Long Read
25 April 2017

Blog series: Looking back on how to go forward

Simavi’s Programme Director, Ewout van Galen, is attending the 2017 Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High-level Meetings (HLM) in Washington D.C. to represent European Civil Society Organisations. In a series of three blogs we will capture his views, expectations and reflections before, during and after, the HLM. In his final blog, Ewout reflects on his week in Washington.

 A time and place to reflect

Some people say the best time for reflection is when visiting the toilet. Others get deeper insights whilst cooking or during bikram yoga. Whichever you prefer, there’s no denying that all three options require either sanitation, or water, or hygiene – in fact, a combination of all three is vital for success.

Back in The Netherlands after a week of participating in the Sanitation and Water for All High-Level Meetings in Washington D.C, it is my time to reflect. How do I look back on Sanitation and Water for All, in terms of its raison d’ être, its successes and its challenges?

Accountability is key

The last day of the conference was dominated by SWA’s piece de résistance, the Finance Ministers Meeting. In this meeting, which was for the first time part of the World Bank’s formal Spring Meetings agenda, Ministers of Finance from many countries congregated to discuss the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a focus on sanitation and water. The goal was for the Ministers to identify solutions for closing the financing gap in sanitation and water. As became clear during the ministerial dialogues I attended, that gap is huge. It is generally estimated that the amount of overall global investment needed to meet the SDGs’ sanitation and hygiene targets is $114 billion between now until 2030 – which is three times more than current investment levels.

Think about that. Three times.

As I open Google Maps to figure out my way to the World Bank where the Finance Ministers Meeting is supposed to take place, I silently ask myself what the silver bullet is that could lead us to a world in which we have sanitation and water for all in 2030. My silence is interrupted by a member of the SWA CSO delegation. It has emerged that only two people from the CSO Delegation are allowed to attend the Finance Ministers Meeting, and that those attendants are welcome for only a part of the meeting. As much as I understand the occasionally sensitive nature of this kind of high level meetings, the first thing that springs to mind is how much more we should invest in transparency and accountability as part of the collaborative behaviours that SWA likes to emphasise.  In case you’re unaware, SWA partners have identified four Collaborative Behaviours that, if adopted by countries and their partners, can improve the way that they work together to improve the long-term sector performance needed to deliver sanitation, hygiene and water for all, everywhere and forever. These behaviours are: enhancing government leadership for sector planning processes; strengthening and using country systems; building sustainable water and sanitation financing strategies; and last but not least, the one most relevant to this particular situation, a single information and mutual accountability platform.

Although I was happy that two of our CSO delegation members are allowed to be present during part of the Finance Ministers Meeting, I cannot help but wonder if more openness would benefit this process.  The collaborative behaviour on information and accountability basically says that in order to decide where to invest, it is crucial that sectors have reliable data and engage in critical joint reflection and adaptive management. Being effective therefore requires appropriate, inclusive processes that encourage all partners to demonstrate and demand mutual accountability for sector progress. Fortunately, in this instance our CSO delegation could rely on one of our members to brief us on the meeting afterwards.

This briefing happened on Friday while we enjoyed a splendid view over Capitol Hill. The general impression was that although not all the Finance Ministers had attended (some of them delegated others), the meeting was a great opportunity for both Finance Ministers and Ministers of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to convene. Obviously, interaction between the two groups of ministers is pivotal to building sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene financing strategies, whether it happens during an international meeting or in their home countries.  Based on the CSO delegates’ briefing, my impression of the Finance Ministers Meeting was that it was a technical meeting, with a strong focus on private sector involvement. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but the million-dollar question remains ‘do we really know how we should talk to our Ministers of Finance?’ Ministers were brought together, and we know that ministers either make commitments during high-level meetings or they don’t. This in itself is good for the sector’s accountability and is not a contradiction of the work to improve sector performance in country. But in the absence of a tangible statement coming out of the meeting, shouldn’t we put equal energy into realising the collaborative behaviours in country?

While it might be easy to pose questions like this, it is equally hard to examine our own roles and behaviour as CSOs. The influence of the Civil Society Constituency seems to be fairly limited at times like this.  However, I believe it is our responsibility to hold both duty bearers and rights holders to account for whatever responsibility they have or commitment they have made. To this end, and with the higher aim of achieving sanitation and water for all by 2030, I would like reiterate a couple of messages that support this.

Firstly, we want a world in which there is universal access to sanitation, water and hygiene, and in which no one is left behind. As access to water, sanitation and hygiene for the poorest populations and communities is lagging behind, at high level meetings like this we should always consider the rights of vulnerable groups like women, ethnic minorities and people living with a disability. To put it simply, we must all be clear what we do and for whom we do it – and strong accountability mechanisms including community participation, will help the sector do this.

Secondly, we must allow for additional finance strategies that reduce or eliminate inequality. Besides focusing on international commitments, domestic resource mobilization must be strengthened as a primary approach to financing universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene, with increased government allocations, effective and affordable tariffs, strengthened and broadened tax systems and a vibrant, well regulated private sector.

Finally, Civil Society has a role to play alongside all the other constituencies (governments, the private sector, donors and communities). And yes, just like every other constituency we must ensure the integrity of our own functioning; guaranteeing efficiency, transparency, accountability and participation in our contributions to strengthening sustainable systems and services. With a strong focus on that role, I believe Sanitation and Water for All is the partnership that will achieve universal access to sanitation and water for all by 2030 – because that is what the world deserves.

This is my final blog on the HLM. I would like to thank everyone for reading and look forward to exchanging views and thought with you all.  


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