Over the past several months, a high-level Steering Committee made up of representatives of countries and water organisations, has been grappling with the challenges of how to accelerate progress in delivery on SDG 6, ahead of the mid-term review of the International Decade for Action on “Water for Sustainable Development” in 2023.
The Committee was assembled by the German Environment Ministry (BMU) under the umbrella of the Water Dialogues for Results, which culminated in a Virtual High-Level Conference on July 1, 2021. The Water Integrity Network was privileged to be part of this Steering Committee.
The issue on the table is urgent. There is less than a decade left to deliver on the SDGs, and billions of people do not yet have access to safe drinking water and decent sanitation services. Water is not only critical for life, it is critical for development opportunities across almost every other sector. Failing to meet the SDG 6 targets will affect most of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Sustainable Cities (SDG 11), Zero Hunger (SDGs 2), Good Health (SDG 3) and Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7). Without improving access to water and sanitation, the Gender Equality goal (SDG 5) is unlikely to be met, nor the goal on Education (SDG 4). The list goes on.
Business as usual in the water and sanitation sectors is no longer an option. Allowing failures in integrity and widespread corruption to hamper progress on SDG 6 is no longer an option.
The Water Dialogues Steering Committee identified a range of actions under five “accelerators”, which include a recognition of the importance of improving integrity and accountability in the water and sanitation sectors.
Financing for Acceleration: a New Paradigm
Under the financing accelerator, the Water Dialogues recognise two important integrity-related measures. Firstly, that more effective use should be made of existing funding, and secondly that institutional capacity needs to be strengthened by promoting transparency, participation and accountability, as a means towards improving bankability.
Work done by WIN and its partners with, for example, water utilities and small water supply systems, has shown how improved integrity practices can drive improved financial viability and effective use of limited resources. For example, the Khulna Water and Sanitation Authority (KWASA) developed a roadmap to improve integrity using the Integrity Management Toolbox. After a two-year programme, the improvements in performance were significant (Table 1).
Table 1: Operational improvement on key indicators following Integrity Management Toolbox implementation
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Source: KWASA and Global Water Intelligence (23 March 2017, Vol 18, Issue 3)
Data for Acceleration – Data-based Decision-making
For the second accelerator on data, the integrity implications are also significant. One of the key pillars for improving integrity is improving transparency of information. Such transparency cannot be achieved unless appropriate data exists. The requirement, as captured in the dialogue process for decision-makers to be able “to employ quality, accessible, timely, and reliable disaggregated data for analysis, planning and implementation of effective cross-sectoral action in order to leave no one behind” is critical. We are pleased to see the emphasis on transparency and locally adapted monitoring and reporting systems, and on data disaggregation, which is especially needed for gender.
What is equally important, is to make the information, including budget and planning information, available to all stakeholders in a manner that they can understand and use to hold service providers accountable.
Data poverty is an essential concern linked to transparency, disclosure policies, and coordination between institutions, which all are linked to integrity. When data poverty leads to inequitable service delivery – for example in informal settlements where data on service levels is particularly scarce – we face a deep failure of integrity that requires urgent attention.
Capacity Development for Acceleration – an Inclusive Approach
The Water Dialogues messages make clear that “capacity development needs to holistically transfer knowledge beyond training to foster cross-sectoral decision-making, planning and implementation, intensifying horizontal and vertical cooperation on all levels”. The emphasis on cross-sectoral knowledge is important.
We are acutely aware of the silos in which water and sanitation stakeholders work on one hand, and open government or anti-corruption stakeholders on the other. Cross-sector knowledge sharing and support among these actors would be an important and innovative lever to speed up progress on the delivery of SDG 6.
Governance for Acceleration – a Cross-sectoral, Cooperative, Good water Governance Approach
Of equal concern in the fight against corruption and integrity failures in the water and sanitation sectors is the fragmentation of governance arrangements as recognised in the Water Dialogues messages.
This fragmentation creates a vulnerability to corruption arising from unclear roles and responsibilities and the difficulties of knowing who to hold accountable. Clarity on institutional mandates and responsibilities, as well as clear accountability lines and mechanisms are essential elements to counter these risks and to support effective implementation of SDG 6.
We have limited time and limited resources for delivery on SDG 6.
Each day that we continue with business as usual sees resources wasted, and unserved communities still struggling to escape from poverty.
We must accelerate the delivery to those still facing a daily struggle to collect water and to access safe sanitation services. Improvements in transparency, accountability, participation and integrity are non-negotiable if we wish to meet SDG 6.