Where Do We Go From Here? WASH in the SDGs

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 15: Children learn to wash their hands with Lifebuoy soap, at Margeret Gwele Primary Sch
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 15: Children learn to wash their hands with Lifebuoy soap, at Margeret Gwele Primary School, Soweto, on October 15, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Celebrated in over 100 countries, Global Handwashing Day is an annual awareness day which aims to put the global spotlight on handwashing with soap as a lifesaving habit. (Photo by Greg Marinovich/Getty Images for Unilever)

The linkages between universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and the other targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been well established within this blog series. It is clear that the impact of WASH does not fall only within the sector. These facilities and behaviors have life-giving or life-threatening potential at some of the most spectacular and mundane moments of life for each of us.

Consider simple hand-washing with soap. A midwives' hands can put a newborn at greater risk of infection, illness and death depending on if soap and water were used to cleanse their hands prior to delivery. Likewise, a mother's decision to instill hand-washing as a habit amongst her children can be the difference between health and illness, regardless of if she is raising her children in New York or New Delhi.

There is no doubt: WASH is essential for health, development and progress. However, knowledge of this fact alone is simply not enough. We must take action. And so, the question becomes: Where do we go from here?

The United Nations and the global community have been wrestling with this question for the past few years in anticipation of this crucial moment. Consultations have been held. Stakeholders consulted. Goals drafted. And yet, there is still work that must be done to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not only contain the right goals, but also aspirational, measurable and meaningful indicators to monitor these goals. Unfortunately, this is not yet ensured.

For instance, the proposed water goal (Goal 6) is a step in the right direction, as is the current proposed target addressing water, sanitation and hygiene. However, this is not enough to guarantee that WASH is adequately prioritized and measured in the countries where it is most needed. WASH must be included in mandatory, global-level indicators that address both the availability of facilities in key locations (including households, schools and health care centers) and promotion of appropriate behaviors to encourage good WASH practices.

The WASH indicators within the SDGs also present the opportunity to correct oversights from the MDGs. Despite its global importance, hygiene was not included alongside water and sanitation in the MDGs, and this significant failure must not occur again. Hygiene completes the work that water and sanitation starts, and without addressing WASH holistically, we will not realize the full benefits of our investments.

Lastly, as this blog series has elucidated, WASH should not only be measured within Goal 6. Indicators on access to safe drinking water, safely managed sanitation and hygiene facilities should be included in Goal 2 (nutrition), Goal 3 (health), Goal 4 (education), Goal 5 (gender equality), and Goal 11 (cities and infrastructure).

The ripple effect of WASH cannot be overstated and it cannot be overlooked. As September approaches, the clock is ticking down not only to the MDG deadline, but also to the opportunity to ensure that the SDGs set us up to make as big of an impact on poverty reduction as possible. Comprehensive goals, targets and indicators around water, sanitation and hygiene are essential to making the post-2015 era better than ever before.

This blog post is part of the "WASH and the MDGs: The Ripple Effect" blog series, in partnership with WASH Advocates, addressing the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to global development. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. To learn more about WASH, visit the WASH Advocates website, and for more information about the Millennium Development Goals, click here.