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Putting ears to the ground: How SWA Civil Society partners are advocating for water, sanitation and hygiene in 'Build Back Better' debate

Sanitation and Water for All Secretariat
30 Jul 2020

In the past couple of months, many SWA Civil Society partners have repurposed their activities to provide emergency relief to vulnerable communities and advocating for sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services as a priority for resilience against any future disease outbreaks.

Through their advocacy efforts, SWA CSO partners are dealing with a critical question of balancing the need to ensure that everyone can access/afford WASH services, and the imperative of keeping utilities afloat. Here's what they have to say:

Take a Human rights approach

Human rights to Water and Sanitation (and other related rights) demand that Government’s response to COVID-19 addresses inequalities and the sustainability of these services. Governments should undertake a human rights approach during and post COVID response.

Target those left behind and avoid disconnections
  1. Governments must organize water and sanitation systems that deliver services to all population groups, including those that are in hard-to-serve areas or are not connected to the systems, such as those in informal settlements and rural areas. This may require supporting a range of different service providers, including both formal and informal, public and private, and working in collaboration to ensure access to services for all. 
  2. Governments and utilities should not disconnect people from their access to water and sanitation in the COVID-19 and evacuate populations during the lockdown and recovery period. 
Strengthen participatory coordination mechanisms
  1. National coordination mechanisms (such as WASH clusters, COVID-19 coordination committees, and on the long term Joint Sector Reviews, or other multi-stakeholder platforms) should include civil society and other organizations representing different sections of the population. This can help governments identify vulnerable people and put in place measures that effectively support those who would otherwise be left behind.
  2. Involve communities in program design and implementation, and share ownership over interventions to elevate local knowledge and promote more inclusive and relevant solutions.
Provide financial prioritization and allocations to WASH
  1. Governments need to provide additional funding to water, sanitation and hygiene services to build resilience and also prevent future pandemics, and review their budgeting to reflect these considerations. 
  2. Ministers responsible for water and sanitation must convince their finance ministers of the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene services in the efforts to prevent the spread of pandemics such as Ebola, COVID-19 and other water-borne diseases. 
  3. Government and donors must ensure emergency support to water and sanitation utilities and providers (both public and private) to ensure continuity of water supplies, enhanced monitoring, management of staffing levels and worker safety, maintenance of equipment and procurement of spare parts. 
  4. Financial packages for service providers (private, public, formal, informal) must be ensured. This would allow them to scale up delivery to unserved areas, enable them to reconnect households disconnected for non-payment and to supply services to households that are unable to pay due to loss of income.
  5. Donors need to provide rapid, flexible funding and technical assistance. These investments should focus on government-led efforts to extend water and sanitation services to those who do not have them, including those in healthcare facilities. Donors could also support good hygiene and behavior change programmes with the help of other development partners, like civil society. 
  6. National governments and the private sector should use innovative financial tools to provide much-needed emergency financing. This also could be done through the following measures: a) Tariffs: Reduced or waived tariff for households who have no income due to lost jobs or lockdown measures so that they can continue to pay for basic services. b) Subsidies: If there is not already a subsidy system in place to ensure that low-income households can access services, then this could be put in place. If the system is already in place, the subsidies should be better targeted to ensure those who are not connected to formal services (such as informal settlements) are also benefited by the subsidy program. 
  7. Regulators can advise the Government on adequate COVID-19 response (in terms of which are the most underserved areas that should be focused, how to balance services for all and economic viability of utilities, e.g. how to design subsidies) and also monitor the response related services provided by utilities during this pandemic.
Allow for accountability for COVID-19 response plans and funding
  1. Accountability between governments, civil society and development agencies is as critical in a crisis as ever. Unprecedented funds are being raised and distributed in response to COVID-19, but how will these funds be used and accounted for is not always clear. The funds need to come and support service providers in providing sustainable water and sanitation services both during and post COVID-19.
  2. Accountability is essential for minimising corruption and for achieving services that are equitable, sustainable and high quality. This is important both for the emergency procurement and distribution of benefits in the immediate response to COVID-19 and for the long-term sustainability of WASH services.