By Nargis Artyushevskaya (December, 2012)
The expiry date for MDGs is soon approaching and this is not an exception for MDG7. With the ongoing debates on what should be the next post-2015, there are a number of possible scenarios being discussed by international community and scholar that potentially would sculpture the future development assistance. It is a high time of discussing the challenges and lessons learnt under the current MDG7 on the path of searching for right solution for millions of people deprived of safe water and appropriate sanitation. This paper reminds us on the essence of the MDGs, presents achievements made in water and sanitation, discusses challenges and ideas of what should the next target for water and sanitation post-2015.
On 5 September 2000, delegates from 189 United Nations member countries arrived to UN Headquarters in New York to participate at the event of historical importance. The Millennium Summit was the largest gathering of the world leaders in human history that estimated 100 heads of states, 47 heads of government, 8,000 other delegates and 5,500 journalists (UN 2000). It was a very important moment for all people in poor developing countries, hence the outcome of the three-days meeting was the Millennium Declaration that placed on record commitments of the UN member states to strive global issues, such as poverty, AIDS, child mortality. For the subsequent fifteen years, the international community pledged to achieve eight common goals, including MDG7 on “ensuring environmental sustainability”. Target 10 was specifically dedicated to water and sanitation issues and calls upon “halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation” (UN 2006).
MDGs are generally considered as a UN baby, however, the world donor agencies, as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the African Development Bank (ADB) have significantly contributed to this endeavor. In 2005, these donor agencies sponged a huge debt of US$ 40-55 billion to Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) to allow impoverished countries to re-channel the resources saved from the forgiven debt to social programs for improving health and eradicating poverty (MDG 2012). Moreover, it worth mentioning, that the idea of MDGs not new. Indeed, for water and sanitation, MDG 7 was a logical continuation of the preceding Water and Sanitation Decade (1990-2000) that was widely admitted unsuccessful and lacking effective project approaches.
Measuring the progress of the MDGs is a labor-intensive process. Two indicators were agreed to be used for monitoring MDG7, (i) proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source, urban and rural, and (ii) proportion of population with access to improved sanitation, urban and rural. UNICEF and WHO are the responsible agencies and produce bi-annual progress reports with the latest issued in March 2012 (JMP 2012). While just a few years left before September 2015 and the shutdown of MDGs, it is a high time to raise the questions on the progress made, effectiveness of approaches applied, challenges and lessons learnt, as well as what should be the way forward post 2015. The subsequent discussion in this paper attempts to provide some of the answers and impartial analysis from inside out.
Progress and Achievements
“The world has met the MDG target on safe drinking water well in advance of the 2015 deadline”, was the loud statement of the WHO/UNICEF press release issued on 6 March 2012 (WHO/UNICEF 2012). As proclaimed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, that was “a great achievement for the people of the world”, which implied that between 1990 and 2010 over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells (JMP 2012). According to WHO and UNICEF (2012), at the end of 2010, 89 per cent of the world’s population or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, which was one per cent more than the 88 per cent MDG water target. This achievement was largely gained due to the progress in India and China, which represents nearly half of the global progress towards the drinking water target (JMP 2012). It was estimated that by 2015, 92 per cent of the global population would have access to improved drinking water (JMP 2012).
Meanwhile, the sanitation target is lagging behind. Despite the accelerating progress of almost 1.8 billion people provided with access to improved sanitary facilities since 1990, this means of only 10 percent “being on track” (JMP 2012). According to the report, only 63 percent of the population use improved sanitation facilities. It has been estimated, that at the current rate of progress, 67 percent of coverage is expected by 2015, while 75% needed to reach the target (JMP 2012).
