Water Sanitation Health

Sanitation challenge: Turning commitment into reality

Making political commitments

Traditionally, “water supply” and “sanitation” appear together as an inseparable concept in public statements; sometimes “hygiene” is also included. Sanitation and hygiene usually disappear, however, when it comes to policy-making, planning, budgeting and implementation. Since the health and environmental benefits of improved sanitation and hygiene are enjoyed by the community at large, there should be genuine public interest in expanding access to sanitation. Yet many feel powerless to act on an issue that is still shrouded in cultural taboos or stigma.

What can we do?

National governments can seriously and visibly act on their commitment to sanitation and hygiene by commissioning a thorough review of policy and institutional arrangements; making explicit budget allocations for sanitation and hygiene programmes to district and local governments; ensuring that sanitation is included in poverty reduction strategies and environmental action plans; funding hygiene promotion and sanitation, training and capacity building; and establishing micro-credit policies and facilities for communities wishing to engage in sanitation initiatives.

District/local governments can contribute to making sanitation and hygiene a reality in local settings by allocating resources to public and school sanitation; hiring sanitation and hygiene specialists; reviewing local planning and technical regulations for opportunities to improve sanitation; and sponsoring hygiene promotion and sanitation marketing.

Communities and civil society can raise the profile of sanitation by lobbying local government for sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes; by offering expertise and support – especially for social mobilisation and hygiene promotion; by finding out what local people really want and making sure that government knows about it; and by being bold – and showing the government what it means to live without access to sanitation.

Households can be vocal and active – encouraging local authorities to champion sanitation, adopt good sanitation and hygiene practices and serve as role models for others; seeking ways of acting collectively with neighbours to improve and maintain sanitation facilities; and offering to help with hygiene promotion and sanitation marketing in other locations.

Entrepreneurs can lobby governments for the right to provide sanitation services (where this is not yet the case); find out what sort of sanitation services people want and start developing products; offer financial terms to help people make the needed investments; and let the government know what is happening at the local level.

International organisations, multilateral development banks and bilateral assistance agencies can allocate adequate amounts of money to sanitation and hygiene education programmes and fund micro-credit facilities. Specialised agencies for technical cooperation can compile and disseminate examples of successful programmes and good practice; develop norms and guidelines; and continue informing people at all levels how vital it is for national development to accelerate the implementation of sanitation and hygiene programmes. International organisations can also generate political will for sanitation among regions and countries through the development of regional conventions and protocols; and generate political support by bringing together international and national stakeholders in multi-stakeholder decision-making settings.

We're inspired by ...

... the WASH campaign
The WASH campaign is a coalition of concerned people and organisations who believe that sanitation should be high on the development agenda. It has used the broad membership base of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council to promote the idea that hygiene and sanitation are important and should be available to everyone. Council members operate across the globe and in a multitude of forums. As a result, the message has been delivered consistently to all levels of decision-makers.

… political commitment in South Africa
In 1994, the Government of the Republic of South Africa launched a coherent water supply and sanitation programme that included policy development, new financial arrangements, organisational reform, decentralisation and implementation. The programming process was led by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF). DWAF delivered a significant and intensive infrastructure programme through a variety of organisational partners and a range of institutional arrangements. It allocated more than US$ 230 million to water and sanitation projects in 2002. The South African National Sanitation Programme has set a goal of providing access to all people in rural, periurban and informal settlements by 2010 – five years faster than the Millennium Development Goals specify. In 2002, sanitation services were provided to an additional 2.4 million people.

… the UNEP Regional Seas Programme
The Regional Seas Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides a forum for supranational consensus building for environmental protection and the sustainable management of natural resources. This includes addressing sources of pollution (e.g. the discharge of untreated municipal wastewater). Joint discussions at the regional level on how to tackle the root causes of human health and environmental impacts, such as inadequate sanitation, wastewater collection and treatment, further raise political awareness and enhance political commitment to consider both global targets and regional challenges.