Friday, 26 September 2008
Outlining a belief that "our greatest enemy is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis; it is too much indifference. Indifference in the face of sole-destroying poverty, indifference in the face of catastrophic threats to our planet," Brown called on the world to take action on strengthening health systems, eliminating malaria, providing education for all and ending hunger.
Sentiments we can all commend, passion we can all empathise with, and causes we must all support. Yet Brown also unwittingly highlighted a theme that has become a millstone around the neck of efforts to end the sanitation crisis - indifference to the needs of 40% of the world's population who need access to a safe and hygienic toilet, and a failure of the aid system to respond both the needs and priorities of the poor, as well as evidence of what works to promote health and alleviate poverty.
For it is indifference and a sidelining of the sanitation and water sector in the minds of policy makers that is hampering greater progress towards not only meeting the targets on these issues, but also those targets on slashing extreme poverty, reducing child poverty, achieving universal primary education and attaining gender equality.
Today, Gordon Brown was not the only leader to neglect the indisputable linkages of sanitation and water to health and education, as statement after statement failed either to highlight their role, or if they did they certainly did nothing about it.
There were a few exceptions, of course. The Prince of Orange, Chair of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on water and sanitation, threw his support behind the UK-Dutch 'global framework for action' and called on others to follow. And others (Australia and Switzerland for example) called for a greater role for water and sanitation.
But overall, the action was elsewhere and while gains have been made at the UN this week, we have some way to go until we see the issues of sanitation and water receive the same attention as they are given by the poor.
The UK-Dutch announcement yesterday was the main show in town for sanitation and water, and whilst it is disappointing that further announcements were not made, progress has been made and the job to bring more people on board - and strengthen the plan with significant levels of funding - starts now.
And further, we must remember to 'bank' what we have so far, while of course remaining scandalised by what has been left undone. A few positives to note:
- The global framework for action (outlined in yesterday's post) is on the table now, is being championed by 2 key governments and will start to be developed and implemented, hopefully with more partners.
- This framework incorporates a lot (but not all) of our policy objectives, and is thanks to your efforts and a growing civil society movement.
- This UN meeting was one step in the process - other important agreements this year include those at the African Union to develop national plans and provide greater domestic spending, and those in the EU Agenda for Action, which commits the EU member states to spend and extra 2 bn Euros on the sector in Africa by 2010.
- The G8 Summit placed the issue firmly for the next year in Italy 2008.
'Banking' these things are fine, but of course we are still a million miles from where we need to be, and there remains as many reasons to be sceptical as optimistic.
- The global framework for action needs broader support to be effective, and countries were not queuing up today to prioritise the sector nor sign up to the framework.
- It needs to ensure sufficient funding and a way to deliver a promise that no country plans will fail through lack of finance.
- The extra money needed is in the billions - the UK-Dutch contribution can only just be the start.
- Even looking at the UK, whose announcement we welcomed, there is still plenty to do to match its rhetoric with action in its own budgets - it spends a paltry 1.5% of its total aid on the sector. This will be true of other donors too. This simply must change.
So we must all start hammering our governments to know (a) whether they will support the global framework, (b) whether they will be increasing their funding to either to meet or match the commitments made, whether at EU or AU level, and (c) whether they will finally consider water and sanitation as an essential and equal partner alongside health and education so that the aid system can work for the poor and we can have a chance of meeting the MDGs and really fighting the broad reality of poverty.
And in doing so we have to tell them indifference will not be tolerated.
Read statements from the High-Level Event
Read about commitments made at the UN meeting (the 24th September includes commitments on MDG 7, the 25th one does not - no idea why...)
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
This is the week when New York gets taken over by the UN General Assembly. Already the news agenda includes protests over the arrival of the Iranian President and concern over the aftermath of the crisis in Georgia - but is most of all saturated by the resulting traffic jams... Nuclear proliferation, international conflict and global poverty seems unable to compete for airspace with the sight and sounds of a sea of yellow taxi cabs and their horn-honking drivers.
