Balancing budgets isn’t one-sided: Why collaboration is key to reducing the WASH financing gap

By Hanna Woodburn, Global Public Private Partnership for Handwashing director

22 Feb, 2017 in Partner Perspective Categories

I think that it is natural at the outset of a new year to take some time to take stock of what’s come before. For me, I spent a good portion of January working on an annual report for my organization, the Global Handwashing Partnership (previously referred to as the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing). Part of our mandate is to advocate for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), and if 2015 was about advocating for the inclusion of WASH in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), then 2016 was where we sat back and said, “Okay, now what?! How do we make this happen?”

The answer to these questions might be obvious:  we need hardware (taps, toilets, infrastructure), supportive enabling environments (WASH-friendly policies), effective behavior change programs, and sufficient financing mechanisms. And if those components alone weren’t daunting enough, there should also be sustainability and local ownership. It is clear that if we hope to succeed and meet the challenge put forth by the SDGs, we must work together.

As the director of an organization that promotes hygiene, my natural inclination is to focus on the behavior change component of achieving the SDGs. And certainly, this is both essential and often overlooked. However, ahead of the 2017 SWA High-level Meetings, I am particularly cognizant of the finance gap.  

It’s easy, when thinking about financing, to relegate this to a specific actor within the sector. And it is true that governments have an essential role to play in ensuring that WASH is sufficiently funded. However, governments alone cannot afford the costs associated with the SDGs, just as the private sector cannot solely create the necessary demand for products, and civil society cannot be singularly tasked with implementation.

Thus, while it is incumbent upon governments to both enact good WASH policies and budget for WASH, the private sector can also help foster investment in WASH. To be clear, governments should not approach the private sector as a panacea to fill funding gaps. But, the private sector, through partnerships, innovative financing mechanisms, and investments can assist in funding WASH projects. I believe that this is just one of many ways that collaboration amongst different sectors can yield better potential returns.

It is my hope that during the upcoming High-level Meetings, governments—and representatives from the private sector and civil society—will be able to identify how to make this collaboration a reality. Because it is essential that we don’t neglect this great opportunity that we have—to make clean water, sanitation, and hygiene a reality for all, always and everywhere.