Global Leaders Invest in Solutions for Sanitation and Water for All

  • Economic gains made from investing in sanitation and water are estimated at US $170 billion per year.
  • Almost 40 developing countries made pledges that will provide an additional 60 million people with improved drinking water sources and another 80 million people with access to improved sanitation over the course of the next two years.

Ministerial delegations from almost 40 developing countries assembled yesterday alongside major donors at a meeting hosted by UNICEF and the World Bank. The meeting, chaired by His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana and Chair of Sanitation and Water for All  (SWA), and moderated by Jan Eliasson, Chair of WaterAid Sweden and incoming United Nations Deputy Secretary General Designate, resulted in commitments to take immediate steps to speed up global access to water and sanitation.

"The simple fact is that our populations are growing, and our cities are growing faster than sanitation services can be provided," said World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.  "We are sprinting only to find ourselves standing still. We need to urgently ask ourselves how we will get to the finish line if we continue to run the same race as before, with existing approaches to sanitation and water," Kyte said.  "We need to find a different way to run this race to reach the 2.5 billion people that still don’t have access to a toilet or the 700 million people without access to drinking water."

Following engagement with Finance ministries, almost 40 developing countries made pledges that will provide an additional 60 million people with improved drinking water sources and another 80 million people with access to improved sanitation over the course of the next two years. At the same time, donors announced plans to massively increase the number of people they are reaching.

Presenting a statement on behalf of sector ministers entitled ‘A Global Step Change for Universal Access’, Hon. Edna Molewa, Chair of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) and the South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs described the failure to invest as “a trigger to a downward slide into poverty”. The Ministers resolved to increase access to improved sanitation services by 7% and increase access to improved water services by 5% by the next High Level Meeting in 2014.

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Hon Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and for Nigeria, brought the reality from the ground alongside solid economic analysis. In a speech inspired by personal experience, she demonstrated that sanitation and water are not an academic exercise but a real issue for millions of people around the world as she urged her colleagues to look at how they can better define and prioritise sanitation and water expenditure in their budgets.

The meeting had a strong focus on the immense economic gains to be made from investing in sanitation and water, which are estimated at US $170 billion per year. If everyone had access to sanitation and water, the global health sector would save around US $15 billion every year. Further, civil society and others were keen to emphasize the equally important human and social development aspects of investment.  

Donors were well represented at a high level. The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, announced that the UK is doubling the number of people they intend to reach with water, sanitation and hygiene education by 2015, from 30 million people to at least 60 million people globally.  Meanwhile, the Dutch Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation, Ben Knapen, announced a new cooperation between The Netherlands and the UK with UNICEF which which will bring water and sanitation to an additional 10 million people in nine countries, mostly fragile, post-conflict states, in West and Central Africa. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (United States of America) and Peter Baxter, Director-General of AusAID (Australia) also announced joining the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership.

 “We have taken great strides since the first High Level Meeting two years ago” said Kufuor. “Today, I have been impressed by the scope, breadth and attention to detail of this Ministerial discussion. It is a powerful reminder that it is national leadership that will lift performance of this sector. We must now hold ourselves accountable. We will be judged by our actions not our words.”

SWA partners, including the World Bank and WSP, aim to address critical barriers to achieving universal and sustainable sanitation and drinking water for everyone. These barriers include insufficient political prioritization, weak sector capacity to develop and implement effective plans and strategies, and uncoordinated and inadequate investments.