Post-2015 – playing the waiting game

WaterAid UK's Campaigns Officer Ross Bailey looks at the outcomes from this year’s UN General Assembly opening session and asks what’s next for the Sustainable Development Goals process?


9 Oct 2014

Another UN General Assembly opening session is now behind us, and once again WaterAid was there to help keep safe water, sanitation and hygiene at the front of minds.

While the opening session of this 69th UNGA was dominated by the Climate Change Summit (at which our Chief Executive Barbara Frost spoke) much time was given by attendees to what happens next in the post-2015 process (for a recap of where we are up to, see my previous blog post).

Hints of what's to come

While many attending were raring to get on with the negotiations, there is a lot of road left to cover before we get there. The opening session did give us some hints of what is to come. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise appearance at an event on transparency and good governance. He made clear that in his view the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the Open Working Group are simply too many. To those following the discussions, this is no big surprise, but he is one of the first world leaders to make the case for cutting down the goals. What’s visible here is the fault line likely to dominate the next few months of negotiations – the primacy of the Open Working Group’s report and its goals and targets versus other interpretations.

The speeches given by heads of state and governments repeatedly touched on the shape and nature of the SDGs. For WaterAid, we were pleased to hear the words of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

“When we think of the scale of want in the world – 2.5 billion people without access to basic sanitation; 1.3 billion people without access to electricity; or 1.1 billion people without access to drinking water – we need a more comprehensive and concerted direct international action.

“In India, the most important aspects of my development agenda are precisely to focus on these issues.”

Poor sanitation in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2013.
Poor sanitation in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Narendra Modi has launched a campaign to clean the country's public spaces and address India's sanitation and cleanliness challenges.
Photo: WaterAid/Poulomi Basu

For those interested in the practicalities of India delivering on its sanitation campaign – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – I strongly recommend my colleague Nitya’s blog post.

So where does this leave us?

Frankly, it remains something of a waiting game for the moment. A number of announcements are due in the next few weeks, including one from the UN permanent representatives responsible for organising the modalities of the post-2015 negotiations. We should also get more detail on who will lead the actual negotiations next year. Following that, we expect to find out from the office of the President of the General Assembly on how his planned events for 2015 will shape the debates. WaterAid will be focusing in particular on the announced Means of Implementation debate but also the Gender event (read more about the latter in WaterAid’s briefing on water, sanitation, hygiene and gender).

What is still unknown is the date and content of the synthesis report of the Secretary General. Expected sometime in late November, this has the challenge of bringing together reports ranging from that of the High Level Panel to those of the national and regional consultations of member states. The ambition of the report is not yet clear but one of its major challenges will be to condense reports that run into hundreds of pages without losing the key messages. The report is significant not least because it is the last formally-agreed process step before the actual negotiations are likely to begin in early 2015.

Returning to the number of goals, the Secretary General will need to find a way of negotiating between the two sides of the emerging debate. From a WASH perspective, WaterAid remains encouraged that a dedicated goal focused on water and sanitation appeared in both the High Level Panel report’s indicative goals and the Open Working Group report. At this stage, there seems to be some recognition that to neglect water and sanitation is to repeat the mistakes of the MDGs.

Joined up goals needed

While there have been several excellent blogs written on the pros and cons of reducing the number of goals (here, here and here), WaterAid is keen to focus on ensuring that any framework is joined up. As we’ve written previously, stopping the debate at the level of goals and targets will be a mistake. While it is unrealistic to expect UN missions to negotiate down to the level of technical indicators, it is important that there is some agreement on how we can draw together goals and targets that cover the same ground.

To give one example, success in achieving the target on eliminating preventable child mortality (as proposed by the Open Working Group in target 3.2 of their report) will be reliant on tackling diarrhoeal illness, which accounts for the second largest number of under-five deaths worldwide. In turn, diarrhoeal illness is predominantly caused by the effects of inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. As water, sanitation and hygiene are framed under Goal 6, it is imperative that we find effective ways to connect these goal and targets. We believe that a sophisticated set of indicators that promote mutual accountability across sectors will be essential to achieving this.

WaterAid will be publishing a short discussion paper at the end of October to highlight the interlinkages between any potential health and water and sanitation goals. This will also include a proposal for WASH indicators that could be included under health targets for maternal and child mortality and universal health coverage.

For now, the waiting continues...

Ross Bailey is WaterAid UK’s Campaigns Officer and coordinates our activities on post-2015. He tweets as @rossb82 and you can read more of his blogs here.