Will the Addis Ababa Action Agenda deliver for the poor?

WaterAid’s Senior Policy Analyst on Development Finance, John Garrett, asks whether the Addis Ababa Action Agenda is ambitious enough to finance an end to extreme poverty by 2030.


31 Jul 2015

Will the Action Agenda agreed in Addis Ababa deliver for the poor? Is this agenda ambitious enough to finance an end to extreme poverty by 2030, and provide clean water and safe sanitation to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are denied this human right? Will it help ensure the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are effectively resourced and ultimately realised?

These are the million, or rather trillion dollar, questions emerging from the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3) that took place earlier this month.

A new social compact

Although the agreement has by no means lived up to all expectations – an impossible task – it can nevertheless serve as a strong platform for the achievement of the SDGs. 

The international vision, developed, signed and sealed in Addis Ababa, now needs to be followed by timely and concrete actions that signal a clear departure from the business-as-usual approach that has characterised much of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) period, and left issues such as sanitation and hygiene falling far short of their targets or completely neglected.*

Engineer Jyoti Pradhan demonstrates a rain water capture system, Timor Leste.
Engineer Jyoti Pradhan demonstrates a rain water capture system in Timor Leste.

One of the most striking commitments in the Action Agenda is for a new social compact, backed by the necessary finance, to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. There can be little doubt as to how much this is needed in the water and sanitation sector – a recent survey of 84 developing countries showed over 80% reporting insufficient financing available to achieve their MDG-related water and sanitation targets.

If national governments move swiftly to put in place social protection systems and social spending targets, and if these policies receive the strong international support promised, then this new social compact can be a ground-breaking change for the better.

Mobilising domestic resources

FfD3 included a strong focus on 'beyond aid', recognising the need to strengthen the mobilisation of domestic resources, particularly tax revenues, as well as international private resources for development. This will be vital to address the major financing gaps in the SDGs, including the infrastructure deficits, particularly acute in land-locked and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that face further pressures from rapid urbanisation.

But it also included a welcome reaffirmation that aid is still a key component in the resource mix for developing countries with a refreshed commitment to reach the 0.7% Official Development Assistance to Gross National Income target (ODA/GNI) and 0.15-0.2% ODA/GNI for LDCs. 

Increased ODA and steps to tackle financial absorption will be key contributors to addressing SDG financing gaps. WaterAid's recent report 'Essential element' emphasises that for more than a quarter of the world's countries, the ambitions for a bold new poverty eradication agenda will fail, and the aim of a world where everyone enjoys the fundamental human right to water and sanitation will go unrealised, unless a significantly renewed impetus is given to international aid.

The Agenda establishes a new forum to bridge the infrastructural deficits in transport, energy, water and sanitation and other sectors. 

Addressing these financing gaps is a necessary condition for achievement of the SDGs, and the finance for hardware needs to be accompanied with the necessary support for human resources and capacity, with much of this required at local government and local community level if successful delivery and long term sustainability of these investments is to be achieved.

Harriet at the new borehole in Kanchele Village, Monze, Zambia
Harriet collects water at a new borehole in Kanchele Village, Zambia.

There was also clear recognition in Addis that all actions need to be underpinned by a commitment to protect and preserve the planet, its natural resources, biodiversity and climate. This strengthened integration of the environmental dimension of sustainable development, with the social and economic dimensions, is one of the biggest changes from earlier FfD Conferences in Monterrey (2002) and Doha (2008). 

Host-country Ethiopia is aiming to reach middle-income status by 2025 on a carbon neutral basis through its Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy. Although implementation is challenging, it is an approach from which many countries, including fossil-fuel dependent high-income ones, could usefully learn.

The Government of Ethiopia/WaterAid 14th July side event focused on bringing new urgency to financing an end to water and sanitation poverty and how this is essential to achieving broader development outcomes in health, education, gender equality and the environment. 

Keynote interventions from Ministers H.E. Alemayehu Tegenu and H.E. Thomas Kaydor, Ambassador Atsuyuki Oike, Mr. Tony Pipa, Mr Guido Schmidt-Traub and Teferi Abebe Kidane, representing the Ethiopian, Liberian, Japanese, US Governments, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and WaterAid respectively, provided fresh insights and added new momentum to these critical issues.

Will the Action Agenda deliver for the poor? 

A lot will depend on the commitment of the thousands of participants in the Conference, and the organisations they represent – from government, business and civil society – to turn the carefully crafted words and phrases into real action and change. 

During the Conference, Ethiopian Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister H.E. Alemayehu Tegenu requested WaterAid to increasingly adopt solar technology where energy is required for the operation of water projects in poor communities in Ethiopia. This is an example of how social, economic and environmental dimensions can be better integrated in the post-2015 agenda, and if it is symptomatic of a mind-set that becomes more widespread after the Addis Conference, then there are grounds for at least cautious optimism. 

Let's hope that Addis proves to be the bridge that leads to a successful UN General Assembly and Sustainable Development Framework agreement in September, a crucial climate summit agreement in December, and ultimately the fulfilment of the human rights denied unacceptably to so many of the world's citizens.

*Water and sanitation are referred to five times in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda: in paragraph 12 as part of the new social compact, in 14 as part of the commitment to establish a new forum to bridge the infrastructure gap, twice in paragraph 34 in the context of supporting local government in technical and technological capacity and local communities in decision-making over management of services, and in paragraph 115 in the context of strengthening institutional capacity and human resource development.

John Garrett is WaterAid’s Senior Policy Analyst – Development Finance. He tweets as @johngarre and you can read more of his work here >

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