South Asian sanitation conference ends with call to be open defecation free by 2023


The fifth SACOSAN conference –a government-led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each of the eight countries off South Asia – concluded 24 October in Kathmandu, Nepal, with a call “to an open defecation free South Asia by 2023 and to progressively move towards sustainable environmental sanitation.”

The three-page statement is known as the Kathmandu Declaration, and follows on the Colombo Declaration from 2011 and prior SACOSAN statements.

Civil society actors participated in the event with support from WSSCC and other organizations. Collectively, these community-based and nongovernment organisations also responded to the final statement from the ministers. A release from the Freshwater Action Network South Asia said “FANSA welcomes the spirit of the declaration but urges that the commitments made by South Asian governments are realised to ensure accelerated and sustainable progress on sanitation and hygiene to avoid the loss of lives, particularly of the children under five, due to lack of sanitation.”

South Asia is home to some 1.2 billion of the world’s people without safe sanitation, including 650 million who have no access to facilities at all and defecate in the open. There are differences and disparities throughout the region in terms of equity of access, with poor people and those traditionally marginalised, such as the disabled, having lower access.

While there are still huge gaps in coverage, the last two years since SACOSAN IV and, more generally, since the start of the SACOSAN conference progress in 2003,has seen progress in the region. WaterAid, the international NGO, issued its “traffic lights” report which ranked the progress of the eight countries.

Another agency, the Water and Sanitation Programme, emphasised the economic cost of poor sanitation in the region. It says $65 billion is lost annually, with GDP percentages ranging from 3.9 in Pakistan to 6.4 in India.

WSSCC participated fully in the conference with a delegation led by Executive Director Chris Williams and Programme Manager Archana Patkar. (Photo gallery here.)

“The conference was a real success,” she said. ”Participation was at the highest political level in Nepal and included the clear engagement of all eight ministers in the regional responsible for national sanitation portfolios. The deliberations were forward looking and ambitious.”

Bringing voice to the unreached
WSSCC sponsored training for NGOs and awareness raising on one of its flagship equity topics, menstrual hygiene management, through a pre-conference training conducted together with noted Nepali NGO Lumanti. WSSCC also arranged its Menstrual Hygiene Lab on the conference grounds, to give participants a more in-depth understanding of the drastic sociological, psychological and health impacts of poor MHM, including lack of access to sanitary napkins and education on the topic. Read more here.

The equity focus included, as well, WSSCC’s role as main partner together with the Government of India and the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) in the conference’s main technical session on the topic, entitled “Reaching the Unreached,” on 23 October. Chaired by the Shri Saraswati Prasad, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation from the Government of India, the session sent a number of recommendations to the drafters of the Kathmandu Declaration. They included suggestions such as shifting emphasis from “availability of toilets’ to ‘ability to access and use a toilet,” and disaggregating monitoring data (rural, urban, male, female, old, young, etc.) in order to understand barriers to access and use.

For the session, WSSCC also unveiled a new short film on equity and inclusion in South Asia. The film also reinforced the findings of a five-country study done by FANSA and financed by WSSCC in advance of SACOSAN.

The report, released in Kathmandu, is found on the FANSA website.

Strong interest in the Global Sanitation Fund
A pre-conference side event on the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) drew some 100 participants and enabled WSSCC partners to talk about how one million additional people now have access to safe sanitation in Nepal and India, due to GSF-financed work.

Sudha Shrestha, GSF programme manager at UN-Habitat in Nepal, unveiled a new progress report on the programme. She, and WSSCC’s Chris Williams, also noted that the original five-year programme will be expanded in size and scope, due to its success to date. This will enable it to reach out, for example, to the Terai districts, which are lagging far behind the rest of the country in sanitation and hygiene coverage.

Anand Shekhar, the programme manager for the GSF in India, also presented the latest developments, and launched several new information pieces, including Toilet Talk. The India programme is active in three of India’s more sanitation needy districts, Jharkhand, Bihar and, to a lesser extent, Assam.

Tanya Khan, the WSSCC National Coordinator in Pakistan, said the GSF plan for work in the country, known as a Country Programme Proposal, should be ready in early 2014. While in Kathmandu, Executive Director Chris Williams met with Hon. Mariam Aurangzeb, a federal minister in Pakistan who is also a member of parliament and leads the national WASH steering committee.

A number of GSF and WSSCC supported participants took part in the CLTS Sharing and Learning Workshop on Sunday, 20 October. Read a blog report about that meeting here. The meeting was sponsored by IDS and the CLTS Foundation.

WSSCC, together with the World Health Organization and Sanitation and Water for All, also arranged “Reducing Inequalities in South Asia Post-2015 through Sanitation and Hygiene for All.” The side event was the only global-perspective session at SACOSAN and explored how data and monitoring of sanitation and hygiene in South Asia can be made more consistent and harmonised with global reporting via the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme.

It also looked at how the post-MDG development agenda would take into account measuring scale, hygiene, equity and progressive realization of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in South Asia. The SWA partnership is one key stakeholder in the effort to develop appropriate national and regional goals and targets. The topic will be addressed at the 2014 SWA High Level Meeting in Washington, D.C., next March.

Since 2003, the five SACOSAN conferences have provided a platform for regional discussions and agenda-setting on sanitation. They aim to accelerate the progress in sanitation and hygiene promotion in South Asia and to enhance quality of people's life.

For more information on this year’s conference, including access to all presentations, visit the SACOSAN V website.