Lisa Schechtman, head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America reports:
In part thanks to the US government, things are looking more hopeful for the 783 million people without access to safe drinking water and the 2.5 billion without sanitation. And for the 4,000 children under five years old who die each day from preventable causes related to poor quality water and sanitation. Those numbers are high — and the problem daunting — but with interest from Congress bolstered by new commitments from the Administration, there’s much to celebrate.
Last week was the second High-level Meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership (SWA). The SWA is the multilateral organization focused on meeting the safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs of the countries that are farthest behind in reaching their goals for sustainable access to these vital services. The partnership includes donors, governments, civil society and so-called sector partners, organizations like WaterAid that have particular technical expertise to share.
As of two weeks ago, the US government is officially a member of SWA! It’s one of those announcements that could be just lip service, and it’s up to all of us to make sure it’s meaningful. But even the fact of the announcement is a step in the right direction.
First, the announcement was made by USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah:
It’s significant that the US was represented at the meeting by such a senior person. But it also matters because it’s a sign of USAID’s commitment to WASH as a core part of its mandate to do good international development and health work for the world’s poorest people, bilaterally and in partnership. SWA is a development venture, one that works with and on behalf of those most in need. So for USAID to join is a good sign — and shows that USAID is taking on roles that make it better at its job.
It also matters because SWA is trying to institutionalize good aid-effectiveness practices. That sounds like mumbo jumbo, but what it means is that the partnership emphasizes the leadership of national governments in designing their own plans, rather than donors telling them what to do. It includes civil society on its governance body, and provides technical support to help countries build skills to plan, implement, and monitor good WASH programs and ultimately put agencies like USAID out of business.
This brings us to the second part of Administrator Shah’s announcement: a contribution of $1 million to kick-start the arm of SWA designed to build capacity. This is putting their money where their mouth is, after years of talking about the need to follow the lead of partner countries and make sure they have the support they need. It’s a great step, and a good example to other donor countries.
I could go on about the many exciting steps for WASH that are underway in Congress, the Department of State and USAID. But what matters most is the signs of political will. From Secretary of State Clinton to a group of bipartisan Congressional leaders, Administrator Shah is in good company in his efforts to ensure that WASH is treated with the urgency it deserves.
It’s a good thing too. Billions of people are counting on him.
To help keep up the momentum, tell Congress to move forward on the Water for the World Act, and post a comment below!