Diary blog: WaterAid at High Level Political Forum

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WaterAid at HLPF
Image: WaterAid

Governments aren't doing enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals promise they made back in 2015. That's why WaterAid will be at the High Level Political Forum from 9-18 July 2018, advocating the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene to ending global poverty. WaterAid-ers and external guest writers will be updating this blog regularly with the latest from New York.

Thursday 19 July: Katie Tobin, Advocacy Coordinator at WaterAid

HLPF 2018 ended with an unprecedented vote against the ministerial declaration – and collective advocacy by civil society.

At approximately 6:30pm on Wednesday 18 July, the 2018 session of the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development came to a close, after a concluding session in a packed conference hall that featured, for the first time in the HLPF’s history, a non-unanimous adoption of the outcome document.

Occasionally, governments take issue with an element of the declaration and express this disagreement on the record by calling for a vote on a particular paragraph, which several governments did regarding text on foreign occupation, gender, international cooperation, and the multilateral trading system. This year the United States took this approach a step further, requesting a vote on the declaration as a whole and then voting against it, in which they were joined by Israel. Thankfully, the remaining 191 of the 193 UN Member States recommitted to achieving the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and ensured that the declaration was adopted.

The "major groups and other stakeholders" – the collective civil society and other groups actively engaging in UN sustainable development processes – had already issued a collaborative statement expressing our disappointment with the insufficient ambition of governments to agree on an actionable or inspiring document. Despite a week of thematic discussions on the urgent development issues including WASH (SDG6), sustainable energy (SDG7), and financing (SDG17) – the urgency of the discussions did not translate into much in the way of concrete commitments to implement the SDGs.

This only inspired us – as WaterAid and as part of broader civil society – to continue to engage and to push for heightened ambition in 2019 and when the governments review the HLPF modalities for 2020 and beyond. What we’ve learned and witnessed at the HLPF strengthens our commitment to work towards WASH for all and the fulfilment of human rights, to meaningfully advance the 2030 Agenda and ensure accountability of all states to their commitments.


Tuesday 17 July: Ruth Romer, Private Sector Advisor at WaterAid

Private sector engagement picked up pace in the 2nd week of HLPF18, with higher representation from business and industry sectors demonstrating their commitment of intent surrounding delivery against SDG 6 (water and sanitation for all). 

On Monday Diageo and WaterAid co-hosted a well-attended reception to debate the role of private sector in achieving SDGs. The reception provided a conducive and informal setting for constructive discussions which covered: incentives for private sector; stakeholder expectations; the role of government and the business moral imperative surrounding human rights to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

This morning WASH4Work convened a breakfast briefing co-hosted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and UN Global Compact on the topic of strengthening the business case for WASH. The event provided the opportunity to raise the profile of WASH in the workplace and the WASH4Work initiative more generally. WBCSD launched their WASHPledge impact report and WaterAid and partners did a soft launch of the guide 'Strengthening the business case for water, sanitation and hygiene: how to measure value for your business'. The new WaterAid guide was received with interest and enthusiasm by companies who felt that this could really help build the business case for WASH.

The SDG business forum day, which was held throughout today, convened over 600 participants to discuss how greater business action and effective partnerships can help achieve the SDGs. Although WASH was mentioned, it wasn’t prominent on the agenda until a plenary intervention from Tim Wainwright (WaterAid UK, CEO) who reinforced the importance of access to WASH underpinning achievement of many of the other SDGs. 

Tim plenary intervention HLPF 2018

Those in attendance acknowledge that sustainable businesses will outcompete those that are not. However if we are to engage the private sector further, they need to be shown the right incentives for business action coupled with the right policies, as well as an enabling environment.


Sunday 15 July: Savio Carvalho, Global Campaign Director at WaterAid (abridged version)

Despite the many meetings and discussion of this week, the daunting question remains – when will governments act with a sense of urgency to ensure 844 million people (one in nine) get access to clean water close to home? Current projections show that 80 countries will not have universal access to clean water by 2030.

