Partnering to build sustainable systems: how Sanitation and Water for All can build on the success of the 2014 High Level Meeting

As we reach the mid-point between High Level Meetings, Clare Battle, WaterAid’s Policy Analyst – Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening, discusses what members of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership (SWA) need to do to maximise this opportunity and advance progress towards universal access.


10 Apr 2015

One year ago tomorrow, SWA held its third biennial High Level Meeting. Hosted by the World Bank in Washington DC, USA, the meeting marked the pinnacle of global decision making in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.

Attendance at the High Level Meeting was unprecedented. Led by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Dr Jim Yong Kim and SWA Chair John Kufuor, the meeting brought together ministers for finance, water, sanitation and development cooperation from more than 55 countries, as well as other sector partners.

As a result, SWA partners tabled over 370 individual commitments to address key challenges facing the WASH sector. Among the partners was WaterAid, who released a statement of commitments for the first time at the 2014 High Level Meeting. Since then we have been working hard to live up to our promise to put sector strengthening at the heart of our engagement in the WASH sector. Some of the steps we have taken will be seen when our new Global Strategy is launched next month. A global tracking report – demonstrating the progress made by all SWA partners – is due out in July, and will be a key milestone in ensuring each and every sector actor is held accountable for the promises they made last April.

The importance of partnership

One year later, the role of SWA – and the biennial High Level Meeting – is more important than ever.

As the Sustainable Development Goals take shape, and momentum increases around a vision of universal access to WASH services by 2030, it is clear that delivering on this ambition will require a step change in sector performance.

To reach everyone, everywhere, countries will need strong functioning WASH sectors that can deliver sustainable and equitable WASH services to all. Developing these sectors will need the support of both Governments and their development partners. Governments must demonstrate strong sector leadership and ensure domestic resources are used to strengthen the key building blocks of an effective WASH sector. At the same time, donors must ensure development aid is delivered in ways that support the strengthening of country leadership and systems, respecting core ‘aid effectiveness’ principles.

Looking at the 2014 commitments, it is clear that there is still much work to do.

Although over three quarters of the High Level Meeting commitments are related to strengthening the systems needed to deliver sustainable services, important gaps remain. The priority given to sector strengthening is also noticeably higher among developing country partners than among donors. If sustainable and equitable services are to be achieved, the development of functioning WASH sectors must be prioritised by both countries and donors, with a joint commitment to build countries’ capacities to deliver services in the long term, and the agreement of specific, measurable indicators to track progress.

But this need can be at odds with the short-term outputs prioritised by some governments and development partners.

What next?

As the partnership prepares for a fourth High Level Meeting, SWA has a vital role to play in galvanising the shift in both thinking and performance that will be needed to achieve universal access to WASH.

Holding a High Level Meeting in April 2016 – six months after UN member states will have agreed the Sustainable Development Goals – presents an invaluable opportunity for partners to confront the remaining bottlenecks to progress, and to lay out a joint roadmap for delivering sustainable access for all by 2030.

To take advantage of this opportunity, all partners need to align their support behind the building blocks of an effective WASH sector. Partners will also need to adopt the kinds of behaviours that will ensure their cooperation is as effective as possible – e.g. strengthening and using country systems, and supporting a formal, participatory process of planning, monitoring and reform.

But doing so will require SWA to challenge accepted sector development norms, and ensure support for strong country processes is truly embedded at the heart of the partnership’s work. It will also require SWA to foster a robust framework of mutual accountability between partners, to ensure the adoption of processes and behaviours that promote the development of strong WASH systems.

As a committed member of SWA, WaterAid looks forward to working with other partners to build on the foundations laid in 2014, and ensure the partnership continues to drive progress towards sanitation and water for all.

Clare Battle is WaterAid’s Policy Analyst – Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening. She tweets as @Clare_B and you can read more of her work here.

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