Today's focus on 'Africa's Development Needs' saw African Heads of State agreeing a political declaration outlining their common view of what needs to be done on a range of issues from debt, aid and trade to health, education and climate change. All clear, desirable and uncontroversial, yet the declaration was worryingly short of detail, not least on water and sanitation. Offering nothing beyond the reiteration of past commitments, the declaration was silent on how these commitments should be delivered, what they would do to implement them, or what donors needed to do to support them.
Surely an example perhaps of what we need to avoid this week. The last thing we need is another paper simply compiling the same unmet promises, another document to add to the burgeoning library of repeated - and repeatedly ignored - commitments. Surely we just need an outline of concrete actions to deliver them, not a process to negotiate once again what has already been agreed. Otherwise this could all be done by teleconference and we could save New Yorkers the trouble of sitting bumper to bumper in traffic while world leaders move at an equally slow pace (and possibly in a less certain direction).
But what of the rest of the week? The two big days are on Wednesday and Thursday - the former being the date of a 'partnership event' being organised by Germany, Japan, Netherlands and Tajikistan that is meant to provide leadership and ideas for action in the water and sanitation sector, and the latter being the main day where leaders get together to discuss and agree actions on achieving the MDGs. Although cynics might say that 'discussion' may mean reading pre-prepared statements, and 'action' may mean anything but, I will reserve judgement...
The outcomes of these two days remain uncertain and partly open. On the one hand, there could be some positive announcements and commitments from individual countries taking forward some of things End Water Poverty has been calling for. On the other, a comprehensive, ambitious, collective agreement of the sort needed may be harder to achieve. This UN meeting won't be the place where a final agreement is reached to agree a global action plan to meet the sanitation and water MDGs, but it could be an important step on the way.
Friday, 19 September 2008
Welcome to the latest blog from End Water Poverty.
Between 22nd and 25th September I will be keeping you up to date on the latest happenings at the United Nations in New York. Heads of State are gathering to discuss measures to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including the crucial targets on water and sanitation.
Falling at the mid-point towards the deadline for achieving the MDGs, and towards the International Year of Sanitation, the UN meeting provides a real opportunity for world leaders to do more than say the right things. They have the chance to take concrete action in support of the 2.5 billion people around the world who have no safe place to use the toilet, and the 900 million people who have no access to clean water.
Will this be the breakthrough we need, or will it be more of the same?
Read more about the meeting at www.endwaterpoverty.org/un
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
And here it is, the G8 statement on Africa and Development. The collective wisdom and energy of the 7 most powerful men - and the world’s most powerful woman - on the continent’s development.
And what does it say?
Not a lot. Certainly not enough to satisfy the hundreds of thousands of campaigners who demanded a global action plan to provide sanitation and water for all. And certainly not enough for the 2.6 billion people around the world who have no safe place to go to the toilet.
To be fair, there are some positives – sanitation and water have been discussed at the top table for the first time in 5 years. They recognised it as central to improving health and development, acknowledged the need to accelerate efforts to meet the millennium development goals and started a process which will be reviewed at next year’s G8.
But really, lets not get too excited. Imagine if you were one of the world’s most powerful people (maybe you are, if so call me). Imagine you were discussing ways to stop kids dying with your 7 extremely powerful pals. Imagine you knew that poor sanitation probably kills more children every year than any other cause. What would you do?
• Issue a statement that provides almost no concrete commitments – and no money - to deliver more taps and toilets to the world’s poor?
• Set up a working group to report in 1 year (by which time 2.4 million children will have died from poor sanitation), based on implementing a failed plan agreed 5 years ago?
• Actively veto suggestions made by your powerful friends that might actually improve the health of 40% of world’s population?
If last night you ate a meal with 18-24 dishes (depending on which paper you read) then you might well have done all of the above.
