Water Is a Human Right

Water is critical for all aspects of life. Without clean and safe water, people are trapped in poverty; children are kept from school, people are denied living healthy lives, and vulnerability to diseases and even death greatly increase. By improving access to water and sanitation, we will achieve a better future for all. This has to be the highest priority.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), coming to an end this year, were far from perfect, but helped set a global agenda to improve the lives of the most vulnerable. Over the past 15 years, some significant progress was made, particularly for increasing access to water. The importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) also has been recognized at the highest levels. The United Nations recognized the human right to water and sanitation in 2010. This international binding commitment set standards and principles for access; demanding that water be safe, affordable and accessible, and sanitation secure and hygienic. This was a critical step forward in the fight to end the water and sanitation crisis -- it gives citizens a legal commitment they can hold governments accountable to realize this essential human right.

But More Must be Done

Despite progress, not enough has been done. We still face the reality that more than 650 million people don't have access to improved water, and more than 2.3 billion people around the world lack access to improved sanitation facilities. That's one in three people. Progress has been very unequal, and for most of the world's most vulnerable and marginalized people, very little has changed.

Those most in need are too often not included in development solutions; interventions, however well-meaning, are often designed without consultation, and thus fail to address what people really need, or how best to meet these needs. People know their own environments, and know what they need, particularly for water and sanitation. It is vital that communities are empowered and are part of the solutions.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development, to be adopted in September by all UN Member States, offer cause for hope for improving our future and changing how we create solutions. There is now a specific goal dedicated to WASH -- Goal 6 -- as well as explicit mention of the human right -- "A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and where there is improved hygiene" -- which is a significant achievement.

What Works: Strong Voices, Empowered Communities

That's why the End Water Poverty global coalition, made up of more than 300 organizations worldwide, feel that Target 6.b of the Goals -- "Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management" -- will be a critical step to ensuring people, the end-users themselves, are part of achieving change. Our members work to ensure that communities are actively shaping development programs that affect them, and hold governments accountable on their promises and commitments. Community-led monitoring will be critical to reporting problems and tracking progress in the new development framework we're entering.

In Zambia, strong advocacy led by civil society networks has resulted in the roll out of a new US$10 million project to improve water and sanitation infrastructure in neglected areas, and a renewed commitment by the government to improve access to water and sanitation. Civil society has also developed a Service Charter with the national private-sector service-delivery provider to ensure that implementation meets the needs of communities, by working closely with the communities most in need and developing interventions most appropriate to them.

In Pakistan, civil society helped to empower communities in the run up to the local elections earlier this year. They prioritized raising awareness, to improve local communities' knowledge of their rights to water and sanitation. As a result, people were able to push electoral candidates and political leaders about what the government would be doing to ensure improved access to WASH.

These brief examples highlight the importance of working together, with civil society organizations helping to empower communities, and of campaigning to ensure commitments are more than just on paper.

Achieving the Post-2015 Agenda

The post-2015 development framework must be implemented, as it states, "For the people, by the people." The Global Goals set a very ambitious agenda, meaning we need to be bolder and work together more effectively. The danger is, after much effort has gone into agreeing on the goals, and given their 15-year timeframe, that energy will drop for next few years, as happened with the MDGs. Early implementation needs to be prioritized, and international commitments translated into practical action at national and local levels. We need to hit the ground running on WASH, not least to enable later gains on other goals that can't be achieved without progress on WASH.

To do this, we need to work together. By working in partnerships, such as the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, across all sectors, with a range of stakeholders, we can maximize our impact, and ensure a loud and sustained global demand for universal access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene for all. By having a strong united voice, we can ensure that the promises of today result in a better future. Together we can end the water and sanitation crisis.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 6.

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