Tuesday, 12 April 2011

SACOSAN IV: The changing face of international campaigning

Fleur Anderson writes for the blog with some final thoughts on the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN IV). Do share your views here too in the comments section.

Power of insider campaigning

I arrived at the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN IV) in Sri Lanka pretty skeptical about international conferences, and especially a conference just for the sanitation sector. Would this be another water-related forum for the same people to talk to each other rather than ever reaching the other decision makers who clearly don’t agree about the importance of water and sanitation?

But I’m a convert. Here were the delegations of key water ministers and civil servants having gone through a process of increasing awareness about sanitation and what to do to solve the sanitation crisis over the time of the four bi-annual conferences. Governments were giving the issue political importance, and being spurred on by the need to report back to the next Conference on progress made.

End Water Poverty members campaign for water and sanitation to be given a priority, and SACOSAN is where we see if this is really happening. It brings the MDGs and other declarations to life in the eight countries of South Asia, and directly addresses the sanitation crisis in this region in which 750,000 children died needlessly from diarrhea in the last two years alone.
The insider advocacy of FAN, WSSCC and WaterAid working so effectively together was very effective. Their clear messages of needing to served the unserved, listening to the voices of the poorest, and demand to timetable and plan for how to achieve existing declarations (rather than more new targets) were put to the conference in many different ways.

The result was a declaration which included these concerns almost word for word. This is the result of years of patient lobbying and great teamwork by these organizations – they really proved how they can be the voice of the people.

It's hard to reach the poorest
Inclusion and equity are watchwords in water and sanitation, and I found out why on a trip to a Sri Lankan village in the centre of the tropical island. Here, the village had a new very impressive water treatment system, new taps in the houses (so the women didn’t have to spend three hours a day fetching water any more) and a new toilet in each house. Yet again I had the strange experience of arriving at someone’s house from out of the blue and looking into their toilet! We found there that some families couldn’t afford to pay the water bill and so didn’t actually have the access that the statistics would show. The poorest, disabled, minority families and otherwise excluded communities with the country and also within each community need a voice during planning and running the services in their area, otherwise they won’t be reached. The aim of being ‘open defecation free’ will also not be achieved. I saw in the village how complicated this would be to do – but not at all impossible.

What is the point of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership ?

I had many conversations about the SWA with all sorts of people including from government delegations and civil society and UN organizations. There is still a real lack of knowledge about the SWA and understanding of what it can bring to the fairly crowded arena of water and sanitation development.

So the first thing to learn is that the SWA really needs to communication and sell itself better. Of course, it is a young process and the best way to explain itself will be its success, but we shouldn’t take this for granted. The second is to be clear about what the SWA brings and make sure it delivers on this. It is the only mechanism which brings in the collaboration of Finance Ministers with the Water Ministers, key sector partners and the civil society organizations to ensure sustainability and accountability. Political will and lack of evidence have been identified as a key blockages to real change on water and sanitation delivery. So the SWA seeks to address these with High Level meetings to increase political will, and strong research partners such as
GLAAS to enable evidence based decision making.

What if the state can’t deliver?

So, the SACOSAN declaration is good, Governments have all agreed to these fine intentions and civil society’s concerns have been listened to. The results should be more priority for water and sanitation, delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene education which really does reach the poorest and key areas such as schools. I am just left with a final concern that we are assuming a Western model of state delivery of services in an environment of effective bureaucracy and an active civil society which isn’t the reality in Asia or Africa. So campaigning for policy change may not make any difference in actual delivery.
What do you think?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Campaigners take the World Walks for Water message to New York

Inna Guenda and Prince Kreplah, water and sanitation campaigners from Burkina Faso and Liberia have spent this week in New York to lobby an important preparatory meeting of participants of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) to be held in Istanbul in May. They went to tell participants that an amazing 350,000 people demand that they take action on the water and sanitation crisis.

Many of the outcomes of LDC-IV will be decided before the actual conference at meetings such as this. Indeed as we reported last week a draft Istanbul Programme for Action has already been released, a document which we were delighted to see set ambitious targets for water and sanitation provision. However, negotiations are still very much ongoing regarding the content of the programme and campaigners wish to see clear guidelines outlined as to how the UN will meet its targets. It is still crucial therefore that the LDC-IV participants are educated on the available solutions that can help LDCs to meet these ambitious targets such as the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership.

Inna and Prince were hoping to see an increased prioritization and visibility of water, sanitation and hygiene at the conference. They wanted vast improvements after the Brussels Plan of Action evaluation report showed that little progress on water and sanitation had been made since the last LDC conference held in 2001. Indeed this report revealed that water access for rural populations in LDCs only increased by 4% in 8 years between 2000 and 2008. Access to sanitation went down in the same time.

