Washing our hands of poverty

Posted 22 Sep 2015 by Apollos Nwafor

WaterAid’s Regional Advocacy Manager, Apollos Nwafor, is at the Sustainable Development Summit to witness the formal adoption of the Global Goals and to champion Global Goal 6 on water and sanitation. He contemplates the challenges ahead in ensuring the goals are implemented and monitored effectively.

Tomorrow, world leaders gather in New York to sign the Global Goals, enshrining a new set of commitments to eradicate poverty and entrench sustainable development.

15 years ago, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched to similar fanfare, so what has changed? Back then, a pledge to ensure access to water was hidden away, sanitation was forgotten until 2002 and, critically, hygiene was left out altogether.

This time, these human rights are to be fully included, sparking hope that universal access to clean drinking water and a decent, private toilet may at long last be achieved.

How did we get this far?

For many years WaterAid have been championing the adoption of a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) dedicated to water and sanitation and ambitious targets on WASH.

In 2012 the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel (HLP) held a series of meetings and discussions where WaterAid worked tirelessly to advocate the inclusion of WASH in the post-2015 framework, which replaced the MDGs. In May 2013 the HLP presented their findings in a report to member states. A huge breakthrough was achieved – the report recommended a goal on universal access to water and sanitation. We hoped this would inspire world leaders to support it.

A three-year process followed to finalise the new set of development goals and WaterAid staff across the world continued to lobby political leaders to secure greater political prioritisation of clean water, basic sanitation and hygiene.

We have been successful: the Sustainable Development Summit this week will adopt the Global Goals (GGs), with Goal 6 dedicated to water and sanitation: 'Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.'

François, 71 years old, and Ranary, 35, from Ampilanonana village supporting Global Goal six 'Clean water and sanitation', Madagascar.
François, 71, and Ranary, 35, from Ampilanonana village supporting Global Goal 6, Betafo district, Madagascar.

The inclusion of Goal 6 is a major milestone in ending WASH poverty and transforming lives. It commits UN member states to delivering basic access to water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030.

The goal is a victory for more than 650 million people in the world today without access to clean water and 2.3 billion people without access to safe, private toilets.

The challenge ahead

The main challenge for all nations and the next phase of the process is implementation. We have the political ambition, now we must ensure that this is translated into practice.

The first step will be to ensure these commitments are integrated into national development plans. To do this we need active participation from governments, civil society and private sector stakeholders.

Meaningful indicators will ensure effective monitoring. It is critical that the final list of indicators adopted by the UN supports ambitious targets and monitors progress for access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in homes, schools and healthcare facilities.

Sanitation still poses a difficult challenge though; with over 2.5 billion people without access to basic sanitation, it was among the most off-track of the MDGs. This time round we must develop the right indicators, financing mechanisms and institutional arrangements for implementation and monitoring to ensure no one is left behind. Indicators must also be included on hygiene, offering an opportunity to improve the health of billions of babies, children and adults around the world.

Reaching everyone everywhere

The aim of the GGs is to leave no one behind. The agreement document reiterates the universality of the goals throughout. These goals are for all nations and all nations must deliver on their promises to achieve the new GG on water, sanitation and hygiene.

This means ensuring that donor countries are meeting their commitments on foreign aid and giving sufficient priority to water, sanitation and hygiene programming. It also means ensuring developing countries are prioritising water, sanitation and hygiene programmes at home and finding new and effective ways of mobilising domestic resources.

The hard work has just begun

We have come so far. But, as we celebrate the adoption of the GGs and cherish the inclusion of Goal 6, we must remember that the hard work has only just begun.

If the GGs are to be translated from commitments into action, then they must be fully integrated into national development policies around the world.

The prize is global access to water, sanitation and hygiene within a generation. We must not fail.

To keep up to date with WaterAid at the Sustainable Development Summit visit

Apollos Nwafor is Regional Advocacy Manager at WaterAid. He tweets as @Apollos77 and you can read more of his work here.


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