Group (http://papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/1731891/2-guinea.pdf)

“Therefore, the African Group is over the view that, in addition to being a global goal in the post-2015 development agenda, water could be incorporated as a target of other goals related to poverty eradication, health, food security and nutrition, agriculture, biodiversity, desertification and drought.”