No political leader anywhere doesn’t want to provide safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to every single constituent. However, even though sustainable WASH services strengthen all other development and health initiatives (energy, roads, education), it is difficult to integrate new programs and increase funding. The way across the divide is political will: how can we make it possible for political leaders to do what they already want to do? How can we strengthen political will, making it possible for those political leaders to commit to 100 percent coverage of safe drinking water and sanitation in their countries, provinces, neighborhoods?
One organization that tackles this political challenge head-on is the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership (SWA). I recently attended SWA’s partnership meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting was less about the technicalities of sanitation and water programs, and more about politics, governance, advocacy, and Social Contract 101. I emerged from those few days with heightened optimism about the future of SWA and a more clear vision of the path toward universal coverage of sanitation and water. This meeting and others like it have provided a powerful global platform from which national leaders can discuss the issues and their solutions. In 2012 alone, developed and developing countries have made 402 public commitments to sanitation and water challenges in their countries.
SWA offers a powerful global platform from which to hold these countries accountable for these commitments. More importantly, SWA must track progress made country by country, and province by province, toward each of these commitments. Consistent, in-country progress, as highlighted in this recent blog, is far more important than any global or even regional actions. The international donor community can help, and WASH Advocates is pleased that the United States has joined SWA and made its own commitments.
2.5 billion people still lack access to sanitation, and almost 800 million people lack safe drinking water. We will achieve universal coverage in a tight timeframe not through simply drilling more wells or building more latrines, but by increasing the amount and effectiveness of political will for sanitation and water country by country. This heightened political will means bigger and smarter budgets for WASH, more emphasis on sanitation and what is really killing children (diarrheal disease), and financial resources that get to where they are needed transparently and efficiently. SWA with all of its imperfections and growing pains is the only platform with the mandate and ability to reach Finance Ministers (and even Prime Ministers and Heads of State) with sanitation and water messaging. SWA deserves not just our interest but our active engagement if we are serious when we claim to be working toward aid independence and the ultimate goal: universal coverage of sanitation and water.
John Oldfield is the CEO of WASH Advocates.