About SWA

A global issue. Many solutions. One partnership.


SWA   is a global partnership of country governments, private sector and civil society organizations, external support agencies, research and learning institutions and other development partners working together to catalyze political leadership and action, improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively. Partners work towards a common vision of sanitation, hygiene and water for all, always and everywhere. 

SWA explained in Spanish.

The problems that
SWA seeks to address

Almost two and a half billion people – a third of the world’s population – live without adequate sanitation facilities. 663 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking water protected from outside contamination.

Despite the great need and potentially enormous benefits, the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector has historically faced major obstacles. Each of the following five obstacles are interlinked and, taken together, reflect the complexity of the problem.

WASH is low on the political agenda directdown

Political and financial decision-makers are often unaware of the fundamental importance, or the multiple benefits, of WASH improvements. In addition, investment in WASH faces many competing priorities such as health, education, infrastructure and defence. As a result, WASH is often not prioritized and suffers from a lack of institutional leadership, capacity and resources which impedes progress.

Comprehensive national plans are not being developed and implemented directdown

The majority of developing countries report they have agreed policies on water and sanitation but lack adequate institutional or human resource capacity to develop realistic plans or implementation strategies. Where plans exist, they have often not been developed in consultation with key sector stakeholders. Most countries have established national sector planning and coordination processes, but they lack reliable information about the sector in order to plan and invest coherently. This lack of comprehensive planning undermines credibility with investors such as donors and central governments. (GLAAS 2012)

Finance to the sector is unpredictable, insufficient and does not reach the countries or
people that need it the mostdirectdown

National budget allocations to sanitation and drinking-water are insufficient in order to meet government targets to provide services to the unserved as well as to maintain existing services. In addition, investment decisions often do not respond to needs, and issues of equity are often not addressed. The problem is greatest where the coverage is lowest.

Many countries also have low capacity to absorb funds allocated to WASH due to human, financial and institutional constraints. Further, it is the countries in greatest need that have the least capacity to spend funds. This creates a vicious cycle further undermining credibility with government and donor investors.

Evidence further shows that aid-flows to many countries with low coverage are not correlated with need. On a regional basis, though 70% of the unserved live in sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Southeastern Asia, these regions only receive half of the sanitation and water aid.

Reliable evidence, data or analysis to inform decision-making is limited and it is difficult
to track progressdirectdown

Countries find it difficult to plan and make decisions about where investments in WASH should go due to the lack of reliable and accessible information. In many cases, countries do not have reliable data to determine who lacks services or, if they have been provided services in the past, what condition the facilities are in. Detailed data at the levels of state/province, local government area and community are essential. The lack of these data makes investment allocations difficult and complicates coordination of activities.

Despite many monitoring initiatives, it is difficult to track and demonstrate progress and impact in the WASH sector, particularly at national and sub-national levels. Finance ministers are likely to be reluctant to prioritize the sector to receive a country’s scarce resources if they don’t see value for money or a return on investment.

Low levels of mutual accountability exist between developing countries and donors,
and between developing country governments and their citizensdirectdown

Governments make commitments to increase budgets for WASH through national plans but don’t necessarily allocate the required funds. Similarly, while donors may make commitments to fund WASH, these commitments are not always followed through. Over the period 2002 – 2010, data show that donors did not release US$17 billion of the US$54 billion of aid committed to the water and sanitation sector.

Mechanisms to hold governments and donors to account for their promises are often weak, and too few platforms exist for citizens and users to be consulted and to feedback on the performance of WASH service providers.

How the partnership
addresses the
obstacles in the
WASH sector

Recognizing that developing countries and aid organizations achieve more by working together, Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) aims to turn the current situation around by creating a virtuous cycle of robust planning, institutional strengthening, better resource utilization and higher investment that has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of billions of people.

SWA provides a transparent, accountable and results-oriented framework for action based on a common vision, values and principles. SWA has over 100 partners, who work together to coordinate high-level action, empower or strengthen governments (from developing countries) to lead and coordinate the sector; improve accountability and use scarce resources more effectively.

SWA is a platform:

For coordinated action directdown

SWA provides a framework for partners to collaborate globally, regionally and nationally on three priority areas (find out more in Module 3): Together, SWA partners work to:

Increase political prioritization to accelerate progress towards universal access to sustainable sanitation, hygiene and water services

Promote the development of a strong evidence base that supports good decision making

Strengthen national government-led planning processes to guide the development and implementation of sustainable sanitation and drinking water services

Working together on these areas, SWA aims to increase the impact of available resources and strengthen mutual accountability among partners.

For global high-level dialogue directdown

SWA partners engage in existing political processes to advocate for greater attention and resources for WASH at both the national and global levels. For example, SWA works through key partners to put WASH on the agenda at the UN General Assembly and will look towards other political opportunities such as the post-2015 development agenda, G8, G20, and World Economic Forum in the future. SWA seeks to strengthen collaboration with other sectors (such as health, education and nutrition) as well as with similar partnerships such as Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), A Promised Renewed (Child Survival), Every Woman Every Child (EWEC), the International Health Partnership (IHP) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Further, SWA works to align with existing regional WASH sector mechanisms, such as AfricaSan and SACOSAN.

