Priscilla Achakpa - A voice for the silent majority


In September WSSCC National Coordinator for Nigeria, Priscilla Achakpa spoke up for the voiceless at the 68th UN General Assembly. And people listened. Here she explains what the event means for WASH, WSSCC and the silent majority.

You put in a tremendous effort at the GA in New York. What events and activities did you participate in?

Over the course of five days I attended eight events, starting on day one with a session on the Post-Rio+20 process – its opportunities for sustainable development governance – followed by Closure of the Commission on Sustainable Development. Day two was a meeting of the Women Major Groups, in which we drafted our position and also appointed speakers for the opening of the High Level Political Meeting.

For the next couple of days I went to the Major Groups, UNDESA and Stakeholders Forum, briefings with other stakeholders, the Advancing Regional Recommendations on Post-2015: A Dialogue Between Civil Society, Governments and UN Representatives, and the High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development.

I finished off on day five with a high level event on the MDGs and the Post 2015 Development Agenda Forum. There was also a side event organized by The Soetendorp Institute for Human Values in partnership with the Dutch and US governments and UNICEF on WASH on the occasion of the launch of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance hosted by UNICEF.

Tell us a little about your presentation…

It was on a global programme called Initiative for Equality (IfE). Our organisation participated in Field Hearings in 2012 in Nigeria, focusing specifically on the voices of the environmentally, socially and economically excluded grassroots and what they think about development. The report of the Field Hearings around the world was presented in Rio+20 in 2012 and were testimonies of the grassroots, stills and YouTube videos. It was a huge success!

Following Rio+20, the Field Hearings have extended to 70 countries with over a thousand grassroots organisations conducting hearings. My role presenting the results at such gatherings has helped us accomplish our goal of bringing the voices of the communities into the global discussion and decision-making process on the new Sustainable Development Goals, in areas such as Universal Access to Water and Sanitation and the involvement and hearing of the voices of the grassroots.

What sort of feedback did you get from the presentation?

It was greatly acknowledged by UN agencies, governments, major groups and other stakeholders, because it was practical and issue-based. Most of the presentations did not address critical issues, such as universal access to water and sanitation, housing, etc. It seems my presentation was the only one to mention such issues!

The Director of Policy and Campaigns for WaterAid, Margaret Batty and many others congratulated me for bringing this issue to the fore. In a conversation with Amina J. Mohammed, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General, she told me that water and sanitation is dear to the Secretary General’s heart, and therefore the inclusion of water and sanitation in the post 2015 shouldn’t be overemphasized.

‘From Rio+20 to the post-2015 development agenda’ sounds like an interesting narrative theme. What’s the story behind it?

The Rio+20 session focused largely on review processes and taking stock of the achievements and failures of CSDs during its 20 years of work, as well as the opportunities for the post-2015 SDGs.

My impression of this theme was that we have to plan for the future. It means that we must evaluate what we did that was good, what went wrong, where the loopholes are, and how can we plan for, and improve in, the future by taking stock of the past.

In your report you said that the CSD has received criticism, namely for an imbalance in addressing the three dimensions of sustainable development. You also reported that in the view of many, the inability of the CSD to ensure national implementation was its weakest point, followed closely by the absence of review of past decisions. What’s YOUR opinion of these criticisms?

My opinion of the criticism is not that different from others. It seems to me that the CSD was a gathering of representatives from environment ministries with a total disconnect from the ministers of finance and trade, who are the most powerful when it comes to financing of the planned programmes. This disconnect leads to the failure of policy implementations at the national level.

Most speakers recognized during the HLPF that civil society engagement had been one of the CSD’s chief accomplishments – if not its most important one – and that the value of listening to Major Groups was a crucial lesson to carry forward into the High Level Political Forums.

At the end of your report you write about ‘the voices of the grassroots who are environmentally, economically and socially marginalized’. How do you feel those voices represented when it comes to WASH?

These voices are articulated through the field hearings, focus group discussions, questionnaires, one-on-one interviews and storytelling around the world, and compiled in a report form and presented to high level political meetings, conferences and governments. Our findings so far suggests that WASH has been a topical issue, as it comes out in every field hearing conducted around the world, especially in developing countries.

What else can and should WSSCC be doing to capitalize on the issues raised during the GA?

WSSCC needs to become more proactive in terms of engaging with the High Level Political Forums, through organisation of side events at such conferences, and thus feeding into policy and decision making. It also needs to use its structures and membership at national levels to engage with in-country political leadership, through articulation of position papers, which can be used to negotiate with others at global events and policy formulations. Lastly, it should engage more with civil society.

Given the ongoing global economic climate, how can governments be persuaded that sustainable development is worthy of financial as well as intellectual investment?

Sustainable development has emerged as the guiding principle for long-term global development. Therefore, we should persuade governments to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development to address new and emerging challenges.

If governments have, as your report suggests, ‘failed’ sustainable development, what can the WASH community and WSSCC do to reverse the situation?

The WASH community and indeed WSSCC need to review its plan of implementation built upon the progress made so far and lessons learnt. It then needs to provide a more focused approach, with concrete steps, and quantifiable and time-bound targets and goals.