Water Week Blog: Holding Ourselves Accountable as Global WASH Citizens


By Christopher Williams, PhD, Executive Director, WSSCC

Last night, I had the opportunity to address the Stockholm World Water Week audience on ‘the full circle of sanitation -- accountability in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).’ In partnership with Global Citizen and SIWI, WSSCC hosted a panel with top experts examining how businesses can contribute and emerging countries stay accountable in the movement for global access to sanitation.

As always, I was proud to stand alongside WSSCC’s partner Global Citizen, which has done a great service to the sector by elevating the prominence of sanitation. Specifically, it has mainstreamed sanitation into popular culture. The depth of understanding among ‘global citizens’ is still limited, but the organization has empowered a huge audience with awareness of the issue and the tools to hold their leaders accountable.

The discussions last night reinforced to me that Member States, development agencies and the WASH sector will face many challenges in the years to come as we work towards universal access to sustainable sanitation and hygiene by 2030. The first is how to finance the enormous needs for the 2.3 billion people that still live without access to adequate sanitation in 2017. Despite the relatively low-cost and effective intervention of behaviour change, there is still a huge financing gap to ensure that every household, workplace, and individual has access to a clean toilet and water source.

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) era, it is imperative that we go beyond the household and begin to reach extra-household settings. This will involve community-based approaches to safe re-use of faecal matter for fertilizer and biogas production and to toilet facilities in public spaces. Crucially, women must play a central role in the design, implementation and monitoring of these facilities.

Many of the speakers underscored how women face a whole host of challenges and restrictions when it comes to sanitation – indeed, this has been a major theme of the Water Week. In addition to placing huge restrictions on school attendance and performance, as well as access to public spaces, women and girls struggle to maintain their dignity as they fulfill a basic call of nature. By placing women and girls at the forefront of the SDGs, we are holding ourselves accountable to true equity and non-discrimination.

We simply cannot wait to act. It is time that politicians and decision-makers in health and other sectors recognize the importance of WASH and commit both political and financial capital. It is our collective responsibility to invest in solutions and to make sanitation for all a development priority.