SWA’s primary mechanism to engage high-level decision makers to take action is the High-Level Commitments Dialogue (HLCD). This is a process by which developing countries and donors develop context-specific commitments which address the fundamental bottlenecks holding back progress and are consistent with international aid and development effectiveness principles. The HLCD is designed to encourage on-going political dialogue at the national (including sub-national) and global levels and is focused on achieving results on the ground. Country-level dialogue is strengthened among ministers, technical stakeholders, CSOs, donors and development banks. Partners are encouraged to raise WASH on the political agenda and promote solutions, demonstrate political will, strengthen mutual accountability and increase the impact of resources.

Every two years, UNICEF, on behalf of the SWA Partnership, convenes the global SWA High-Level Meeting (HLM) which is hosted at the World Bank in Washington DC. The HLMs bring together ministers responsible for finance, water and sanitation from developing countries, ministers of development cooperation from donor countries, and high-level representatives from development banks and leading sanitation and water agencies, including from civil society. At HLMs, ministers table the commitments they have developed through the HLCD process.

On behalf of the partnership, the SWA Secretariat monitors these commitments and issues a report on progress.

To implement the aid effectiveness agenda in the WASH sectordirectdown

SWA provides a platform where governments lead and coordinate the WASH Sector. Working together, governments and development partners can better harmonize their efforts to accelerate progress in WASH. By joining SWA, partners agree to adhere to the SWA Guiding Principles, largely based on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action. The principles include country ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for results, mutual accountability and predictability. The principles aim to facilitate improved domestic investment, increased donor flows through country systems, and more effective use of all resources in the sector to ultimately achieve sustainable access to services for everyone.

To strengthen mutual accountability directdown

SWA partners actively participate in the High Level Commitments Dialogue to develop partner-specific commitments to improve sanitation and water services. At the biennial High Level Meeting, ministers responsible for finance, water and sanitation from developing countries, ministers of development cooperation from donor countries, and high-level representatives from development banks agree to report on progress commitments annually, in consultation with civil society from their respective countries.

Monitoring progress of the commitments made at the SWA High Level Meetings is SWA’s key mechanism for strengthening mutual accountability. As a partner-led and partner-governed initiative, self-reporting is a fundamental premise of SWA. The SWA Secretariat, mandated by the SWA Steering Committee, facilitates the reporting process, analyses the results and produces an annual global report on the status of implementation of the commitments. The process is expected to be inclusive with all partners taking part and being consulted including civil society representatives. FAST FACTS


"Sanitation and water deserve the attention of the highest level policymakers around the world because there is increasing evidence they are critical to all the development challenges we face."

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Fast Facts


2.4 Billion people (30% of the global population)
live without adequate sanitation facilities.


663 million people
still lack improved drinking water sources.


800 children die every day from unsafe water, lack of basic sanitation and poor hygiene. Many adults suffer from waterborne disease and ill health, making them less economically productive and straining already weak health systems.


Women and girls who trek miles for drinking water miss out on productive work or school education. For those children who do attend school, about 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related illness.


For every dollar spent on sanitation, there is a
5.5 dollar return.


The total global economic losses associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation is US$ 260 billion annually.

Historical Timeline

Human Development Report on the global water crisis is influential and sparks dialogue between key donors and development partners. The UK Department for International Development publishes the report ‘Why we need a global action plan on water and sanitation’

the UK Department for International Development promotes the ‘Five ones’, two of which prove particularly significant: an annual global meeting to discuss the status of sanitation and water and an annual global report.

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness helped provide a framework for more effective ways to harmonize and align international and national efforts to improve sanitation and water.

SWA holds its first High-Level Meeting in Washington DC, USA. Here donors, development partners and governments agree to coordinate and harmonise their efforts, and make public commitments to improve sanitation and water. During the September 2010 Steering Committee meeting, the name changes from Global Framework for Action (GF4A) to Sanitation and Water for All (SWA). A new global WASH partnership is born. 

His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, becomes the the first high-level Chair of Sanitation and Water for All. His Excellency is former President of Ghana (2001-2009) and former Chairperson of the African Union (2007–2008). Darren Saywell, the WASH/CLTS Technical Director at Plan International, USA becomes the Vice-Chair of the SWA Steering Committee.

SWA holds its second High-Level Meeting in Washington DC, USA. The first SWA partnership meeting takes place in South Africa, bringing together over 120 SWA partners and potential partners to review progress so far.

Release of the 2013 update on the 2012 High Level Commitments dialogue and launch of the SWA High Level Commitments Dialogue.
Second SWA Partnership Meeting.

SWA 3rd High Level Meeting.