Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy World Water Day! (Now What?)

We have a lot to celebrate this World Water Day 2013, especially considering where we were just a few quick years ago on the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) crisis. But as we celebrate this annual event, many continue to lament the lack of political will for water and sanitation around the world. Since I work at an advocacy organization dedicated entirely to WASH, I’ll highlight 3-4 advocacy initiatives and successes that build and strengthen political will, shortening the amount of time until Africa, Asia, and Latin America have universal coverage of water and sanitation:

1)      The Sanitation and Water for All Partnership: This partnership was launched only in 2010, but has the potential to attract the attention not just of Water Ministers, but of Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers across the globe. How many Finance Ministers can it attract to its next High Level Meeting?
2)      You want to get the attention of Finance Ministers, and make it possible for them to prioritize safe drinking water and sanitation? The Economics of Sanitation Initiative was developed just for you.  If more Finance Ministers and Prime Ministers knew the positive impact of sanitation on their countries' GDP growth rates, more would be able to make those tough budgeting decisions in favor of this basic human need. : [One data point: Inadequate sanitation costs India the equivalent of 6.4% of its GDP - in lost economic productivity and increased healthcare costs.]
3)      The launch today at the United Nations of the Deputy Secretary General’s Call to Action on Sanitation. Think about how many competing development challenges Mr. Eliasson could have chosen, and that he chose to stick his head above the hedge and tackle sanitation. And he is winning: At a high-level United Nations lunch yesterday, ‘ending open defecation’ was suggested over two dozen times by the seniormost diplomats at the United Nations.
4)      Here in the U.S. we anticipate the launch of USAID’s first-ever water strategy, and the (re)introduction of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act by the U.S. Congress.
5)      And let’s talk political will in its purest form: End Water Poverty has produced an Elections Toolkit which should be used by water and sanitation organizations all over Africa, Asia, and Latin America, to urge their elected political leaders to prioritize this issue. What if every candidate in the recent Kenyan election, for example, had committed (during the campaign) to meet the water and sanitation needs of every single Kenyan in the next few years? Those sorts of commitments (aligned with the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership) have a chance to significantly compress the timeline for universal coverage of both safe drinking water and sanitation.

Lastly, I am grateful for the philanthropic community’s continuing efforts to be more strategic in grantmaking for the WASH sector. I’ll certainly include our own donors on this list (Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Wallace Genetic Foundation, and Osprey Foundation), but want to also highlight the work of The Foundation Center’s portal and its efforts to increase the amount and (more importantly) the effectiveness of grantmaking in the sector.

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