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?

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