Our Perspectives

How can we achieve universal access to water and sanitation?


 Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bannu, Pakistan gain access to water through a UNDP-supported project. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Water is essential for local development, particularly for sectors such as health, agriculture, economic development, education and environment. However, 748 million people in the world lack access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation facilities. Water scarcity mostly affects less developed countries and rural areas, preventing their citizens from living a healthy and productive life while also resulting in huge annual economic losses.

To provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, US$ 27 billion are needed annually. Official Development Assistance (ODA) covers approximately one third of the target but 17 billion are still missing.

Local and regional authorities can contribute to filling the endemic resource gap that cripples water interventions. I believe local to local cooperation is an important part of the solution but to make it fully effective we need to improve its modus operandi.

The benefits of an integrated approach

Thousands of regional and local actors are willing to transfer financial resources and expertise to countries with scarce access to water. France and the Netherlands have passed a legislation that commands sub regional authorities to use 1% of their fiscal entries to water cooperation. Other countries such as Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy are working on a pro bono approach.

But too often potential donors work in silo without taking into account the heritage of existing projects or understanding the available expertise on the ground. To avoid duplication of efforts and maximize the effectiveness of local water cooperation, coordination and communication are essential.

Global Water Solidarity (GWS) was established by UNDP in 2012 as an international platform that groups more than 100 partners to promote decentralized cooperation initiatives for water and sanitation and improve their coherence.

One key activity of GWS’ is to map the expertise that can be allocated or that is already deployed at the country level. Once we have matched the needs from a municipality to a potential donor who can bring extra capacity, we advocate for an integrated approach to make sure projects communicate at multiple levels. Our local to local water and sanitation studies and projects are designed with strong integration of other development sectors, such as health or agriculture, and also communicate with regional and national strategies that might already encompass the plans. Long term sustainability is worth that effort, so that we complement the existing investment.

Putting the community in the driving seat

Community participation is another key element that make local to local cooperation successful. When we bring together local actors, making them essential players in the elaboration of viable water management policies, we reduce fragmentation, increase ownership and accountability, and therefore allow for more impact and effectiveness.

We praise the work of our partners that are constantly approaching cooperation through coordination and participation. We even have created a certification that rewards the pivotal role they play, but we still need to scale up their effort.

How can we scale up to reach universal access to water and sanitation in 2030?

Local actors and local authorities will be key players in achieving universal access to water and sanitation. Doing the thing right is the first step but developing legislative frameworks like the ones adopted by France and the Netherlands throughout Europe, will create more opportunities for local to local cooperation, an essential step to reach universal access to water and sanitation in 2030.

Water and sanitation Local governance and local development Communities and local development Public service delivery

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