While MDG water target has become one of the first MDG targets to be met, there are significant challenges exist. First of all, the JMP report (2012) indicates on huge regional disparities: while coverage in the developing world stands at 86 percent, it is only 63 percent in the “least developed countries”. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most disadvantageous, with the coverage only 61 percent. Secondly, it has been admitted that the complete information about drinking water safety is not available for global monitoring. To measure the proportion of the population using improved drinking water sources, proxy indicator is used, however, it may be true that not all the sources provide safe drinking water. For example, Palaniappan (2009) argues that in many developing countries, most types of improved water sources would not provide water safe for human consumption. Finally, despite the great progress, 780 million of people remain un-served: “more than one tens of the global population still relied on unimproved drinking water sources”, the report stated (JMP 2012). However, the major challenge pertaining to the water target, as commented by many scholars, is urban-rural disparity. While, 96 percent of the urban population globally used improved drinking water sources in 2010, for rural areas this coverage represents 81 percent only. But, more importantly, access to piped water supply in rural areas is 29 percent, with 80 percent world’s urban population coverage. This implies that in reality the number of people in rural areas using unimproved water sources in 2010 was still five times greater than in urban areas (JMP 2012). Palaniappan (2009) comments that in the last 15 years there has been progress in reducing the urban-rural gap, however this largely has been the result of urbanization. In other words, the increasing rural to urban migration, as well as slow population growth in rural areas has allowed reducing the gap, but in fact much more focus should be given to rural areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania (Palaniappan 2009).
Meanwhile, the challenges around MDG sanitation target are more significant, as it is evident that the target will not be met by 2015. The JMP (2012) report stated: “unless the pace of change in the sanitation sector can be accelerated, the MDG target may not be reached until 2026”. Besides this overall pessimistic picture, Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa show the least progress with the coverage rates below 40 percent (JMP 2012). Perhaps, one the greatest challenge for sanitation target remains open defecation. The report estimates that 1.1 billion people practice open defecation or 15 percent of the world’s population. Southern Asia is of particular concern. Open defecation is practiced by 41 percent of the region’s population, however, the highest proportion of people using some sort of unimproved sanitation remains in sub-Saharan Africa (JMP 2012). Open defecation is the highest in the rural areas, where an alarming 949 million people do not have access to sanitary facilities. Meanwhile, the urban-rural disparities for improved sanitation coverage are even more pronounced than those in drinking water supply. Globally, only 47 percent of rural population used improved sanitary facilities, compared to 79 percent of urban population, and thus 1.8 billion people still lack sanitary facilities (JMP 2012).
However, across all those challenges, perhaps the greatest long-term issue as commented by numerous critics would remain sustainability of both water supply and sanitation facilities. JMP report admits that the current set of indicators used to monitor the Target 10 MDG 7 do not address issues of safety, reliability and sustainability. According to the report, some work is underway to refine both indicators and methods of monitoring, but they in fact will not be practically applied until the new water and sanitation goals, targets and indicators post 2015 are developed. The special JMP thematic report issued in 2011 was specifically dedicated to the issues of equity, safety and sustainability. It states that “sustainability is often compromised by lack of technical skills, equipment or spare parts for operation and maintenance, and lack of sustainable financing mechanisms for recurrent costs” (UNICEF, WHO 2011). The issues to sustainability of donor-assisted construction of water supply schemes has indeed received significant attention within the last twenty years of so. In fact, as early as in 1988, Briscoe and de Ferranti (1988) argued that one of four water schemes constructed in the developing countries was non-functional. However, since then there have not been made any particular attempts to quantify the sustainability indicator, but it remains widely acknowledged that the sustainability of the donor investments would remain highly questionable in the next decades to come.
The global study of WB and UNDP in 1998 articulated a number of strategies that need to be applied to make water supply services sustainable (Katz and Sara 1998), however effectiveness of those strategies and the robustness of their implementation remains highly dependent on issues of good governance. For example, a recent assessment in Pakistan, 6th most populous country, revealed that 37% of assessed schemes were non-functional, while the reported JMP progress was quite high (92%) (Steenbergen 2012). The same source critiques that the JMP figures are shamefully wrong, and the problem is not only about the effectiveness of the MDG investment, but the problem with the definition of coverage under the JMP.
