Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for 2017 and Beyond

Safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene are among the most foundational services provided by the U.S. government through USAID, the Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others. Water security has become a primary concern for socio-economic development, peace, and political stability. The Joint Monitoring Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) estimates that at least 650 million people lack dependable access to clean water and about 2.4 billion—or one in three people worldwide—lack access to improved sanitation.

In the United States, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) became a foreign policy priority with the passage of 2005 Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act. The legislation required a comprehensive U.S. government strategy, increased targeting of resources to the poorest countries, and increased U.S. government capacity to implement WASH programs. The U.S. Water Partnership, announced in 2012, reaffirmed this commitment. In 2013, USAID published its first comprehensive Water and Development Strategy and, in response to lessons learned over eight years of implementation of Water for the Poor, Congress unanimously passed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act in 2014. This highly bipartisan effort ensures that WASH funding is actually focused on the poorest communities. The new legislation requires USAID to further improve its program coordination as well as integration of WASH services with other sectors that will be bolstered by improved access, such as maternal and child health, food and nutrition security, and gender equity.

InterAction Recognizes

  • Basic WASH services help ensure the success of other U.S. government investments, such as child survival, maternal health, education, economic growth, gender empowerment, and more. WASH integration in other sectors such as food and nutrition security and climate response can be a key component to success in those areas. Investment in WASH, particularly sanitation and hygiene, is critical to infection and disease prevention/control, addressing antimicrobial resistance, pandemic preparedness, and resilient communities and health systems.

  • Urbanization and other patterns in human migration further stress weak WASH systems. According to “Growing Food for Growing Cites,” a report published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, more than half of the world’s population already lives in cities and that proportion is expected to grow to two-thirds by 2050. This shift will increase the demand for sanitation services as well as put pressure on already scarce water supplies. More recently, the scale of displaced populations in need of humanitarian assistance and protection has reached levels unseen since World War II. The protection and rights of displaced persons and host populations are severely undermined when access to WASH services is not adequately guaranteed.

  • Slow progress destigmatizing menstruation and prioritizing menstrual hygiene could hinder success in other key U.S. programs. For instance, girls often miss or drop out of school because a lack of toilets compromises their safety and dignity, negatively impacting education outcomes. Beyond schools, lack of adequate sanitation severely impacts menstrual hygiene and can undermine other priorities attempting to close the gap created by gender-based discrimination. Inaccurate information about menarche and menstruation, lack of access to menstrual supplies and sanitation facilities, and lack of confidence and security in seeking support undermine the United States’ ability to successfully implement USAID’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Strategy as well as the State Department’s Adolescent Girls Strategy.

Upcoming Opportunities

  • A comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy is due to Congress on Oct. 1, 2017 under the Water for the World Act. The Water for the World Act of 2014 provides an opportunity to better coordinate and strengthen the U.S. commitment to improved WASH services for the most vulnerable. It is critical that the White House, acting through the Secretary of State, prioritizes this strategy and ensures it can be successfully implemented by providing for appropriate technical expertise in key roles across the White House, the Department of State, USAID, and elsewhere in the federal government. Additionally, the increased integration required by Water for the World cannot be accomplished without associated increases in funding for WASH, as well as for Development Assistance more broadly.

  • Reinvigorate implementation of the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership through participation in its high-level meeting [April 2017]: The SWA partnership is a tool for improving WASH sector accountability, governance, and capacity in the countries furthest from reaching universal access to WASH by 2030, as demanded by the Sustainable Development Goals. While the U.S. government is an active member of SWA, the partnership remains relatively unknown and the U.S. commitment to the partnership is siloed within USAID’s Water Office. For it to succeed, SWA must become a core component of U.S. engagement alongside global health and multilateral development initiatives. The biennial gathering will take place during the World Bank Spring Meetings in April, 2017 and high-level U.S. government participation is urgently needed.

  • U.S. global leadership through the Sustainable Development Goals [September 2017 and Beyond]: While the Sustainable Development Goals explicitly mention WASH services as part of Goal 6, the success of the 2030 agenda will rely heavily on integration of WASH within other sectors as well. Goal 2, focused on zero hunger, and Goal 3, on good health and well-being, rely heavily on these services as well. Strengthening access to safely managed water and sanitation will require a multi-sectoral approach.

  • Nutrition for Growth Summit [May 2017]: Given its position as a major nutrition donor, the U.S. government must lead the way in stepping up funding for and prioritization of high-impact, evidence-based nutrition interventions, including WASH-focused interventions, that have been proven to save lives and drive progress in global health and economic development. The U.S. should capitalize on momentum coming out of 2016 with a strong, nutrition-specific pledge at the next Nutrition for Growth Summit, likely to happen around the same time as the 2017 G7 Summit in Italy. A bold, U.S. financial and policy commitment to nutrition, including appropriate cross-cutting commitments to WASH, will demonstrate U.S. leadership and encourage other countries to follow suit.

Additional Materials

  • Achieving Gender Equality though WASH, 2016, bit.ly/2cXJEV4

  • It’s No Joke: The State of the World’s Toilets 2015, 2015, bit.ly/2dgM3hC

  • Strategy for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 2016-2030, 2016, uni.cf/2cXpHQ6

  • Taking Stock: While U.S. Investments in Global Health Matter, 2015, bit.ly/2cXpA76

  • Water and Development Strategy 2013-2018, 2013, bit.ly/2d6oBQU

  • Water At What Cost: The State of the World’s Water 2016, 2016, bit.ly/2d6pqZM

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