Universal WASH services that last in our time?
Updated - Thursday 21 February 2013
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target for water was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline: 89% of the global population now has access to an improved drinking water source. However, 783 million people remain without access and many of those with improved sources still use water that is unsafe to drink (JMP, 2012). Further, Onda, LoBuglio and Bartram (2013) estimated that in 2010, 1.8 billion had unsafe water and an additional 1.2 billion used water with significant sanitary risks. For sanitation, two and a half billion people are still without improved access (37% of the global population), almost three-quarters of whom live in rural areas and worse, open defecation is still practised by 1.1 billion people (15% of the global population). The sanitation MDG will not be met and 2.5 billion people continue to lack access to basic sanitation.
If these figures sound bad, reality is proving to be much worse. Extensive data collection into the services received by households in Mozambique, Ghana (see fig. 1), Burkina Faso and India concludes that the level of water and sanitation services delivered to rural populations is very poor, below national or international norms concerning quality, reliability, access, use, etc (Burr and Fonseca, 2013). Additionally, the poorest are more likely not to have water and sanitation services than the wealthy; rural areas have much lower coverage than urban areas. Inequalities extend beyond wealth and geography: girls and women are more likely to bear the burden of water collection, women without access to sanitation suffer the indignity of being forced to defecate in the open and are at risk from rape and assault, and the widespread lack of menstrual hygiene management facilities limits the participation of women in education and the workplace.
Fig. 1. Functionality and year of construction of point sources in three districts in Ghana (Adank et al., 2012 forthcoming)
There are multiple public consultations on-going concerning what happens after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals are reached. The consultations, convened by several organisations are at the moment discussing the water sector in its broad sense: the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sub-sector, but also more broadly wastewater, water security and inequalities in access to services and water resources. The remainder of this article refers to the WASH sub-sector, the one that has dealt traditionally with water and sanitation at household level and mainly dealing with water for domestic purposes.
The vision for WASH in the post-2015 development agenda is one of universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in our time. The key priorities for the WASH sub-sector for the post-2015 MDGs are:
- No one should practice open defecation
- Everyone should have safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home
- All schools and health centres should have water, sanitation and hygiene
- Water, sanitation and hygiene should be equitable and sustainable
There are ongoing discussions on what is a reasonable realistic but ambitious enough timing for achieving the vision. At the moment, the consensus is that water, sanitation and hygiene are human rights, and key determinants of health, nutrition and education outcomes; they underpin all international development goals, are critical to economic growth and fundamental to human dignity.
Turning these rights into reality is a compelling challenge in all countries with large numbers of un-served. A set of guiding principles underpins the vision and priorities:
- Water and sanitation are human rights and fundamental to human development
- We should aim for the global elimination of open defecation as soon as possible
- Success should be measured not only in terms of increasing the numbers of people with access but also in terms of reducing inequalities – between rich and poor, urban and rural dwellers, slums and formal urban settlements, and disadvantaged groups and the general population
- Achieving only a basic level of service is not enough – we must progressively increase the level of service
- Handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are universally important, and should be prioritised
- We must ensure financial, operational, institutional and environmental sustainability over the long term (and this time actually measure sustainability with specific indicators)
- An integrated approach to water resources management and wastewater management are fundamental as pollution and scarcity risk access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene
In January 2012, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), established four expert working groups (drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, equity and non-discrimination) to develop technical proposals for enhanced goals, targets and indicators for global monitoring of water, sanitation and hygiene after 2015. The IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre has co-chaired with WaterAid, the water working group. The request was to bring the best experts in the world to the same table and discuss which goals the WASH sector should set to measure its progress after 2015. The working groups had the challenge of setting a vision and process, which would be realistic but also stand the “ambition test” when looking back 30 years from now.
The World Bank/Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) was asked to chair the sanitation working group, USAID the hygiene working group while the UN Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation lead the working group on equality and non-discrimination. Over a period of a year all these working groups have brought together more than 150 experts from country governments (including among others India, Mozambique and Uganda), bilateral and multilateral organisations, academic institutions, non-governmental organisations, development banks and knowledge networks to discuss in a lot of detail a technical proposal for measuring the progress in the WASH sub-sector after 2015.
The different versions of the proposals developed by the working groups were presented and discussed at sector meetings and the process became really interesting when we brought together the proposals from all the working groups into one single proposal. We have also assessed what could be measured realistically not only now but also in the future given the faster developments in different technologies to collect, report and validate data, including water quality testing. The consolidated proposal was then presented and discussed at the 2nd International Consultation on Post 2015 Monitoring of Water and Sanitation in the Hague on 3-5 December 2012, convened by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The meeting report will soon be available at the JMP website while tweets from the three day meeting and its follow-up can be found using #waterpost2015.
This is a technical proposal among the many being published over the last months and without political backup it will not materialise into the post MDGs agenda. Both the water sector broadly and the WASH sub-sector are featuring prominently in the post-2015 MDG discussions along with health and education. The IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre subscribes to this vision, priorities and guiding principles and we hope that the UN high level panel as well as other UN agencies and country governments will find it useful for the important decisions that will be made in the coming months.
In terms of the level of ambition we should be aiming at, in 2040 one of two things will happen: either the world will be facing deep problems – in which case these proposals will look laughably naïve (because we ignored the climate, demographic, food nexus) or, current growth will continue in which case universal coverage will have happened within the next 10-20 years and everyone will think the proposals were laughably cautious.
At the moment the on-line consultations are taking place at www.worldwewant2015.org/water and www.thebrokeronline.eu/Blogs/Prioritising-Water, the country and regional consultations have also started, a open discussion was held at the World Bank on 20 February, and the next High-level Panel meeting will take place in Bali.
WaterAid has launched an excellent video explaining why water, sanitation and hygiene are key to Post 2015 discussions.
Catarina Fonseca (Co-chair Water Working Group), Project Director WASHCost, International Programme, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, @FonsecaCatarina
With MySource Newsfeeds, you can select the regions and themes of your interest, and get daily or weekly updates by e-mail: