Sustainable development goals discussions are good and propose clear solutions, but they are also confusing. Maybe because there are too many of them and they are in competition with each other.
During the Water Integrity Forum in June and the Stockholm World Water Week in September, there were many sessions and informal discussions about the post 2015 agenda, the current millennium goals and the post 2015 agenda seems to focus on the formulation of new objectives and targets with a greater concern for sustainability of achievements rather than the agenda itself.
What adds to confusion is that there seem to be many agendas of different international or global initiatives that may be relevant in some, but not in all country or regional contexts. Worse, there seems to be fierce competition between different lobbies or water sector communities or schools of thinking. The one WASH goal community, the one water goal school of thought, the three water pillars without a roof, and the plan B1 and plan B2 supporters (whatever these may be) are all competing for attention.
But my question is: How important really are these sustainable development goals and why would they be better than the existing MDGs? Could it be argued that such global goals are less important than the underlying principles and values? Could there be a real need to change attitudes, behaviour, policies and government priorities to make human development with equity and respect for the human being and environment a reality? These are questions that I ask myself as I plan my attendance at the Budapest Water Summit next week.
It seems clear that many heads of states and governments are not interested in these newly conceived global development goals as such. And indeed, to be realistic, development goals and sustainable investment strategies need to be formulated at appropriate levels within countries. The mix of goals needs to be chosen within a context. An international logical framework seems logical, but when translated into a local language and put into a specific context, one realizes that it actually isn’t. Conceptual and intellectual, political and professional integrity is needed to change this paradigm.
Sustainable and equitable access to water for multiple purposes and a healthy and clean living environment (including toilets, but not just that) will not be achieved without integrity and high ethical standards. In countries increasing and systemic corruption, the water sector needs to set an example and invest in good governance and water integrity. This perspective should become a top priority also in terms of government budgets in developing countries.
Will the Budapest Water Summit rise above the struggle between different water schools and communities? Will it provide the right mix of guiding principles for the post 2015 agenda to allow for a new UN resolution to be of added value in terms of sustainable impact for the poor? Will it address the challenges of today in such a way that the political leaders of countries, cities and districts will hear the call and act with honesty?
We don’t know, but what is clear is that there is a need for a chorus of people and organisations that together sing the water integrity tune in communities, cities, countries, river basins:
Without love, no future,
Without water, no life,
Without integrity, no sustainability,
Those who don’t see this are blind.
Unfortunately, this tune has yet to be composed, but the message may well be the right one.