In many ways we’ve forward since the 2007 G8, when neither water nor sanitation got a look in. We have a platform to go forward to the UN meeting in September. But is this pace of change, this level of ambiguity, this lack of money really acceptable to someone living in a slum next an open sewer, sharing 1 insanitary toilet with hundreds of other people?
Messrs Brown, Burlosconi, Bush, Fukuda, Harper, Merkel, Medvedev and Sarkozy: what do you think?
And whilst we’re at it, leaders of Africa: is this what you were looking for?
For the official response, read the End Water Poverty press release
Read the G8 communique on Africa and development
Back on earth, at the G8 summit, coverage of yesterday's outreach with African countries focused largely on Zimbabwe, although water and sanitation was raised alongside the food crisis as priority areas by the African leaders. Other hot topics around the summit appear to be the food crisis, oil prices, the state of the world economy, climate change and fears of backtracking on previous aid and HIV commitments.
(as i write this the documents on the world economy have been released)
As we get closer to the main announcement on Africa - probably happening late this afternoon (Japan time) - it has become increasingly clear how negotiations have watered down proposals on tackling the water and sanitation crisis. Comparing leaked drafts of the G8 communique dated before and after key negotiation meeting shows how proposals to establish an annual review and meeting to drive global progress were vetoed.
We'll have to see what comes out in the end but brace yourselves for ambiguity. On the one hand there will be positive recognition of the issue's importance and some hope for future processes. But on the other, don't expect a detailed action plan to end the crisis once and for all - or access to the G8 bank account - just yet... I'm more likely to be flying to the moon to fix a toilet.
Monday, 7 July 2008
Welcome to my End Water Poverty G8 blog, coming straight at you from rain-soaked Hokkaido, where I will be reporting back on the global circus that is the G8 summit. As 7 men and 1 woman luxuriate by Lake Toyako, putting the world to rights, deciding the fate of billions of people across the world, this intrepid but bleary-eyed correspondent will endeavour to keep you informed and updated.
7th July 0600 GMT, Hokkaido, Japan
The G8 officially kicks off today, with its day of 'African outreach' - whereby heads of 8 African states are invited to join the party. Whilst there will be a drip feed of news and rumour, as as a press conference, the bigger statements on Africa, climate change and the world economy are expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.
So as the jamboree starts, what do we expect to happen? A lot of words and back-slapping for sure. But concrete action to deliver for the 40% of the world's population who have no access to safe sanitation? Hmmm not if current rumours and intelligence are anything to go by...
Newly leaked drafts of the G8 communique show how commitments have been watered down in negotiations, with few commitments and even fewer measurable actions.
So clearly there is quite a fight ahead at this summit and beyond to get agreement on a genuinely ambitious global plan of action on sanitation and water, but at least now we have made it to the battlefield...
In other news, WaterAid launched a new report today, detailing evidence showing that poor sanitation may be the biggest killer children in the world today. Accounting for a quarter of all child deaths, the lack of a safe place to go the toiled could be killing 2.4 million children every year.
So a question for Frau Merkel, Monsieur Sarkozy and friends - which of you are blocking measures to stop this public health scandal, and what are you thinking?
For more information about End Water Poverty, visit www.endwaterpoverty.org
Thursday, 3 July 2008
End Water Poverty campaign coordinator Steve Cockburn will be writing a daily blog live from the G8 meeting in Japan. You can read his first entry on Monday 7 July.
As hosts of the 2008 G8 Summit, the Government of Japan have led the G8 by committing to putting water and sanitation on the summit agenda - a step warmly welcomed by End Water Poverty campaigners. Yet fears remain that this crucial opportunity may be lost if leaders fail to take concerted action.
End Water Poverty are calling on leaders to agree a global action plan on water and sanitation, including a commitment that every country will have enough money to deliver the 'taps and toilets' needed to provide life and dignity to their citizens.
Steve Cockburn (pictured, right) will be sending daily reports from the Summit in Japan, so do come back next week to find out whether the demands of the End Water Poverty coalition are addressed at the Summit.