SWA at the UN General Assembly

18 Sep, 2015

Catarina chairing

Making it happen: ending inequalities and ensuring sanitation, water and hygiene for all as a basis for achieving the SDGs

29 September 2015, 1:15 – 2:30 p.m.
Conference Room 7, UN Secretariat, New York

Hosted by the Governments of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Republic of South Africa, Hungary and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Participants at the opening week of the 70th UN General Assembly took part in an energetic side-event to discuss the importance of reaching universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The discussion focused on ending inequalities, and on the importance of gender equality in particular 

The event was moderated by Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Executive Chair of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership.  Key-note speakers were Mr. Christiaan Rebergen, Director General for Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands, Mr. Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water and Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Mr. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations.  Panelists were H.E. Mr. Ádám Zoltán Kovács, Deputy Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary, H.E. Mr. Amir Hossain Amu, Minister for Industries, Bangladesh , Ms. Fatoumata Ndiaye, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF , Ms. Jennifer Sara, Director, Global Water Practice, World Bank Group, H.E. Ms. Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister of Water and Sanitation, South Africa and Ms. Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership.

Ms de Albuquerque opened the meeting by urging speakers and audience not to forget the crucial role accountability will play in ensuring duty-bearers tackle inequality in their effort to achieving the SDGs. “Goal 16 is the accountability powerhouse of the SDGs: it directly calls on all to support governments to achieve the SDGs through institution building and planning frameworks, while also holding governments accountable for how they achieve the Goals.” Many participants echoed the sentiment. Minister Mokonyane pointed out that we must work to transform the sector: “An ambitious approach is needed from the water sector. Accountability is key, starting from the communities we serve up to the highest levels of political establishment.” Mr. Gass also noted that 2015 heralds a fundamental shift of moving from a targeted, selected and developing countries approach in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era to a universal, human-rights based approach in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: “Human rights and human dignity must be the central principles of a compelling narrative driving the new agenda. This is especially true when it comes to water and sanitation, for these services are fundamental building blocks to human dignity and development.”

On behalf of the four hosting Member States, Mr. Rebergen, spoke about the central role of water, sanitation and hygiene in eliminating poverty and ensuring gender equality. He also noted the strong inter-linkages between Goal 6 on ensuring water and sanitation access for all, and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities, as well furthering health and determinants of economic growth such as workplace and school attendance.

Mr. Jarraud pointed out that SDG 6 is likely the most “linked” of all the Goals in the 2030 Agenda, “It is our duty to shape the development of this world sustainably… in doing so, we must recognize that the entire agenda is intricately connected to water and sanitation.” This theme was central to the high-level panel discussion that followed the key-note speakers, during which Ms. Ndiaye reminded the room of the profound impacts, often lasting for generations, of a lack of WASH access on health, nutrition and education for children, families and communities, with the effects disproportionately falling on women and girls: “WASH is a perfect example of interconnectedness.” The connection between WASH and gender was stressed, with Ms. Verhoef-Cohen emphasizing the link between Goal 5 and 6: “Access to and control over water resources for domestic and productive uses is a key for women’s productive capacity and empowerment”. Women, she noted, play an important role not only in managing water resources, putting their health disproportionately at risk without its sustainable management; women also are the primarily caretakers for others who are affected by unsafe water and sanitation.

Participants also discussed how to put these cross-connections into practice in practical ways, in particular the need for more cooperation and creation of efficiencies. As Ms. Sara put it “our world has changed, and traditional approaches can’t close the gap between water supply and demand”, adding that adequate financing is needed, including combinations of user tariffs, public expenditures and new and innovative forms of finance from both the domestic and public sector “don’t fix pipes, fix institutions that fix pipes”. Minister Amu noted that achieving the 2030 Agenda “will require good governance and breaking down silos to develop new forms of partnership across different parts of government and with civil society and private sector.”  Mr Kovacs reminded participants of water’s historical role as a source of cooperation that brings together generations, people and cultures around the world. “We need innovative policies, including legal frameworks and institutional arrangements, and increased cooperation, investments and development assistance in the water sector”.

Supportive statements from the audience included an assertion that the 2030 Agenda must be based on the principle of the human right to water and sanitation and the need to reach the most vulnerable people in the world.  Participants called for an integrated approach to WASH and ecosystems and involvement of the private sector to mobilize finance, capacity and expertise.  The importance of helping national governments quickly set up national development plans for implementing the SDGs was noted.

Group Candid_originalPanelists and speakers gathered for a lighthearted moment after the event – with toilet paper placed throughout the UN building to raise awareness of sanitation

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