Prince and Inna distributed copies of the civil society manifesto to the LDC conference which includes tangible actions governments and donors could take to tackle the crisis. All participants received a copy and some have already committed themselves to meeting the recommendations. Prince and Inna also met and lobbied representatives from the government delegations of Bangladesh, China, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, Togo, CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and Senegal. As well as meeting with the chairmen and some members of the G77 delegation (a loose coalition of UN developing countries).

Hopefully, as a result of our lobbying and the 350,000 people who took part in the World Walks for Water, the Istanbul Programme for Action will actively improve access to water and sanitation for the world’s poorest people and in turn help to lift them out of poverty and hardship.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Second report from LDC prep meeting in New York

Here's a second report (read their first report here) from Inna and Prince, who are water and sanitation campaigners from Burkina Faso and Liberia. They're in New York to lobby a prep com for the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), to be held in Istanbul in May:

The Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the fourth United Nations Conference on the LDCs continued this week with reviews and agreements on the contents, structure and sentence styles of various paragraphs of the introduction, goals, objectives, and principles of the draft program of action that will be submitted to the May Istanbul conference (LDC-IV). So it has been crucial to be here to talk with delegates and influence sections of the draft connected to water and sanitation.

In continuation of our lobbying efforts to increase the prioritization and visibility of water, sanitation and hygiene in the Istanbul Program of Action, we were able to meet with seven countries permanent mission and government delegations either in whole or in part. The country permanent missions and government delegations we held lobbying talks with included Bangladesh, China, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, Togo, representatives of CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and Senegal. Also we met with the chairman and some members of the G77 delegation.

Prince and Inna with delegations from Mali, Guinea and Mauritiana

Some of those we met advised that we develop a sentence or paragraph for their consideration as we would like to see it in the Istanbul Program for Action in addition to the current ones on water and sanitation and make it available to them to consider as they draft. This is a great opportunity! We have therefore developed three paragraphs from the recommendations made in the civil society manifesto.

We also got some more details on the civil society forum which will run alongside the LDC-IV. It will run from 7th to the 13th May 2011. We look forward to influencing there, but still much work to do here this week! We'll keep you updated here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sobering statistics and glimmers of hope in South Asia at SACOSAN

Fleur is attending the South Asian Conference on Sanitation and Water, or SACOSAN IV, this week to find out the challenges and opportunities in tackling the sanitation crisis in South Asia.

This week has been very exciting in South Asia - and it's got nothing to do with the cricket!

The Fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation and Water (SACOSAN IV, #sacosan4), which takes place every two years and has done wonders in raising the political profile of sanitation in the 8 countries of South Asia, has been taking place in Sri Lanka. It is amazing that given the dire situation of sanitation in South Asia, it has to be a regional political conference which has galvanized politicians into action rather than the desperate need, but this is the reality of the lack of political will which exisits. Sanitation is the poor relative of other issues such as health and education, and this has led to a crisis for the poor which impacts every area of their lives and of economic growth for their countries.

Sacosan has encouraged those who see sanitation as an urgent issue to really champion it, has provided a forum for sharing good ideas and ways to tackle sanitation in rural an Durban communities across the region, has given a deadline and peer pressure for Governments to come to the table with real commitments, and a forum for reporting back and being accountable to the commitments made previously.

The first day saw an opening ceremony (dancing, lighting lamps) and quite a litany of depressing statistics showing the lack of sanitation currently exisiting across the region. Of the 2.6 billion people around the world who don’t have access to sanitation (i.e. a good enough toilet to not be a health risk, and waste water treatment, and hygiene education), 72% are in South Asia. Open defecation is practiced (that makes it sounds like a nice choice, which it isn’t) by the majority of people across the region (65%). In India 69% of people have no toilet, in Bangladesh it is 47% and in Pakistan it is 55%. Stark and sobering numbers there.

The links made between poor sanitation and poor health have been emphasized constantly, and Daniel Toole from UNICEF listed some of the many health problems caused by lack of sanitation: deaths from diarrhea, malnourishment, worm infestation which causes disease and affects concentration in school, polio can’t be eradicated without good hygiene, women’s ‘imprisonment by daylight’ as they wait for dark to go and defecate, and absenteeism from school by girls. ‘The clock is ticking fast towards the MDGs. There is little time left and vast numbers of people without sanitation’ he warned. His assessment is that the political will is now being proven but needs to accelearate in this life or death issue.

