UN HLPF 2020: Time to Transform Words into Action

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WaterAid/HSBC/Drik/Habibul Haque
Image: WaterAid/HSBC/Drik/Habibul Haque

It is heartening to see that the Government of Bangladesh continues to demonstrate strong ownership of the SDGs having conducted its second Voluntary National Review (VNR) of progress towards the SDGs ahead of the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development 2020. Unlike previous years, this year’s VNR encapsulates progress towards all 17 SDGs, including SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

We are encouraged to see the VNR report acknowledging the low levels of WASH investments in hard-to-reach areas such as chars, haors, coastal belts, and hilly areas. WaterAid along with sector actors have regularly highlighted this spatial disparity as part of annual WASH budget advocacy over the last few years. We are hopeful that the Government will realize its commitment to ‘leaving no one behind’ by reaching the poor and marginalized communities in these hard-to-reach and climate-vulnerable areas with inclusive, innovative, and sustainable solutions.

Bangladesh has made good progress in expanding access to WASH services – 99% of the population has access to improved water sources, and open defecation has been minimized to less than 1% of the population (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme 2019).

However, concerns remain when we look at the quality of these services as stressed by the SDGs. 40.3% of the household population still uses water that has fecal contamination at the source. (Bangladesh Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019).

There also appears to be some inconsistency in reporting the progress against some of these quality indicators. For instance, the VNR report states that the national coverage of safely managed sanitation is 84.6%, which actually refers to the coverage of improved sanitation (Bangladesh Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019). There is a need for attention from the Government to ensure a realistic representation of the progress so that targeted interventions could be made to achieve SDG 6 by 2030.

With mixed progress recorded in the first five years of the SDGs, the international community has identified the next ten years as the ‘Decade of Action’, calling for accelerating sustainable solutions to global challenges. The VNR report of the Bangladesh government identifies some of the most pressing challenges and articulates a way forward towards achieving SDG 6. It is now time to transform these words into action so that everyone, everywhere has sustainable access to clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene by 2030.