Playing our part: WaterAid prepares for the Sanitation and Water for All high-level meetings

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/ Dermot Tatlow/ Panos Pictures

The Sanitation and Water for All high-level meetings later this month are an opportunity to drive progress towards reaching everyone everywhere by 2030. In the lead up, WaterAid is aiming to catalyse conversations around improved sector efficiency and effectiveness. Ibrahim Musah, WaterAid’s Regional Advocacy Manager for West Africa, explains how.

The Sanitation and Water for All high-level meetings (SWA-HLMs) will gather finance and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector ministers at the World Bank offices in Washington DC on 19–20 April 2017. The two-hour meeting will centre on one question: How do countries, particularly those from developing countries, get back on track to deliver universal access to WASH? To rephrase: how will government at all levels lead the development of effective sectors capable of providing WASH to everyone without discrimination and at reasonable cost by 2030?

Focus of the 2017 SWA-HLM

SWA’s high-level meetings are part of an ongoing cycle of SWA activities aimed at catalysing progress towards the WASH targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular targets 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3. In addition to discussing key policy principles on sector financing, the SWA-HLMs will highlight related sector building blocks (pdf) that are key to ensure financing is predictable, sustainable, equitable and targeted properly to those most in need. These blocks include: sector policy and strategy; institutional arrangements; sector financing; planning, monitoring and review; and capacity development.

While the April 2017 SWA-HLMs will not require countries to table commitments, the meeting should catalyse an ongoing conversation on the reforms needed to build a strong and effective sector and drive progress against actions and undertakings agreed at the country level. It is these building blocks that hold the key to universal access by 2030!

Sector dialogue and country-level preparations

To ensure these meetings are as effective as possible in driving sector performance, WaterAid is actively engaged in sector dialogue at the national level. This is perhaps even more crucial this year because this is the first SWA-HLM since the agreement of the SDGs in September 2015. The implication is that WaterAid and partners must pull together a multi-stakeholder process at the national level to get the conversation going around increased sector financing, but, most importantly, improved sector efficiency and effectiveness. WaterAid is working with others to support governments and civil society organisations with the information they need to organise sector meetings, and undertake rapid sector assessments based on past joint sector review or assessment reports.

What is important in these processes is collective national ownership of processes and outcomes led by government. An effective process will ensure that we feed into and strengthen existing sector processes and conversations to identify exactly where the sector is, and how to progressively move forward to sustain gains and achieve a step-change towards universal access to WASH.

In the spirit of leave no one behind, we have ensured allies and critical ministries and agencies in education, health, finance, and environment have been part of the conversation right from the beginning. Using the media, we will also keep the sector conversation ongoing at national, sub-national and community levels, during the SWA-HLMs and afterwards.

In Mali, for instance, WaterAid spent two weeks working with a number of key stakeholders including the Ministry of Water and Energy, UNICEF, civil society and the journalist network to develop a country overview report. Stakeholders are also in the process of finalising the costing tool to clarify the investment requirements to achieve universal access by 2030, which will provide the basis for annual update and review in the sector.

Lessons learned

Learning from past SWA-HLMs, we will endeavour to ensure the private sector (especially those involved in WASH entrepreneurship) and development partners are part of the sector review and diagnostic processes, to appreciate the dynamics and to help them fashion their own response to support the drive towards universal access for everyone everywhere.

Of immense importance this time around is to ensure we shape our conversations in a manner that ensures WASH is well anchored on national development discourse, rather than isolated from other sectors. WaterAid is therefore emphasising the role of WASH in national development, especially the poverty reduction narrative and reduction of unemployment, particularly for youth.

We are also stressing the importance of addressing all the myths surrounding menstrual hygiene management. Throughout we will focus on getting succinct messages to our audience, especially political leadership, and ensuring this leads to real commitment to bring about an efficient sector backed by adequate, predictable, sustainable and equitable financing that reaches those most in need.

What next after April?

So what next after these SWA-HLMs? Continuous sector engagement; feedback mechanisms at national, sub-national and community levels; and ensuring that we get reliable data to build on will all be important. In particular, the role of joint sector reviews is key! Continuous sector dialogue and identification of bottlenecks will give national governments and key sector leaders an idea of where the sector is, what needs to be done, and – with a shared vision – help them agree on workable solutions and policy options.

The SWA process has helped countries identify the real cost of reaching everyone everywhere at the national level, to guide annual resource allocation. But what is most important is to plan, target and capture the vulnerable groups and individuals who live at the margins of society to address their development needs and enable them live dignified lives.