The United States announced on April 20 that it is joining the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership, comprised of governments, donors, civil society and multilateral organizations working to ensure access to basic sanitation and safe drinking water for all.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah made the announcement during the 2012 Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting, convened by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and hosted by the World Bank and its Water and Sanitation Program in Washington, DC.
As part of the commitment, USAID will donate $1 million USD to the Water and Sanitation Program to support the SWA-led National Planning for Results Initiative.
"The United States government considers sanitation and water and our related partnering activities to be a critical component of our overall international development assistance effort," Shah said at the meeting. "We look forward to maximizing the potential of this partnership, which brings together such a range of tools, experience, and approaches. Working together, we can not only reach full coverage, but we can also do it in the most effective, efficient, and collaborative way."
Shah cited three priorities to advance water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). “First, we believe there are critical opportunities in the area of new technology,” he said, pointing to digital mapping, mobile payment, purification techniques, and new toilet and latrine designs.
“Second, we are firmly committed to investing in new business models and together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have launched an innovation fund called WASH For Life that is supporting new business models and reaching the very poor with better services.”
“But perhaps the third and final point is the most important for this gathering and the one that builds on these excellent comments. Just as important as these breakthroughs, I think we do have to recognize that in the donor community we can do much more much more efficiently to support the vision of success that other speakers have articulated,” he said.
“The decision to join the partnership is a strong indication of the U.S. government's commitment to the sector," said David Winder,CEO of WaterAid America, a leading international development organization.
Also at the SWA high-level meeting, UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell announced that his country will double the number of people reached with an improved water and sanitation source to at least 60 million by 2015. It will do this in part through a new partnership with UNICEF and the Netherlands government, he said.
“This sector needs to be a higher political priority and attract more resources,” Mitchell said. He also “challenged others to improve the targeting of their aid to reach those who need it most, particularly involving the private sector.”
Shah and Mitchell were joined at the meeting by some 40 ministerial delegations from developing countries, Chair of Sanitation and Water for All and Former President of Ghana John Agyekum Kufuor, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte, His Royal Highness Willem-Alexander, The Prince of Orange and chair of the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, who said “if we can land man on the moon, we can and will provide water and sanitation to all.”
The ministerial delegations also made commitments to increase access to water to an additional 60 million people and another 80 million with improved sanitation services over the next two years.
Chair of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) and the South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa presented a statement on behalf of the ministers called “A Global Step Change for Universal Access,” in which they pledged to increase access to improved sanitation services by 7 percent and access to improved water services by 5 percent by the next High-Level Meeting in 2014, according to the SWA website.
The World Bank’s Kyte acknowledged that the world’s growing population and urbanization are keeping water and sanitation services from catching up.
“We are sprinting only to find ourselves standing still. We need to urgently ask ourselves how we will get to the finish line if we continue to run the same race as before, with existing approaches to sanitation and water. We need to find a different way to run this race to reach the 2.5 billion people that still don’t have access to a toilet or the 700 million people without access to drinking water," she said.
“The key after the High-Level Meeting is holding people’s feet to the fire after the media quit paying such close attention. Both developing country and donor country representatives made significant commitments last Friday [April 20], and civil society groups and citizens around the world are both watching closely and helping to achieve those commitments through expanded partnerships with their governments,” John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates, told OOSKAnews via email.
“I personally expect that the SWA High Level Meeting in 2014 will attract even more finance ministers -- and perhaps some prime ministers -- once the economic benefits of safe drinking water and sanitation are better quantified and understood.”
The Water and Sanitation Program recently determined that “economic gains made from investing in sanitation and water are estimated at $170 billion USD per year.”
Australia’s government announced after the SWA High-Level Meeting that it too would be joining the partnership. New South Wales Senator Bob Carr said the partnership “provides an opportunity for partners to discuss and address obstacles to the world achieving universal and sustainable access to sanitation and drinking water” and allows Australia to add its voice to the global call for safe drinking water and sanitation services for all.