My message was simple: No village, no city, no country has ever lifted themselves out of poverty without water, sanitation and hygiene, better known as WASH within the international development community.
U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recognized this challenge, and told the debate: “Eradicating extreme poverty is our most urgent priority, sustainable development our guide. Universal access to safe water, sanitation and energy will be critical.”
“Without water and sanitation the fight against poverty will not be won,” added Jean-Francis Zinsou, the U.N. representative from Benin speaking on behalf of the bloc of least-developed countries. Benin, along with the other LDCs, have the most to gain — or lose — from the new SDGs. We cannot dismiss their moral authority when considering the future of international development.
Influencing the debate
Our sector is seeking clear, ambitious but achievable targets which aim for universal access to WASH by 2030.
Right now, we have five months to influence this debate. Water and sanitation is on the list, but it is up against many others.
The next point of contention will be pairing this list down within a set of guiding principles: finishing the existing MDGs, setting timely targets and establishing universal responsibilities. WASH must meet all of these.
Listen to all voices
As the next round of meetings and consultation gets underway, we must remember the global voices calling for action.
Finally, and most importantly, we must hear the voices of the 2.5 billion people lacking sanitation and the 768 million without safe water.
The debate around what will follow the MDGs has been long and complex. There are many issues on the table. But putting safe WASH front and center is not negotiable. Sanitation and hygiene are absolutely critical to human development and dignity and essential to human life.
As I told the leaders in New York, when you’re building a house, you don’t put the plumbing on the outside — you put it in at the beginning, and you make sure it will work for a very long time.
Girish Menon is director of international operations for WaterAid UK, with responsibility over teams in Asia, West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. Previously, he worked for WaterAid in India as well as for Plan International and ActionAid. Menon represents WaterAid on the Board of Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor.