March and April 2017 offer unique opportunities for progress on achieving universal access to water and sanitation

Alix Charles, Water Action Month Campaign Consultant, End Water Poverty

#HLM2017 Partners Perspectives Series SM Alix Charles

9 Mar, 2017 in Partner Perspective Categories

Originally publish by End Water Poverty

In order to realise the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and the sixth Sustainable Development Goal, countries are facing a long list of ambitious targets. These include ending open defecation, providing equitable access to safe and affordable water, achieving adequate hygiene and sanitation, and reducing pollution of water supply systems by increasing treatment, recycling, and reuse of water.

This is no easy task, and collaboration between civil society organisations (CSOs) and governments is the key to ending the water and sanitation crisis for all. On one hand, CSOs often know best how to support communities, and are strategically placed to obtain community buy-in for projects. Meanwhile, government actors, such as ministers, councils, and heads of states, hold the power of budget allocation. They are able to shift regional- and national-level strategy and policy in order to meet the needs of their population. However, communication channels between the two groups are scarce and rarely utilised.

Luckily, the months of March and April 2017 offer unique opportunities to make significant progress towards cross-sector collaboration and achieving access to safe, reliable, and affordable water and sanitation for all. This year’s Water Action Month will precede a series of High-level Meetings (HLMs) in Washington DC in April, which amplifies its potential for making headway towards holding governments accountable to promises made with regards to water, sanitation and hygiene. 

The following includes background information on both the High-level Meetings and Water Action Month, as well as recommendations on how to maximise the impact of each of these opportunities. 

What are the High-level Meetings?

In April, ministers of finance as well as ministers responsible for water, sanitation, and hygiene, will convene in Washington DC, during the World Bank’s spring meetings, for a series of consultations to discuss meeting the water, sanitation, and hygiene-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These meetings will be sectioned into a meeting of ministers from the Water and Sanitation sector, followed by a meeting of finance ministers, the 19 and 20 April .

The goals of these meetings are the following:

  1. To endorse new policy principles which will eliminate inefficiencies and increase access to water, sanitation, and hygiene for all;
  2. To engage with ministers on the changes needed in order to meet the WASH targets of the SDGs;
  3. To share best practices and critical elements of a strong WASH sector, with regards to strengthening institutions, increasing capacity, planning sustainably, and designing inclusive policies and strategy;
  4. To foster collaboration between ministers and senior representatives within four key Collaborative Behaviours defined by the Sanitation and Water for All initiative, towards increasing effectiveness;
  5. To discuss political, institutional and governance reforms needed to make better use of existing resources, attract new funding, target the most marginalised, and eliminate inefficiencies

To learn more about the High-level Meetings and the Collaborative Behaviours, visit the page SWA 2017 High-level Meetings.

What is Water Action Month?

Water Action Month takes place in March and is an initiative of End Water Poverty, a global coalition of 250+ member organisation focused on ending the water and sanitation crisis for all. Water Action Month is a 31-day campaign that offers organisations around the world important advocacy opportunities to call for change, with civil society acting as one loud and united voice. Activities are run throughout the month of March, culminating in highlighting the importance of World Water Day on 22 March and the critical need for increased prioritisation and attention on WASH issues.

All actions specific to Water Action Month focus around the world on holding decision-makers accountable to their promises to realise the human right to water and sanitation at local, national, regional and global levels. Water Action Month grew out of World Walks for Water which started in 2011, and which in 2015 united over 455,000 in 35 countries around the common message of calling for a better future, and for governments to meet the demands of achieving the human right to water and sanitation.

Examples of activities and events held throughout Water Action Month include:

  • Traveling with journalists to neglected communities, to document the realities of lacking water and sanitation access
  • Holding trainings for children and teachers in schools with regards to the importance of water and sanitation for health and wellbeing
  • Planning meetings between community members and policy-makers on the topic of the needs, challenges, and opportunities regarding access to water and sanitation
  • Organising “walks”, “runs”, or bicycle parades to raise awareness and media coverage regarding the importance of water and sanitation

To learn more about Water Action Month, to download a toolkit of activities and branded campaign materials, and to view a shared calendar of organisations’ activities around the world, visit End Water Poverty’s website at

How can Water Action Month activities increase the impact and success of the HLMs, and vice versa?

This alignment of Water Action Month and High-Level Meetings provides a unique opportunity for organisations to have a louder voice than ever in the pushing for policy and strategy changes to advance progress with regards to water and sanitation access.

WASH-focused organisations can tailor their Water Action Month efforts and undertake activities in the following ways in order to maximise impact of the HLMs:

  1. Contact your ministries to learn about whether or not your finance and WASH ministers have been invited to the HLMs and have accepted their invitation.
  2. Pressure finance and sector ministers to attend HLMs: Write letters to ministers to voice your opinion that attendance is key to ensuring that goals and targets with regards to WASH are met in a timely fashion. Highlighting the need to design a financing plan for the implementation of the Water SDG which takes into account the most marginalised will help ensure that this is a priority during the meetings.
  3. Ask to be part of the preparation process of the HLMs and emphasise that the implementation of the SDGs is a multi-stakeholder task, where all partners need to be around the table and have a role to play.
  4. Call upon your finance minister to meet with his/her counterpart in the WASH sector to prepare for HLMs. If your ministers begin their conversations prior to their arrival in Washington, DC, they can align their key messages, agendas, and strategies. This level of thorough preparation for these meetings will help ensure that time in Washington, DC is spent as efficiently as possible. In turn, this will help ensure that changes will be implemented upon their return.
  5. Request that they come back with actionable items learned from ministers from other countries. The HLMs will provide opportunities for ministers from around the world to share best practices, lessons learned, and common challenges. With proper planning and by working as a team, your finance and sector ministers should be able to return from the HLMs with clear changes to implement, in order to make progress towards ending the water and sanitation crisis and strengthening the system as a whole.

For more information on the High-level Meetings and ways to make the most out of the unique opportunities that March and April offer, watch the webinar series organised by Sanitation and Water for All by clicking here. Achieving universal access to safe, reliable, and affordable water and sanitation is the responsibility of all stakeholders. Don’t miss your chance to have your voice be heard. Play your part in making change happen in your country and community by getting involved during this year’s Water Action Month and High-level Meetings.