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Happy Anniversary SDGs! But should we be celebrating?

Anniversaries tend to be moments of remembrance and/or celebration. And on the third anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it seems like we should all take a moment to remember the commitments made, as opposed to purely celebrating them.

In 2015, governments across all regions agreed to take the necessary steps with the aim of providing a sustainable world for generations to come. These steps were the 17 goals within the SDGs. However, three years since its inception, many countries are off track to reach not just one, but several goals. The 17 goals are all interlinked, which means that our inability to reach one goal could significantly impact our ability to reach another.

SDG 6 (ensuring clean water and sanitation for all) is an extremely crucial component of these global goals. According to the 2017 Joint Monitoring Programme Report by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed water (and over 4.3 billion lack safe sanitation). Not reaching those who lack these crucial services goes against our fundamental human rights. The SDGs were to ensure we ‘leave no one behind’, but with billions left behind for just one of the 17 goals, it seems as though today should be viewed as less of a celebration of nations agreeing towards a common vision and more as a wake-up call.

Without access to safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene:

  • Children (especially girls) are unable to go to school and receive an education. See Eva’s story by Restless Development.
  • Women won’t feel empowered and will lack the ability to seek employment opportunities and provide for themselves and their families. Instead, they would need to continue walking for hours each day to search for water that is unsafe to use and drink.
  • Refugees and internally displaced people are left in unsafe and unhygienic circumstances.
  • The world becomes less resilient and less adaptive to changing environments as a result of climate change (such as drought). See Franco’s story by Restless Development.
  • Health systems face a larger burden than necessary. According to the United Nations, a child dies every five seconds from preventable causes – mostly due to the lack of these services.
  • Governments would face lower productivity levels due to the lack of a skilled and educated workforce and an increase in illnesses.

Simavi and its partners (End Water Poverty, Coalition Eau, Watershed Empowering Citizens Coalition, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and Sanitation and Water for All) are using this anniversary as a reminder to all key stakeholders of the commitments made by governments in 2015. While the year 2030 may seem far out of our reach, what we must remember is that these ambitious goals will take a long time to be achieved. And with us already being odd track, governments must pick up the pace and accelerate their efforts starting today.

In a recently published report by Simavi and our aforementioned partners. National accountability mechanisms were reviewed in 25 countries and recommendations were provided per country for each stakeholder (governments, civil society organisations, development partners and UN agencies). While governments were the ones who initially committed to the SDGs, we all have a responsibility to reach these goals that affect our lives on a daily basis.

The global aspect of the SDGs has provided space for government ministries, NGOs, CSOs, youth groups, private sector partners and UN agencies to work in silos. We can reach the SDGs only through the concrete recognition of these interlinkages, increasing levels of space provided for and better collaboration between stakeholders, the implementation of strong(er) accountability mechanisms at a national level and regular reporting on our progress.

We are 20% of the way through the timeline given until 2030, and yet our progress levels do not match this. Let’s ensure we all take the necessary actions today for the sustainable world we are all working towards; so that by 2030, we will have a reason to celebrate this day.

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