Wish EU were there: water and toilets at the European Development Days 2016

3 min read

Did you know that more than 50% of the world’s overseas development assistance comes from the EU and its member states? And that the EU is collectively the largest donor to the water, sanitation and hygiene sector?

Nutrition, water and sanitation experts came together at the 10th European Development Days to discuss how to better work together.

The EU’s huge financial contribution to international development and the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector is why in June a delegation from WaterAid headed to Brussels for the 10th European Development Days (EDD). Organised by the European Commission, the EDD is Europe’s leading forum for development. 

Almost 6,000 people gathered from more than 154 countries, including distinguished guests such as UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, President Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe of Ethiopia, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa.

Focus on the Agenda

For its 10th anniversary, the conference focused on the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, making it the first major conference dedicated to this issue since the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN in September 2015. 

In addition to this overarching focus, each year the European Commission also selects a number of thematic topics for the conference, to help frame activities. This year ‘the Water-Energy-Food Nexus’ was one such focus – thus providing a real opportunity for WaterAid to get their voice heard and discuss the interrelated nature of SDG6. 

In rainy Brussels, Wednesday was spent mingling with development experts, listening to world leaders set out their Agenda 2030 plans and networking with others in the sector. On Thursday came our own session – ‘Toilets for Nutrition.’ 

WASH and undernutrition

Half of undernutrition is associated with unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Yet for too long this vital link has been neglected and work on WASH and nutrition has largely been done in silos. Our session ‘Toilets for Nutrition’ focused on the need for improved coordination and integration across WASH and nutrition so that we can effectively work together to reduce undernutrition. 

Alongside WaterAid, also representing the SHARE Consortium, the session included presentations from SUN (the Scaling Up Nutrition movement), ACF (Action Contre La Faim) and the European Commission, all of whom provided a united front in calling for increased joint action. An engaged discussion with the audience then followed, and it transpired that many European Commission officials were in the crowd. Useful conversations were had and plans made, followed by filmed interviews with our panellists for Capacity4Dev, the European Commission’s knowledge sharing platform.

We also took the opportunity to preview WaterAid’s brand new Healthy Start animation to the crowd, which went down fantastically – if you ever had any questions about the relationship between WASH and undernutrition then I seriously recommend giving this one-minute video a watch!

An appetite for nutrition

I left the conference feeling invigorated and optimistic that there is a real appetite from across the WASH and nutrition sectors to work better together. However, now the hard work begins; the conversations have been had but action must now follow, which will require a change in the way we all work.

I truly believe that, through increased collaboration across WASH and nutrition, and with buy in from influential development partners such as the European Commission, we can reduce the huge burden of undernutrition and the grip that it holds over so many people’s wellbeing and prosperity. 

Read WaterAid’s response to the result of the UK EU referendum in June >