Five years ago world leaders made a promise: to end extreme poverty by 2030. But the COVID-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted their lack of progress and the extreme inequalities still keeping billions in poverty.

As the High-Level Political Forum met virtually from 7–16 July, we convened events and campaigned online, to make sure water, sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of a renewed push for action.

The annual July meeting of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the main opportunity for organisations like us to hold governments to account on their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promises.

Five years after committing to the 2030 Agenda, governments, donors and private sector partners have made nowhere near enough progress on the SDGs, including Goal 6 on water and sanitation. The major structural shifts needed to end extreme poverty have not come about.

With COVID-19 highlighting and exacerbating existing inequalities, hitting the poorest communities hardest, participants at this year’s HLPF debated how the international community can respond to the pandemic in a way that will accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

Stopping COVID-19 relies on ensuring everyone, everywhere has vital water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, yet so far these essentials have not been prioritised.

With urgent action to improve WASH services, governments can mitigate the pandemic and meet Goal 6 – a critical enabler to goals on poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, work, inequalities and climate. Goal 6 is crucial to boost resilience to multiple global threats, including current and future pandemics and the impacts of the climate crisis, especially for the poorest and most marginalised people. It cannot be ignored.

Ten years after water and sanitation were declared universal human rights, we're calling on governments to commit to a clear plan to fulfil their responsibility as duty bearers to meet them, through rapid and extensive expansion of public services, funded by major upscaling of international public finance. Governments must take this opportunity for transformation, prioritise action on WASH and deliver on their promises. Read more in our manifesto.

Our manifesto for the 2020 HLPF

If the Decade of Action for SDGs progress is to achieve real change, a coordinated global response in solidarity with those bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis is required. We set out the urgent actions governments and donors must take.

WaterAid/ Prashanth Vishwanathan

Voluntary national reviews

Every year governments present voluntary national reviews (VNRs), reporting on national progress on implementing the SDGs, including how they've aligned the 2030 Agenda with national plans and priorities. Countries presenting reviews submit a comprehensive written report and documents detailing key findings. Read the UN's 2019 synthesis report (PDF).

This year, 49 countries volunteered to present reviews, including 11 in which we work: Bangladesh, India, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Uganda and Zambia.

The VNR process is problematic, but one thing is clear – WASH is not being focused on. And we need clear data and reporting in order to progress action towards the 2030 Agenda.

Read our blog charting how effective the VNRs are at monitoring progress.