We can't fail twice: New global development agenda must be framed by human rights

Members of Zambia’s civil society took to the streets on World Water Day, March 22, to call on governments to make the human right to water and sanitation a reality. Photo by: End Water Poverty

It’s time to review the current development paradigm, and ensure that change must not just happen on paper, but achieves a better future for all. The new global development agenda post-2015 has to be framed by human rights and owned by the people.

We need to learn from the Millennium Development Goals and transform the current “business as usual”; the future cannot simply work to address the unfinished business of the past. If we want to truly address inequality, then human rights — particularly access to water, sanitation and hygiene — have to be a critical priority.

End Water Poverty, a global coalition of over 280 civil society organizations, calls for the recognition of water as central for life and development, and that no one must be left behind. It’s time to move to “business unusual.”

This was a united call from civil society at the most recent U.N. informal hearings on the post-2015 agenda that took place May 26-27 in New York. The hearings sought to provide an opportunity for representatives of civil society, major groups and the private sector to exchange views and proposals, following a series of monthly thematic meetings, on the new development agenda.

Due to the proposal that a zero draft on post-2015 plans is scheduled to come out in early June, this comes at a critical time in the intergovernmental negotiations to ensure alternative voices are heard and establish an inclusive, cooperative agenda.

Bringing multiple stakeholders together, the hearings aimed to examine successes and gaps in the proposed sustainable development goals. Such engagement is of critical importance at a time when the post-2015 development agenda, with a focus on the eradication of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development, is being formulated by member states. The achievement, or lack thereof, of this new agenda will determine the world’s future.

EWP was represented at the hearings through our member, Freshwater Action Network-Mexico, calling to ensure member states recognize the urgency that a human rights-based approach is in place for a sustainable and equitable future, and for further inclusion in the processes.

Of vital importance is that civil society has been recognized as an essential partner. At the hearings, Amina Mohammed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning, explicitly recognized the crucial role that civil society has had in this process. She felt that only robust inclusion will ensure accountability of all stakeholders to drive effective implementation of this ambitious agenda.

“We are in this process creating a new way of working,” said Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations and co-facilitator of the post-2015 development agenda.

Despite this progress, further collaboration is critical to advancing development. We will not achieve change and remove barriers if we do not work together. All stakeholders must ensure that we learn from mistakes of the past.

EWP feels that the SDG indicator process must guarantee the participation of all groups, as sophisticated, advanced indicators are fundamental to ensuring goals are achieved and that vulnerable groups are no longer neglected. To date, the development of indicators has been led by an exclusive minority of academics and U.N. agencies. This is not enough — participation must be guaranteed throughout all aspects of the post-2015 agenda.

It is critical to keep pushing for the participation of civil society in the development of these indicators, as we must address the large gaps revealed in the initial draft indicators presented by the U.N. Statistical Commission in February. There is a clear need for progressive and sophisticated indicators, as these are of vital importance to define each target. We have to ensure that each of these do not jeopardize the realization of other goals, or put other needs at risk.

“The realization of goal 6 on access to safe water could be threatened by goal 7 that could recognize toxic mining and fracking as technologies accepted as clean, modern energy,” FAN-Mex Executive Director Nathalie Seguin cited as an example. “This cannot be permitted. We call for a world where the poor do not pay for inequalities.”

There also remains a need to make explicit commitment to human rights to ensure that SDGs are more progressive than existing commitments. EWP is calling for a post-2015 world where we see the end of inherent systemic inequalities and that water and sanitation are a fundamental aspect of all development. If human rights are not included as an essential element in the framework, we will replicate some of the failures of the MDGs.

While we celebrate the success of goal 6 — a goal dedicated to water and sanitation — there is still more to be done. Human rights standards and principles must be included in the indicators to capture national level realities and allow for monitoring and tracking.

Furthermore, we have to ensure that the indicators are people-centered to place priority on the vulnerable and marginalized as the most critical groups in the post-2015 agenda. We all have a shared responsibility for the welfare of our people and our planet.

This is why the post-2015 agenda has to be framed by human rights, with a priority on water and sanitation as a fundamental human right to ensure that no one is felt behind. We must transform business models, and change the way we do things. We need a new road map to the world we want.

The time is now; we can’t wait to act until 2030. Civil society must continue to be heard in ensuring the future development framework is based on human rights. We have to stand united for truly sustainable development. We all need to understand — citizens, businesses, governments — that what is being negotiated are not only theoretical targets and indicators. We are debating people’s lives and our own future.

The next development framework has to be transformational. We cannot repeat mistakes from the past, which simply perpetuated inequalities and neglected the most vulnerable. Now is the time for “business unusual.”

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About the author

  • Megan MacGarry

    Megan MacGarry is the Campaigns and Communications Officer at End Water Poverty. End Water Poverty is the largest global civil society coalition advocating to end the water and sanitation crisis. Established in 2008, the network now has over 280 members from around the world. What unites our members is a mutual dedication to advocate for universal access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene.