Just a few weeks ago leaders from all around the world came together at the United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York to ask governments, donors and other stakeholders to increase their efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030. These goals were established by the UN in 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Current progress toward all 17 targets was discussed over two weeks at UN Headquarters, including a three-hour session on SDG 6, Water and Sanitation. The situation that emerged was troubling, posing the reflection whether we are on track to provide all citizens with clean water and safe sanitation by 2030.
The grim reality is illustrated by a WHO/Unicef report in 2017 indicating that 30% of the world’s total population lacks clean water and 60% lacks safe sanitation. A further threat to public health is the rise of open defecation, which has increased globally at a rate of 0.5% per year in the last decade. This practice leads to more than 1,000,000 deaths every year caused by easily preventable diseases. “Today, almost two billion people use a source of drinking-water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year”.
Although some progress has been made in most countries, there are still notable differences, over time and space. The story of Mboto, a rural village in Kisumu West sub-county in Kenya gives an insight that when we fail to provide equal access to improved water sources and sanitation we are failing the poorest and the most vulnerable children and their families. Mboto community narrated stories of women, young girls and boys waking up very early at around 2:00 or 3:00 am in search of water in Soko Kasombe which is a spring, polluted by animal droppings but also served as the main water source for the village. Fetching water at the spring was characterized long queues which also had an impact in children’s school attendance. The situation more daunting for girls as they would find themselves exposed to sexual harassment by men who only came to the water source to prey on women. With the construction of three water kiosks serving Mboto village and three nearby villages, the women now spend less time to draw water from the kiosks and spend more time with their families.
The challenge of water and sanitation access is one that collectively we have the ability to solve and ensure we Leave no one behind. This requires collective, coordinated and innovative efforts to mobilize even higher levels of funding from all sources: taxes, tariffs (payments and labour from households), and transfers from donors in view of the declining trend of aid commitments for water and sanitation established at US$10.4 billion in 2012 to US$ 8.2 billion in 2015, and Official development assistance (ODA) for the water sector remained constant at only 5% of total ODA disbursements. Now with the United Nations General Assembly adoption of the resolution ushering the new water action decade (2018-2028) it is the opportune time for our governments, donors and the water sector to unite and prioritize efforts on water and sanitation. Investments in water and sanitation have to triple to US $114 billion per year in the next decade, UN Water and the World Bank said in New York. This figure even does’nt include operating and maintenance costs.
In the spirit of the HLPF discussions, water experts agreed that water sector investments have to increase, governments have to be accountable and transparent about spendings on water and sanitation, asking civil society to participate in policy making. Integrated Water Resource Management should be prioritised, to prevent water pollution and water shortages. We can already see the impact of climate change on the environment in the form of more droughts, floods, pollution and water scarcity. This leads to armed conflicts, millions of new migrants and climate refugees. Without further action, the SDG goals for water won’t be reached until 2045 for water and 2066 for sanitation.
We cannot wait any longer to take action. We urge the decision makers not to kick the can down the road. However, if they do, they should kick it to the next UN General Assembly in September and the G20 meeting in November, with real chances to make significant commitments to water and sanitation.
Catarina de Albuquerce (first UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe water and sanitation and Executive Chair of Sanitation and Water for All), Irene Gai (Kenya Water for Health coordinator), and Ariette Brouwer (director Simavi Netherlands).