Speeches have been made from leaders at the World Health Organisation, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, WaterAid, from civil society groups, from the UN advisory board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) and from WSSCC.

Amongst the rather dismal tale of statistics, behind which there are millions of tales of hardship, thwarted ambition, fear, pain and sadness, I was listening for some stories of success. Certainly there have been great gains in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and essential ingredients for success shared will not be new to End Water Poverty members but are worth emphasizing and sharing

  • Women’s empowerment and involvement
  • Strong inter-sectoral collaboration (water, health, finance and planning need to work together)
  • The critical role of the health sector in wanting to prevent disease and not just cure it, and so change their policies according and invest in community awareness
  • Community led models which build demand for better sanitation and make good use of small household investments
  • The need to build political commitment (which is where End Water Poverty comes in).

So far there has been a lot of agreement about the sanitation crisis in South Asia, but the end of the conference will show if the governments are willing to come together and commit to actions by certain deadlines. The time for fine words alone is passed – I hope.

SWA Meeting in Sri Lanka

Fleur Anderson reports from a meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership in Sri Lanka.

‘Progress in water and sanitation delivery is intimately linked to political will’ stated Piers Cross, SWA secretariat at last weekend’s Sanitation and Water for All meeting, and eloquently summed up the reason for the SWA partnership and the unique potential which it offers to significantly increase sanitation and water for communities in the poorest countries.

The Sanitation and Water for All partnership has now launched a new initiative to support water and sanitation delivery for all in the poorest countries. The partnership of donor governments, southern governments, multilateral donors and civil society, is continuing in its mission to increase political prioritization for water and sanitation. At the steering committee meeting on the 2nd April, a programme of matching a group of donors and technical support partners with governments from the country most far from reaching their MDG targets. Liberia is the first SWA member to work in this programme and aims to result in assistance and seed funding for good national water and sanitation plans, with good capacity to deliver on those plans and to attract the external funding it will need.

The Sanitation and Water for All partnership has also been pleased with on-going results in many countries of the High Level Meeting held in 2010, new policies in countries such as Angola, Chad, Nepal, Ghana and Senegal have resulted in increased impact of money spent on water and sanitation (through better policies) and better accountability, which will in turn lead to improving water and sanitation services for those currently missing out.

The importance of the 2012 High Level meeting was emphasized and plans to make this a good tool for advocacy for civil society in both the existing SWA member countries and countries which are new to the process. The challenge of civil society is to make the most of this opportunity for influence during 2011 as we push our governments to go to the High Level Meeting in 2012 with serious commitments which match up to the huge challenge of the current sanitation and water crisis.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Prep meeting for LDC Conference in New York

Inna Guenda and Prince Kreplah are water and sanitation campaigners from Burkina Faso and Liberia. They are in New York this week at an important preparatory meeting of participants of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV), to be held in Istanbul in May. They share their lobbying activities from their first day...

We’re here in New York to ensure that the preparation for LDC-IV includes discussions on water and sanitation. Much of the actual outcomes of LDC-IV will be decided ahead of the conference, so it’s crucial we’re here to share progress on water and sanitation coverage internationally and tell participants about the available solutions, such as the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership.

The meeting, or ‘PrepCom’ as it is often termed, began today with statements of commitments and expectations from various governments, development partners, representative of civil society and permanent missions.

As a start of our lobby for increased prioritization and visibility of water, sanitation and hygiene in the Istanbul Program of Action, we met with the Liberia and Sierra Leone country delegations. We also met with LDC WATCH staff, as they are coordinating a civil society forum on 7, May 2011 in Istanbul ahead of LDC-IV, and it will be another great opportunity to lobby for sanitation and water.

Our lobby discussions with PrepCom participants was informed by the Brussels Plan of Action evaluation report which shows that LDCs did not make much progress regarding water and sanitation access. This report revealed that water access for rural populations in LDCs was just 50% in 2000 and had only increased to 54% by 2008. This is woefully poor. Sanitation progress is even worse – with less coverage in 2008 than in 2000. The report concluded that practically no investment has been made regarding water and sanitation infrastructure.

The initial draft of the Istanbul Program of Action has received additional comments from the USA, from CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the EU on its sanitation and water sections. Particularly debated is the new target to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2020. The Group 77 (G77) says it’s good to have targets beyond the end of the MDGs.

Copies of our civil society manifesto were given to nearly all PrepCom participants, with some even committing to the recommendations we have made already! This is good news, and we have arranged to meet with other strategic participants during the week. We’ll keep you updated.