Long Read
20 April 2017

Blog series: Raising the bar for Universal Access to Water & Sanitation

Simavi’s Programme Director, Ewout van Galen, is currently representing European Civil Society Organisations at the 2017 Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High-level Meetings (HLM) in Washington D.C., USA. In a series of three blogs we will capture his views, expectations and reflections before, during and after, the HLM. In his second blog, Ewout shares his impressions of day one at the meetings.

First impressions

After a good coffee at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), I join my fellow CSO delegation members in the main conference hall. I find myself in good company: all the speakers bring valuable input to the meeting in their introductory remarks. It is amazing to see how much we all have in common in terms of ambition and ways of working. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, passionately states that every person should have access to basic ‘ WASH Plus’ – that’s safely managed WASH systems, available when needed, on premises, free from contamination, and preferably less than 30 minutes away from people’s homes. As he says this, I realise that ‘ WASH Plus’ represents a raising of the bar, one that’s much needed if we’re to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 6.1 and 6.2. So why is there such a gap between ambition and reality? Merle Lewis from PAHO has read my mind and calls upon all of us to put our minds, hearts and wallets together towards realising these goals – and this is what will be put on the table in the coming days.


As the introductions continue, led by Kevin Rudd, Chair of SWA, I reflect on a few of the speakers’ remarks. It is emphasised that political will and cooperation is necessary across party lines and the political spectrum. All constituencies must work together to achieve universal access to sustainable sanitation and water: governments, the private sector, donors and the constituency I represent, civil society organisations. As diverse as this group is, I notice that local communities are not mentioned. In the light of our credo to ‘ leave no one behind’, at high-level meetings like this we must never forget what we want to achieve and for whom.

During the meetings it becomes clear that finance is important in achieving the SDGs, but so is political leadership. The Dutch minister for International Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, made a clear WASH commitment before the SDGs were officially agreed. She promised that the Dutch government will ensure 30 million people will have access to safe water, and 30 million people will have access to proper sanitation, by 2030. While there’s a lot to say about the commitment’s focus to access, this political statement helped many in the Netherlands to come up with a strategy and a means for how to do so. Significantly, Ploumen’s political commitment also made it easier for us as CSO’s to keep her and the government accountable. Here’s hoping that today’s Finance Ministers Meeting will contribute to a basis for commitment to finance and efficient programming.

The meetings later that afternoon further built on that hope. I had been asked to attend the Ministerial Dialogue facilitated by Brian Arbogast, Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  At the end of the dialogue we asked the ministers what their countries would like to see funded by external support agencies. Their answers were inspiring: keep it simple, from both a financial and technical perspective; find a balance between focus on rural and urban populations in your targeting; link WASH with health and other sectors, such as nutrition; enter into dialogue with us on needs, instead of running your own programmes; focus on behavioural change.

I must say this was music to my ears. Building on the list above, I’d like to see the issue of eliminating gender and other inequalities in, or as a result of, the sanitation and water situation receive more attention in the rest of the HLM. What the world needs is integrated WASH (including hygiene!), that links up with other sectors such as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (including issues such as safe pregnancies and deliveries, as well as menstrual hygiene). So let’s think across sectors and constituencies to achieve sanitation, water and hygiene for all. I’m happy to say that today inspired many of us at the HLM to do so!

Today we will engage in discussions on how we can achieve financial sustainability for water and sanitation services, while increasing access for the poor. To be followed by the Finance Ministers Meeting at the World Bank- a crucial moment. More to come!

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