This week we all watched with bated breath the rescue of those Thai boys from the cave, rooting for their survival as if we knew them. Yet hidden from the headlines are the 800 children who die every day due to poor water and sanitation. Where is our sense of outrage that 2.3 billion people – a staggering one in three people globally – do not have access to a decent toilet that protects their families and communities from disease? Where is the sense of crisis, of collective realisation that the current situation is completely unacceptable?

What I fail to comprehend is that solving this problem is not rocket science. It makes sense economically as $1 invested in water and toilets, returns on average $4 in increased productivity. And which government doesn’t want its country to do well economically?

The coming week will see 43 countries present their own voluntary national reviews showing whether progress is on track to meet the SDGs. Government ministers will fly in and the discussions will end in a ministerial declaration. High level meetings will happen throughout the week between governments, donors, financial institution and the private sector.

Our call is loud and clear – water, sanitation and hygiene needs urgent attention, political will and financing. In the words of Nelson Mandela:

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."

Read the full version of this blog >


Friday 13 July: Kiana Alavi, End Water Poverty

This week at HLPF, the End Water Poverty coalition and its partners launched our report on national accountability mechanisms for SDG 6. Our team started working on this over a year ago, so seeing all of our hard presented in 179 pages of research and recommendations was a major milestone – but just the start of ensuring that stakeholders can effectively hold government accountable for the commitments they made in 2015.

Our event on Wednesday at the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission to the UN included the Sanitation and Water for All’s Executive Chair (Catarina Albuquerque) as our facilitator and we were thrilled to have government officials, civil society organisations (CSO) and UN staff members as panellists. Findings of the global report were shared and panellists presented on their country’s progress and accountability mechanisms. This was followed by a discussion on ways forward for key stakeholders including governments, CSOs, development partners and UN agencies.

Upon concluding the event, I was pleased to see high engagement levels from attendees, providing their knowledge, expertise and advice. I have attended many events at the HLPF this week and the word 'accountability' has been mentioned countless times, but it has not been a topic many have delved into. With the world being three years into the SDGs, we need to do more than just pay lip service to 'accountability'… we need to act on it. Our event is just a start of an in-depth and crucial conversation that we much have in order to reach Goal 6.


Thursday 12 July: International Women's Health Coalition

Today we (IWHC) co-hosted a side-event at the High Level Political Forum with WaterAid, the government of Nepal, and the European Union: A Rights-Based Approach to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) – Integrating Water, Sanitation, Health, and Gender Equality to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (bit of a mouthful!). 

Despite the fact that over 800 million women and girls menstruate every day, menstruation remains shrouded in silence and taboos. Women and girls lack dedicated, integrated services and information to menstruate in dignity, obstructed not only by lacking infrastructure – including the fact that one in three women live without a decent toilet – but also deeper challenges of gender norms, myths, and stigma.

Lisa Schechtman of WaterAid shared that in India, 70 percent of girls did not know what was occurring when they began their first menstrual cycle. This lack of information perpetuates stigma and leads to violence against women as bleeding is often viewed as a sign of sexual activity, a taboo for unmarried girls and women.

The panel concluded that only through a holistic and multi-sectoral approach (involving men and women!) that applies gender equality, education, human rights, and sustainability perspectives can we empower girls to take control of their bodies and, ultimately, their lives.


Wednesday 11 July (bumper edition!): Megan Wilson-Jones and Maisie-Rose Byrne

Over the past couple of days the team have spoken at a variety of events to highlight how access to water and sanitation can be a critical enabler in achieving the SDGs.

Up first on Tuesday was our side event on "Reducing inequalities through urgent action on SDG6." Global Campaigns Director Savio Carvalho opened the event by framing how action on WASH needs to be seen as a driver to addressing inequality.

Savio at HLPF2018
Savio Carvalho, Global Campaigns Director
Image: WaterAid

Veronica Cordova Soria, Senior Deputy Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the UN, backed up Savio's address by sharing a powerful statistic: ever since the Bolivian government increased their WASH investment by 86% in 2005, the national gap between rich and poor has fallen by two-thirds.

