Long Read
11 April 2019

Reorganizing financing water and sanitation for all in 2030

Visit of Jeroom Remmers (Simavi) to the WASH Sector Ministers Meeting in Costa Rica  4-5 April 2019 on leadership, finance and leave no one behind

At the Sector Ministers Meeting in Costa Rica 53 ministers – mainly from developing countries – and more than 300 other stakeholders attended to discuss Sanitation and Water for All: end inequalities. The event was hosted by the Costa Rican government and organized by the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership in co-operation with UNICEF and the Inter-American Development Bank. Simavi’s Jeroom Remmers, Public Affairs Officer (WASH), the SWA CSO focal point for the Netherlands tells about the highlights, lessons learned, results and follow up.


The SMM was the result of ongoing strategic dialogue at country level, involving multiple stakeholders. It brought together ministers responsible for WASH and senior government officials from different regions and development levels, as well as leaders from other stakeholders, including civil society, private sector, donors, development banks, UN agencies and academia.

Inspiring words came from the President of Costa Rica. The President said the country has no army, is investing relative large amounts of money towards social needs, including water and sanitation, nature conservation and sustainable energy.
Emotional stories came from Aparna Mehrotra (UN Women) about girls and women. “Too many girls are walking with 20 kg water every day, to be absent from their schools, to be raped, become pregnant and have their lives destroyed. We have to fight for menstrual health services for them too. Many girls now have to wait more than 10 hours to go to the toilet at a safe place. Imagine how this feels! Every day 14 million hours are lost by girls carrying water. This costs 260 billion USD every year”.
Kevin Rudd (SWA Chair) had a similar message at the start of his opening speech: “We deny women and girls access to menstrual hygiene services, a fundamental human right for hundred millions of women and girls”.
Kelly Ann Naylor, Chief WASH at Unicef, asked the audience to stop talking about health facilities, if they do not have water. Still too many of them don’t.
John Lane, chair of the Conference asked governments in his closing remarks to show leadership, dignity and humility to welcome others to the table. He probably meant CSO representatives from marginalized communities to be included too, in the spirit of SWA to work together with all constituencies: government, private sector, CSOs and knowledge institutes. Kenya and Ethiopia were mentioned as best practices in collaborating with all stakeholders.

Photo: Kevin Rudd opening the Sector Minister’s Meeting

© Simavi

WASH investments
The big elephant in the room was the word ‘finance’. As Kevin Rudd, former President of Australia, and chair of SWA said: “There is just one priority: Finance, Finance and Finance, since investments for WASH are 3-4 times below what is actually needed to realize the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation in 2030”. For some countries, investments in the WASH sector even need to be increased by up to six times. It felt uncomfortable to know that most countries will not make the big step forward to increase WASH budgets by taxes, tariff income or ODA grants for water and sanitation by a factor 3-4, while the theme of the SMM conference was to Leave No One Behind. By not increasing WASH investments sufficiently, in 2030 millions of poor and marginalized people will still not have access to basic or improved water and sanitation services.

Setting the example

There were also some positive examples of countries who actually did increase WASH investments substantially. One example is Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world. It was reported that this country increased or is to increase WASH investments from 3 to 10% of its national income. Another inspiring example is that of Ethiopia. This country developed one national plan for water and sanitation (One WaSH National Programme, OWNP), including all national and local stakeholders and their WASH budgets into this national plan. The plan included WASH budgets from CSO’s, private sector and foreign donors. The national government doubles budgets from others. In this way, additional money is attracted from third parties. Donors get more value for money.

Jeroom Remmers (Simavi) between 5 Ministers as a rapporteur of the Ministerial Dialogue

Lessons learned – the new ‘bible’ for the WASH community

Kevin Rudd presented and promoted a new report from IRC, World Bank and water.org: “Mobilising financing for WASH: getting the foundations right’. This report has the potential to be the new ‘bible for the WASH community’ and to reset the way the WASH sector is financed. If it is done correctly, it can change the lives of millions of people. During the three Ministerial Dialogues, themes discussed were very aligned with the key messages of this new report:

  1. As governments and donor funds cannot meet the funding needs alone, stakeholders concluded that more commercial finance needs to be attracted into the WASH sector, matched with a similar increase in public finance.
  2. Shortcomings that undermine the sectors ability to attract (commercial) finance, include a lack of vision by governments to seek alternative sources of finance, underdeveloped national financial sectors, ineffective regulation, weak governance, low operational efficiency of service providers and lack of anti-corruption measures.
  3. The way forward for WASH service providers is a change of focus towards being a customer-oriented business and work with governments in achieving greater autonomy and clear mandates.
  4. The way forward for governments is stronger sector regulation, better monitoring and (pro-poor) tariff-setting. As well as to develop appropriate financing strategies that prioritise public finance for service delivery for the more marginalized areas with poor people. In this way the realisation of WASH access for all can be ensured. Water and Finance Ministers could work more closely together to develop financing and sector policies.
  5. Development actors can play a role in supporting governments to attract commercial finance into the WASH sector and help commercial investors to understand this sector. Development finance and government funds need to be reserved for initiatives that cannot attract commercial finance, to provide services for those left most behind.

Subsidies for the poor going to the rich

In reality however, this is not always what happens. Many rich donors prefer to donate money to WASH service providers who perform very well and easily can find commercial loans, instead of donate money to the service providers serving the poorest people, with more financial challenges. In this way, less people can be served with water or sanitation. William Kingdom (World Bank), presented a shocking report, showing 56% of subsidies for WASH in ten countries are used for the richest wealth quintile, while only 6% of those subsides reach the poorest wealth quintile. Leaving no one behind means the opposite is needed. Other shocking news came from Therese Magnusson (SIWI), telling there is 40% less water data compared to the seventies of last century. All stakeholders confirmed segregated data is needed to know who are the ones left behind in WASH services.


Prior to the meeting, governments, and other SWA constituencies such as CSOs, private sector and knowledge institutes were asked to submit new commitments for water and sanitation for the next few years. More than 50% of all visitors had done so and more will do in the next month. All 105 commitments will be published at the SWA website soon, including details about how the commitments can be monitored. In this way the mutual accountability mechanism works, signed by all SWA members. Previous commitments can be found on the website of sanitationandwaterforall.org (priority areas/HLmeeting/commitments).

CEO Catarina de Albuquerque asks all to rise who made commitments to SWA.

© Simavi

Directly after the meeting, the 20 CSO members made a draft CSO statement (draft made by Simavi) with a message for governments and especially the Finance Ministers, the target group of next year’s meeting. They propose to ask the Sector and Finance Ministers to prepare costed sector plans for water and sanitation investments needed in next decade (2020-2030) and present those plans next year at the April 2020 SWA meeting, referring to the need to reduce the huge WASH finance gap to really leave no one behind in 2030. The CSO statement will probably be published at the SWA website soon.

Follow up

All country delegates and others now have to do their homework with the lessons learned and implement the actions they committed. SWA will monitor the commitments. The next SWA meeting will be the Finance Ministers Meeting in April 2020 in Washington, at the World Bank. The challenge for Sector Ministers and other stakeholders now is to engage with national Finance Ministers, asking to make additional finance commitments for water and sanitation and to visit next year’s SWA meeting.

© Simavi

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