The future of action on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) looks positive – with the post-2015 global Sustainable Development Goals agenda focusing attention on the need for WASH for everyone, all the time. But achieving this global agenda requires new ways of thinking.
Over the past decade the emphasis has shifted from simply providing access to WASH facilities for most of society to ensuring equity and inclusiveness (WASH for everyone) and sustainability (WASH all the time, always). There has been increased integration between WASH and health actors and activities, and increased attention on social processes, governance arrangements and the ways in which behaviours change, to help ensure progress is sustained.
The challenge to close the gaps and achieve universal access for all remains, and the future of universal and sustained WASH requires further attention and innovation. How can all WASH actors - governments, private sectors and civil society - work together, whether at a community scale or larger institutional scale, to achieve not only sustained WASH access for everyone, but also health and well-being and environmental and economic outcomes for societies?
The WASH Futures 2016 Conference brings together WASH actors from around the globe to share new ways to achieve a WASH future in which the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of all in society are sustained.
WASH Futures Conference 2016 will have seven themes:
- WASH management for sustainable service delivery
- WASH business, financing & private sectors
- Ensuring WASH for everyone
- Moving WASH beyond the household
- Integrating hygiene to ensure health outcomes
- WASH and water security
- WASH in the Pacific: situations & trends
The conference will specifically draw out the issues of private sector participation in WASH, equity and WASH in the Pacific as cross-cutting themes.
Ensuring WASH facilities are not just available but provide sustainable access to all, at all times, is critical to achieving the global agenda on WASH. Providing ongoing, sustainable services requires strong links between policy, capacity building, resource allocations and budgeting, and access to reliable data to support equitable and sustainable systems. Strengthening WASH management for sustainable service delivery requires new ways of engaging with key change agents who are best placed to provide WASH services to communities, or support communities with community-led services, into the future. Building sector-wide capacity in WASH, strengthening mechanisms for shared governance and creating systems that foster and promote clear roles and accountability are both necessary and an ongoing challenge.
Approaches to financing the initial capital and resource development costs, as well as the ongoing costs of WASH services vary depending on local WASH needs, the enabling environment and many other social, cultural and political factors. There is ongoing debate over the question of ‘subsidies or no subsidies’ in WASH delivery and services and to what extent governance and financing is the responsibility of the public sector or users, through markets and private sector actors.
Locally-based markets for WASH services and products, and partnerships with the private sector are creating new and innovative opportunities to deliver access to WASH at a community level. The failure of many public and private systems in providing sustainable WASH access highlights a need for reform in governance and financing. Developing and supporting efficient and effective financing arrangements must also be flexible and provide an opportunity for locally-appropriate solutions to ensure WASH services and arrangements are appropriate for users.
The equitable and inclusive use of WASH, beyond the delivery of, and access to, services, has emerged as a critical component of achieving the global agenda on universal WASH access. It is now understood that to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone, access to appropriate and reliable water, sanitation and hygiene services and products is essential.
Delivering and maintaining appropriate, affordable and sustainable WASH services in rural and urban settings present challenges, that while not mutually exclusive, require new and location specific solutions.
How do we ensure that WASH services and products meet the needs of those living with a disability, women, girls and children, the urban poor and those in isolated or rural settings? To meet the challenge of ‘WASH for all’, we as WASH practitioners and change agents must consider how to ensure those that are most vulnerable and often excluded in society are involved in designing WASH services and programs.
As we look forward, the dialogue around achieving universal and equitable access for all raises the challenge of WASH in contexts beyond the household. Universal access challenges us to consider WASH when at work, in public places such as markets, and within institutional settings including schools and healthcare facilities. WASH beyond the household is essential both to achieve the direct health outcomes derived from WASH as well as to support the delivery of other key goals, particularly those associated with education and maternal health.
The WASH sector is increasing its knowledge on how to address the challenge of WASH in schools. Challenges, however, remain and include meeting the needs of women and girls, menstrual hygiene management at school, providing access for children with disabilities, changing WASH behaviours of students and staff, and sustaining the operation and maintenance of school WASH facilities.
Achieving universal and sustained WASH in other settings such as health care facilities and public community spaces, has seen slower progress. Evidence of successful strategies is sparser and strategies are still emerging and evolving.
While progress is accelerating in ensuring water and sanitation outcomes, less progress has been achieved in ensuring safe hygiene behaviours by all. The understanding of the importance of hygiene in realising positive health outcomes has improved - it not only promotes good health by preventing and controlling disease, it is also essential for reducing undernutrition, improving disease management and preventing disability. Hygiene, in particular the use of toilets and safe faeces management, menstrual hygiene and handwashing with soap, however, has not received the same level of attention as water or sanitation. Progress in global and national policy environments, in monitoring frameworks and in public health interventions has been hampered by a lack of knowledge and experience on what constitutes an effective behaviour change strategy.
As we work towards universal access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene by 2030 and beyond (Sustainable Development Goal 6, target 2), a greater prioritisation of hygiene in WASH is essential. Hygiene also underpins proposed Sustainable Development Goal 3, ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages. To achieve better sanitation and hygiene behaviour outcomes, we need to understand how to scale-up promising innovations, better integrate hygiene programming with water, sanitation and other health agendas such as nutrition, mobilise stakeholder commitment particularly with health and education actors, and explore broader partnerships including with the private sector.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 sets the objective to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. New targets expand the WASH agenda to consider the whole water cycle, with the inclusion of issues such as ambient water quality, wastewater management, water use efficiency, integrated water resources management and water-related ecosystems.
This new global agenda emphasises the need for WASH practitioners to take into account the interactions between WASH and water resources, particularly in the context of increasing climate variability and the growing risk of natural and man-made disasters. A high level of cooperation between WASH and water resource actors is therefore critical. Understanding the connections between WASH and water resources is a first step, followed by identifying ways to work together, for example, through governance arrangements or frameworks that support coordination across catchments and shared or harmonised monitoring programs.
There is a need to build collective skills and expertise to ensure that future WASH professionals can plan and manage services in a way that strengthens wider water security, and that water resources professionals are able to engage proactively with WASH programming.
The South Pacific presents a unique challenge in achieving the global agenda on WASH and requires innovation and cooperation among WASH actors and change agents to meet the SDG goals and targets by 2030. Improvements in national sanitation and water coverage remain far lower in the Pacific compared to other regions of the world. The Pacific island countries as a group achieved 31% improved sanitation coverage compared with 68% globally under the Millennium Development Goals, while improved water access increased to 52% compared with 91% globally.
Limited human and financial resourcing restricts the capacity of the sector, while a lack of natural storage and vulnerability to natural and anthropogenic hazards exacerbate water insecurity and sustainable WASH access.
By understanding the current status of WASH in the Pacific and highlighting the trends and challenges faced, we can proceed to work together to identify solutions and opportunities in meeting the SDG targets and improving the wellbeing and health of those living in the Pacific.