An agenda for change: achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos - Women from the management committee meet with community members to discuss hygiene and sanitation education. Kalshi Takar Baa slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The coming months are a crucial period for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector to clinch crucial decisions and make sanitation and water for all by 2030 a reality. In partnership with Water for People, IRC and Aguaconsult, WaterAid has produced joint principles to guide an agenda for change. Clare Battle, WaterAid’s Policy Analyst – Aid Effectiveness & Sector Strengthening, introduces the paper.

With just months until the end of 2015, the international community is close to agreeing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets of universal access to water and sanitation by 2030.

This represents a huge opportunity to catalyse real improvements in the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people – but it will not be easy. Delivering on this ambition will require a fundamental change in the way we work.

A broad approach for change

Delivering positive change in sector performance requires a system-wide approach that tackles all dimensions of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, at all levels of decision making. It requires us to understand how we can work together most effectively at district, national and global levels to ensure permanent water and sanitation services for all. In particular, delivering positive change requires us to focus our efforts on building the capabilities of local governments so that they can deliver and sustain services to all citizens.

Many NGOs in the WASH sector are involved in delivering services at large scale and supporting sector reforms, but in the past this support has not always been delivered in a way that has supported and strengthened country processes. In some cases, NGOs have even perpetuated a fragmented approach to development that has undermined a country’s own efforts to build a more coherent sector.

New global strategies

At WaterAid, we recognise the need to think critically about the way we work. We recently released a new five-year strategy, which puts at the heart of our work the supporting of service providers to strengthen the systems and capabilities required to deliver and sustain WASH services. And, for the first time, we have explicitly recognised the internationally agreed aid effectiveness principles of country ownership, alignment, harmonisation and mutual accountability as central to our approach.

Fortunately, our thinking also resonates with the direction of the sector as a whole. For example, the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership, of which WaterAid is a committed partner, is currently finalising its own strategy, which will put strengthening country processes at the centre of its work.

Our philosophy also has much in common with the emerging thinking in many other WASH agencies. Indeed, WaterAid is far from alone in recognising the importance of adopting a systemic approach to WASH services.

Collaborating to guide an agenda for change

Over the past few months, we have therefore been working closely with Water for People, IRC and Aguaconsult to explore how we can work together to drive this agenda forward, both within our own organisations and across the sector.

Our work has resulted in the development of a working paper outlining a set of common principles to guide a reform agenda at three levels: district, national and global.

By articulating our contribution to the vision of achieving universal access to WASH services by 2030, we hope these principles will help us translate the ambition of initiatives such as the SWA into action on the ground. We also hope to encourage other sector partners to consider what supporting country-driven and -owned process really means for the way they act in practice. We're excited to be sharing these principles more widely, and hope that others will find them compelling and resonant with their own work and experience. Over the next few months, we are looking forward to sharing our experiences of putting this collaboration into practice, and exploring further opportunities for synergy.

Only through such collaboration will universal access to water and sanitation become a reality.

An agenda for change: achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030 (working report) >

Clare Battle tweets as @Clare_B