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International water-health expert speaks in Brisbane in a public seminar

World renowned expert in the water-health nexus, Professor Jamie Bartram, Director of The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (USA), recently held a free public seminar in Brisbane on the Sustainable Development Goals.

On 1 December, Professor Bartram shared his insights into the global water and health agendas, the progress and impact of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the challenges of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their meaning for developed countries like Australia.

The SDGs were recently adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York as part of the UN's 2030 development agenda, signaling a direction for future investments in water and health. The design of the SDG included a global consultation process and is a significant departure from the MDGs which had a more limited participation in the design of the goals.

In his presentation, Professor Bartram spoke about the SDGs taking a new approach in terms of the level of participation, integration of human rights principles, equality and universality affecting developing and developed countries alike.

He systematically presented each of the targets for the water and sanitation related goal (SDG 6), highlighting the current status of implementation, progress and monitoring challenges. The new water and sanitation goal highlights the need as well as the opportunity for greater synergies between the WASH and water resource sectors.

SDG6 and water sector  SDG6 and WASH

Professor Bartram also presented a range of scenarios demonstrating how the selection of the new criteria for measuring progress toward the SDG targets can significantly shift our understanding of the current level of progress toward provision of universal access to safe water and sanitation.

While acknowledging the incremental improvements that were achieved under the MDGs, he also noted that some of the success stories, such as the achievement of the target to improve access to water, would be less celebrated if more stringent health factors had been considered in how ‘improved access to water’ is measured.

In the area of sanitation, the MDGs had a strong focus on ending open defecation. This was achieved once a household had access to an improved toilet; however, it wasn't considered how waste was managed after it was contained in the toilet substructures. Under the SDGs untreated piped sewerage will also be considered as a level of unimproved sanitation that needs to be halved by 2030. This demonstrates the shift in focus from the MDGs, which were all about achieving improvements for developing countries, to the SDGs, which are now about recognising that even developed countries need to take action if we are to achieve the new targets.

"SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

The indicator for improving hygiene is not yet agreed on and the challenge here is the difficulty in measuring the behaviour of individuals. The risk of the hygiene target being dropped casts a shadow over the SDG process and highlights the challenge of balancing the need to have relatively simple metric versus the complexity of measuring some 169 targets at a global scale.

The public seminar was sponsored by the International WaterCentre in collaboration with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It was also a timely lead-in to the WASH Futures 2016 conference which will be held in Brisbane in May 2016.

More information

Jamie Bartram public seminar

Jamie Bartram (left) with Anne Joselin, Assistant Director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at DFAT,
and Mark Pascoe, CEO IWC.


Published 8 December 2015.


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