Q&A: Beyond 2015 - what are the next water and sanitation challenges?

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 21 March 2014 17:19 GMT

Displaced people carry water containers on their heads at Tomping camp, near South Sudan's capital Juba January 7, 2014. REUTERS/James Akena

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Post 2015, the U.N. vision gets more ambitious: universal and sustainable access to water and sanitation for all by 2030

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With less than a year to go before the 2015 deadline, it seems the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water and sanitation will be only partially met.

While the target of halving the proportion of people without access to clean water was met five years ahead of schedule, almost 770 million people still don't have clean water.

And a staggering 2.5 billion people - one in three in the world - lack access to adequate sanitation, meaning the MDG will be missed. 

But new goals are still being set. Post 2015, the U.N. vision gets more ambitious: universal and sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation for every man, woman and child by 2030.

In a paper published last month, the U.N. examined issues related to the sustainability of water and sanitation access and improving water governance in an increasingly water-scarce world.

Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to Joakim Harlin, the lead author of the paper, about the challenges for the post-2015 water and sanitation agenda.

Q: What is new and different in the proposed post-2015 development agenda for water compared to the MDG goal?

A: We are looking at a broader and more comprehensive water agenda, which means that we are not just looking at the services to households in terms of access to safe drinking water and to improved sanitation, but a full suite of water issues that are interrelated.

We are looking at both issues of addressing open defecation and access to WASH services not just in urban environment but also at schools, workplaces, refugee camps and other places. We’re also looking at sustainability and security, safety and quality of the services – there was no such thing in the MDGs.

This is one of the major drawbacks of the MDGs, although they were very successful, was that they did not adapt to the local environment and the local conditions. The way that the MDGs were framed was that they masked large disparities between countries with huge populations, countries with small populations, between rich and poor, urban and rural, slums and formal settlements.

This is something that is now being addressed in the proposed water goal with associated targets and indicators.

Q: What do you think should be the role of the private sector in achieving the sustainable water goal?

We see the private sector as being a part of the solution and an extremely important partner for sustainable development. 

We have been interacting strongly with the private sector in developing this (post-2015) proposal. What we are presenting (in the technical advice) is very much a collaborative effort where we are standing very much united.

Q: While looking for sustainable solutions in WASH should we focus on innovation or look back at what worked in the past?

We need both. We have to learn from history and from experience and local knowledge.

We (also) have to continue research and innovation in everything related to water: how can we get more (crops and energy) with the same quantity of water. This is crucial because water is finite and we are not going to get more of it, so we have to be more productive and efficient in how we use it. That’s an area in which we definitely need new technology and innovation.

Another area where I can immediately see the use of technology and innovation is related to water monitoring and reporting. Using modern techniques of satellite imagining and ICT (information and communication technology) at large is like a data revolution happening, where we can capture information in new ways both in terms of physical issues such as how much water is there (and also for) early warning systems.

We can also use technology to combat corruption and to improve water governance. There are solutions where you can use your cell phone or you have pre-paid smart chips, which you can use for water pumps or irrigation and that way you avoid trading money with people on the spot.

Advancing human rights, combating corruption, improving governance and early warning systems – these are some of the areas where innovation can make a difference.

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