When policy makers gathered recently at the UN in New York, WaterAid was there to highlight the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in achieving Agenda 2030. Advocacy Coordinator Jayde Bradley reflects on what was learned.
Nearly 300 days after UN member states adopted Agenda 2030, I visited New York for the 2016 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLPF is the not particularly catchy name for an annual summit at the UN where countries come together to share how Agenda 2030 implementation is going at the national level and discuss the big challenges on the path to achievement of the Global Goals.
Member states and representatives from civil society, academia, the private sector, and more filled the corridors of the UN’s basement to discuss the progress being made. The main item for discussion was the first ever set of so-called Voluntary National Reviews, for which 22 countries had volunteered to report back to the UN on their Agenda 2030 plans. This included countries where WaterAid works, such as Madagascar, Uganda and Sierra Leone, as well as high-income countries such as France, Germany, and Finland.
So what did we glean from discussing this big Agenda in the Big Apple? Here are my top five discoveries.
1. Process over progress
Most member states were keen to emphasise that we are still in the ‘early days’ of implementing the Global Goals. There was much discussion surrounding the processes that need to be put in place to take the Agenda forward, rather than the progress that should already have been made.
But already the clock is ticking very loudly – we are more than six months into year one and urgent action is essential to achieve the progress needed before 2030. As Elizabeth Stuart of the ODI said during the summit: “Agenda 2030 implementation is like a pension…the longer you leave paying in, the less rewards you see.”
2. Bringing Agenda 2030 home
One of the recurring challenges for member states that came up during the HLPF was how to move Agenda 2030 on from being a UN-led process coming out of New York to nationally owned action plans, with participation from a key range of stakeholders, including civil society, citizens and many more.
Some governments have taken great steps forward on this front – Sierra Leone has published a simplified version of the Sustainable Development Goals for its Parliament and the public, and Germany shared their platform at the HLPF with a representative of civil society to present their plans on implementation. But much more needs to be done to ensure all of us, everywhere, can play our part in achieving the Global Goals.
3. The challenge of ensuring no one is left behind
The theme of this year’s HLPF was ‘ensuring that no one is left behind’. Agenda 2030 means ending extreme poverty and creating a more equal world for everyone everywhere, and prioritising actions to reach the most vulnerable and marginalised people. The importance of data – especially disaggregated data to capture information about the hardest to reach groups – was raised time and again throughout the HLPF. Many countries also highlighted the huge capacity gaps that are preventing this from happening.
4. The low profile of WASH
WASH received a relatively low profile throughout the HLPF, and just a handful of mentions by member states in the Voluntary National Review presentations – for example Sierra Leone, which highlighted sanitation as one of the areas where the most progress was needed.
Although WaterAid participated in discussions where WASH has not always been present (for example about health and improving the lives of women and girls [see below]), the HLPF was another reminder that there is still much to do to ensure actions to achieve Goal 6 are prioritised to help achieve the entire Agenda 2030. Our HLPF Storify gives a snapshot of what we got up to while we were there.
5. Integration wins buzzword bingo
Achieving the Global Goals will require a transformation in how the WASH and other sectors work, especially with each other. Discussions identified this ‘integration’ across different issues as a key challenge – and opportunity – on the path to achieving the Global Goals.
WaterAid’s global Healthy Start campaign is just one example of bringing together two interconnected sectors (health and WASH) to reach common advocacy goals – in this case that WASH is essential to improving health and nutrition outcomes for newborn babies and children. Margaret Batty, WaterAid’s Director of Global Policy and Campaigns participated in an ‘Every Woman, Every Child’ side event at the HLPF to make just this point.
Overall it was good to be part of these discussions: there was a high level of engagement from a range of different countries and groups, and the summit provided a necessary global level moment for countries to share learnings and challenges in this early phase of Agenda 2030 implementation. But we are already more than halfway through year one of Agenda 2030 – the most important message for all of us to take home from New York was the need to now turn these words into action.