Moreover, corruption remains at the core of the governance crisis in the water sector that places in question the reliability and effectiveness of MDG progress. Whereas the scope of corruption varies substantially across the sector and between different countries and governance systems, estimates by the World Bank suggest that 20 to 40 percent of water sector finances are being lost to dishonest and corrupt practices (Stålgren 2006). The magnitude of this figure is distressing, especially if one considers current efforts to aggregate the USD 6.7 billion needed annually to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation in Sub-Saharan Africa (Mehta, Fugelsnes and Virjee 2005). Tackling corruption in the water and sanitation sector in Africa is a particular area of concern. The WB report stated that the attainment of the MDG7 in the majority of African countries is unlikely even if the additional finance was to become available, due to unacceptable level of leakage in the sector as a result of bribery and fraud in procurement or construction and endemic corrupt practices (Plummer and Cross 2006). Corruption undoubtedly hampers attainment of all MDGs, not only MDG7, as it widespread in many sectors in developing countries; according to Global Financial Integrity, every year the developing world as a whole loses as much as US$1 trillion in illicit financial outflows. A recent study commissioned by UNDP on “Illicit Financial Flows from the Least Developed Countries: 1990‐2008” finds that illicit financial flows from the least developed countries have increased from US$9.7 billion in 1990 to US$26.3 billion in 2008 (UNDP 2011). Indeed, corruption and other forms of wrongdoing are the main reasons of the global water crisis and as stated by watchdog Transparency International “corruption has made the cost of water more expensive in some developing countries than in cities like New York, London or Rome, threatening billions of lives” (Kirschbaum 2008).
The way forward
According to WHO, the lack of access to clean water and sanitation causes the death of 3.4 million people each year (WHO 2008). This is a strong argument to justify the need for continuation of MDGs post 2015. Indeed, within the recent few years, there has been an intensive discussion within the international community on what will replace the MDGs after their expiry date in 2015. It seems that the question is not about the pertinence of the worldwide targets, but about their format and content. The UN MDG Summit in 2010 set on the table the agenda on thinking beyond 2015, recommending consideration of three main options. MDG deadline could simply be extended, new goals could be developed building on existing ones or completely new goals, targets and indicators could be designed (Williams 2011). Meanwhile, it is also crucial to remember is that it took about ten years to develop the MDGs and there is a need for substantial political momentum to deliver a post-2015 development framework.
A recent survey among water and sanitation specialists in 36 countries has concluded that despite MDG was “a good thing”, there is a need for a completely new post-2015 framework that must be developed through an inclusive and participatory process, taking better account of country contexts and considerations of climate change (Pollard, Sumner and Polato-Lopes 2012). The UN Task Team on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda has concluded, that while a framework is unquestionably essential after 2015, generalized MDGs, where the objectives for the world are set as a whole, should be complimented by contextualized MDGs that would reflect country contexts and national priorities (Nayyar 2012). After all, there is still lack of clarity about what the new goals would look like. The recent UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 development, co-chaired by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, discussed some of the possible scenarios for post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), that as commented “need to become much more structured, if we’re to avoid getting a “Christmas tree”” (Evans 2012). According to the panel, five major scenarios could be considered by the international community in tailoring future water and sanitation targets: (i) full SDGs would imply universal coverage of all 7 billion people; (ii) SDGs-lite is where we may end up if the full SDGs get progressively diluted and targets become aspirational or voluntary and fail to match with a hard-edged delivery plan; (iii) MDGs plus principle would start from the core MDG principle, but focusing on the poorest; (iv) Hybrids option would imply combining SDGs and MDGs ideas, thus safeguarding MDG’s poverty focus; and finally (v) so called Car crash scenario could lead to the loss of the MDGs’ poverty focus with no countervailing win in another area.
