WASH and the 2030 Agenda: Reflecting on a week at HLPF 2018

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This month, I had the unique opportunity to attend the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in the United Nations, as part of the Bangladesh Government’s delegation. Falling outside of my usual deskbound way of working, this was an eye-opening experience on the complexities of the UN system, the dynamics of state and civil society, and the overwhelming necessity of keeping the 2030 Agenda front and centre if we are to reach everyone, everywhere with safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

The first day of the HLPF ended with the thematic review of Goal 6 – one of the highlights of my week, bringing country level progress to the global stage in three hours of rapid-fire speeches from different governments and major groups representatives. It was heartening to see state after state acknowledge the foundational role of WASH in achieving the SDGs (and to see that even UN sessions face technical glitches!), but also concerning that sanitation and hygiene were so sidelined in the dialogue. Without water, sanitation and hygiene working together, we cannot ensure people’s health, development or dignity, and it is those who are most vulnerable – children, women and girls, persons with disabilities, the elderly – who are most affected. When a child under 5 dies every two minutes from diarrhoea caused by inadequate toilets and dirty water, there is a need for more urgency and action from all of us, but especially the political leadership represented in the HLPF.


Towards the end of the week, I had the chance to speak briefly at an event on participatory approaches to sanitation, hosted by the Government of Bangladesh and UNITAR. The session spanned both national level overviews as well as more detailed presentations on rural and urban sanitation, with contributions from academia and civil society along with the government. What stood out for me was how some of the most senior figures in the room were echoing many of WaterAid Bangladesh’s key messages, including the role of WASH in empowering women and girls, the multiplier effect of investment in WASH, and the need to put sanitation at the centre of development. I’m hopeful these messages will resonate beyond the room, and that more participatory and nuanced discussions of this nature will find a bigger space in upcoming Forums.


Coming back to the realities of a waterlogged Dhaka (and my trusty desk), I carry a greater appreciation for the ways in which our work at the local level is connected to, and shaped by, seemingly distant events. Whether WAB can participate next year or not, we have our part to play in making sure that the HLPF represents the interests of those we work with – those living in crowded urban slums, the remote rural char islands, and the climate-ravaged coast. I’m hopeful we can work with the government to push for more comprehensive review mechanisms that can assess progress accurately, help identify and address challenges openly, and ensure accountability at all levels. This is an ambitious target, but what I take from my HLPF experience is an understanding of how global changes are ultimately driven by local advocacy and local partnerships; and a renewed sense of our place and purpose in the universal mission to leave no one behind.