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Human Rights to water and sanitation is the biggest challenge for all of us

Neil Dhot, co-representative of the private sector in SWA's Steering Committee
18 Dec 2019

Sanitation and Water for All’s end of year focus on the human rights to water is a timely reminder of the biggest reason we all work in this sector and our biggest challenge– so it’s a great rallying call to all of us for 2020.

SWA’s private sector partners are fully committed to delivering on the principles of human rights to water and sanitation. Now, we are moving from commitments to action. But for us, the challenges and risks are the same as everyone else in the sector.

What we hope for next year is for the international water community to spend less time analysing the problems, and instead work with us on the solutions that are directly focused on realising the human rights to water and sanitation.

We could do with fewer frameworks and theories, what we honestly need is more evidence and clear examples of how to help people realise their right to water and sanitation. The SWA Finance Ministers’ Meeting next year promises to be a key moment when the dial does shift to solutions.

Here are some examples of the SWA Private Sector’s solutions-based approaches:

Let me be clear. Private sector solutions are not always the best, nor the most appropriate. We have our place, just like everyone else. As the SWA Steering Committee Chair said recently in his blog: “… the issue is not so much who owns or runs the service, but how can we ensure they do so as efficiently and equitably as possible.”

If you are from a public authority at municipal, state or national level, and want to discuss where the private sector might be able to help you, the SWA is a great platform to meet a diverse range of private sector actors. The same applies if you are from a civil society organisation – there are many wonderful examples of partnerships between civil society and the private sector to deliver human rights.

Through the SWA’s Mutual Accountability Mechanism, with its focus on commitments, we can really accelerate progress. The human rights to water and sanitation should be the starting point and the endpoint of all our discussions and plans for action. And we all have to work together, in partnership.

Here are some examples of how the SWA private sector partners are delivering the human rights to water and sanitation – never on their own, and always in partnership with authorities and non-private actors:

  • Aquafed – private operators working under contract from public authorities around the world every day, efficiently operating public water systems, improving quality and increasing access to water and sanitation
  • Sanergy – improving people’s health in the slums in Nairobi by innovative, low-cost public toilets and waste treatment
  • Zenith Water Projects – working in Nigeria with the government to support the Clean Nigeria mission and help stimulate private sector initiatives towards ending open defecation by 2025
  • Toilet Board Coalition – working with municipalities and the Indian government to develop circular sanitation economies, providing innovative and low-cost sanitation and, ensuring the end of open defecation in India
  • Niyel – bringing civil society, private sector and governments in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, to develop Fecal Sludge Management policies, regulations, and institutional frameworks
  • Waterpreneurs – leading the way in many countries to bring together local innovators and entrepreneurs with authorities to pitch ideas to bring greater access to water and sanitation services

We know that the problems exist in the sector– so, let’s all remain solution-focused rather than pursuing certain ideologies or prejudices. What we need is political will and strong partnerships to leave to no one behind. We are all here to tackle SDG6 bottlenecks and make sure everyone’s right to safe drinking water and sanitation is fulfilled. This is a very difficult job and it requires everyone to be pointing in the same direction. SWA is the place to go for the orientation.