However, irrespective of what would be the end of the current debate and how post-2015 agenda would be shaped like, it is obvious that there should be careful considerations of the lessons learnt from the present MDGs and significant efforts and resources should be made available to sustain the present achievements and attain progress in the future. It has been estimated, that a total of US$ 54 billion are required annually to maintain existing water and sanitation services or a total of US$ 72 annual expenditure would be required to increase coverage to un-served and maintain existing facilities (Palaniappan 2009). Secondly, it is evident that more attention should be paid to the least developed countries, as the regional disparities are huge and sub-Saharan should be of primary focus. This has been a significant gap in the current MDGs. For example, Ethiopia being one of the poorest countries in the world is also one of the least assisted countries in Africa (Pankhurst 2007). Thirdly, in countries urban-rural disparities should be tackled more aggressively. Considering the limited rural coverage, further assistance in expanding access to improved water and sanitation facilities should be channeled with the primary focus to people in rural areas. Last, but not least, in view of the recent recognition of safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right (Annex 1), this could open the door to a new approach to setting future targets and indicators in ensuring that poor and most vulnerable are served first. Ultimately, unless the issues of corruption, lack of effectiveness and sustainability and appropriate monitoring systems are developed and addressed efficiently by robust governance, the universal targets would to a large extent remain a massive machine of wasting billions of dollars and guesstimating impressive progresses.
Briscoe, J., and D. de Ferranti. Water for rural communities: helping people help themselves. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 1988.
Evans, Alex. After the MDGs: what kind of goals? April 16, 2012. http://www.globaldashboard.org/2012/04/16/what-kind-of-post-2015-goals/ (accessed December 3, 2012).
JMP. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. 2012. http://www.wssinfo.org/ (accessed December 1, 2012).
Katz, Travis, and Jennifer Sara. Making Rural Water Supply Sustainable: Recommendations from a Global Study. Washington: WB, 1998.
Kirschbaum, Erik. Water Sector Corruption Threatens Lifes, Environment. June 25, 2008. http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/25/us-corruption-water-idUSL2544704420080625 (accessed December 3, 2012).
MDG. Millennium Development Goals. November 30, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Development_Goals (accessed December 1, 2012).
Mehta, M. T., Fugelsnes, and K. Virjee. “Financing the Millennium Development Goals for Water and Sanitation: What will it take? .” International Journal of Water Resources Development., 2005: 239-252.
Nayyar, Deepak. The MDGs after 2015: Some Reflections on the Possibilities. Background Paper, New York: UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, 2012.
Palaniappan, Meena. Millenium Development Goals: Charting Progress and the Way Forward. Vol. Chapter 4, in The World’s Water 2008-2009, by Peter H. Gleick, et al., 57-78. Washington, Covelo, London: Island Press, 2009.
Pankhurst, H. Ethiopia Water and Sanitation Sector: Progress Towards Targets for Water and Sanitation MDGs. London: United Kingdom: Department for International Development, 2007.
Plummer , Junelle, and Piers Cross . Tackling corruption in the Water and Sanitation Sector in Africa. Starting the Dialogue. Working Paper, Water and Sanitation Program, Washington: WB, 2006.
Pollard, Amy, Andy Sumner, and Monica Polato-Lopes. What should come after the Millennium Development Goals? Voices from the South. CAFOD/IDS, 2012.
Stålgren, Patrik. Corruption in the Water Sector. Causes, Consequences and Potential Reforms. 2006. http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/policy_library/data/01346 (accessed December 2, 2012).
Steenbergen, Frank van . MDG 7 and the Moment of Truth. July 2, 2012. http://www.thewaterchannel.tv/en/thewaterplaza/the-water-blog/98-mdg-7-and-the-moment-of-truth (accessed December 2, 2012).
UN. Goals, Targets and Indicators. 2006. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/goals/gti.htm (accessed December 1, 2012).
UN. United Nations Millennium Declaration. September 2000. http://www.rcgg.ufrgs.br/msd_ing.htm (accessed December 1, 2012).
UNDP. Illicit Financial Flows from the Least Developed Countries: 1990‐2008. Discussion Paper, New York: UNDP, 2011.
UNICEF, WHO. Drinking Water. Equity, Safety and Sustainability. JMP Thematic Report in Drinking Water 2011. USA: WHO/UNICEF, 2011.
WHO. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health. Geneva: WHO, 2008.
WHO/UNICEF. “Millennium Development Goal drinking water target met Sanitation target still lagging far behind .” Joint News release WHO/ UNICEF 3. New York/ Geneva, March 6, 2012.
Williams, Leo. What comes after the MDGs? June 17, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jun/17/millennium-development-goals-beyond-2015 (accessed December 3, 2012).