Another highlight was a speech by our colleague Florencio Marerua, WaterAid Mozambique's Country Director, who spoke passionately about how women, despite being “the workhorses of the economy,” are disproportionately affected by lack of water and sanitation facilities. Other panellists echoed his calls for governments to take more action on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) –  a topic we will be discussing more throughout this week.

On Tuesday evening we hosted another event, this time on how to coordinate and integrate health and nutrition with water and sanitation. We were proud of teaming up with such a wide range of partners, including Action Against Hunger and the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, as well as the Governments of France, Madagascar, Mali and Zambia.

The World Bank and WHO presented new data identifying 'hotspot' communities who face the highest burden of poor health and nutrition, and stand to benefit the most from targeted investments in WASH. And it was clear that in order to act on this, we need better collaboration, better targeting and more focus on bridging the gap between policy and implementation. 

We were thrilled when Colombia Country Director Manuela Pinilla joined us earlier today, and she did a fantastic job as a panellist at the inspiring Women Deliver event on how different sectors can contribute to achieving gender equality.

Women Deliver event HLPF 2018
WaterAid Colombia Country Director Manuela Pinilla (second from right) with colleagues outside the Women Deliver event.
Image: WaterAid

Manuela highlighted how mainstreaming hygiene – including breaking stigma around periods – is so important for education and health outcomes, both in Colombia and worldwide. Everyone from the WaterAid delegation who attended felt very inspired by the event, but one question was on our minds… Where were all the men?!

A trip to meet our WaterAid America colleagues for dinner this evening gave us some much-needed rest time and an opportunity to check in on how everyone felt HLPF was going. Whilst we are concerned about the lack of focus on sanitation, the clear lack of government agency to address SDG6 and the absence of consistent accountability mechanisms, the team is raring to go for the rest of the conference – and ready to show governments that we will not let them get away with breaking their promises anymore.


Tuesday 10 July: WaterAid HQ

A brief message before we hear from Policy Analyst on Health & Hygiene Megan Wilson-Jones:

We're very excited to have teamed up with prominent Mexican artist Victoria Villasana, together with HM Foundation, Water.org and the Swedish Government, to produce 'The Water Effect', a stunning exhibition featuring people whose lives have been transformed by clean water and decent sanitation. 

If you're not at HLPF this week, never fear! You can visit the exhibition virtually...


Monday 9 July: WaterAid Sweden Chief Executive Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen (tweets as @c_martinsen).

I've just returned from Day 1 of the HLPF, and there's no doubt in my mind what the main message for the coming week will be: time is running out to make the Sustainable Development Goals meaningful. Governments must understand that they are placing millions of lives at stake if they do not commit more financial resources and focus to the Goals, and it's our job to pile the pressure on.  

Unsurprisingly, the main focus for WaterAid today was the official review of SDG 6 (water and sanitation for all). My colleague Florencio Marerua, WaterAid Mozambique's Country Director, addressed the forum with a powerful account of the health risks posed by a lack of clean water and sanitation.

Florencio at the HLPF
WaterAid Mozambique Country Director Florencio Marerua prepares to address the United Nations Forum, 10 July 2018.
Image: WaterAid

He explained that pregnancy in Mozambique isn't necessarily cause for celebration – it's often accompanied by fear and risk because "many women still have to deliver their babies in health facilities without access to even the basics like clean water." Florencio said afterwards that whilst it was nerve-wracking to speak in front of such a large audience, he is proud of highlighting the importance of WASH in healthcare on the global stage.

I've been to conferences and forums before which are dominated by long declarations and lacking a 'human' element. That's why I was so glad we teamed up with the H&M Foundation, Water.org, the Swedish government and some of our other partners to launch 'The Water Effect' exhibition. It's a stunning set of photos by prominent Mexican artist Victoria Villasana that brings the focus back to the people whose lives are transformed by clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. It'll be on display throughout the HLPF, so if you're in New York do try and catch it!