Monday, September 9, 2013

Sanitation Smörgåsbord: politics + evidence + commitments = accountability

Water and Urban Development from a Health Perspective, K21_7Post by: Darren Saywell - Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Plan International USA

I grew up in the UK in the 1970’s watching The Muppet Show. Beyond the more popular characters of Kermit and Miss Piggy, I fell in love with The Swedish Chef - an incomprehensible preparer of foodstuffs. He was hilarious.

All Swedish Chef sketches begin with him in a kitchen, waving some utensils while singing his signature song in a trademark mock Swedish. He would toss in the occasional English word to help the viewer determine what he was attempting to cook. These clues are necessary as he frequently uses unorthodox culinary equipment (firearms, tennis rackets, etc.) to prepare his dishes. All deeply politically incorrect, but fun nonetheless.
And so whenever I’m at Stockholm Water Week, I think of him and smile. More so this year, as I’ve been struck by the vast array - a bit like a Smörgåsbord - of preconditions and factors needed to achieve better cooperation in the WASH sector –hence the title of this blog.

Whilst the degree of information circulating can be a bit bewildering at times, the Sanitation and Water for All session gave some clarity amidst the overload.

In a fully seated session focusing on Elevating the Political Dialog, a series of thoughtful ‘outside – insider’ presenters in our sector provided insights into what’s working to get political traction for sanitation and water for all:
  • Study success: focus on countries that made successful changes – at policy level, or in budget allocations, for instance - and appreciate how this was achieved.
  • Understand the ‘science of delivery’: what’s our best evidence about practice that achieves the scale of operation that countries need.
  • Make (serious) commitments on sanitation: and track them; use an influential, international High Level Meeting once every 2 years to drive a continual discussion locally about monitoring those commitments. It’s not the number of commitments that matter – it’s the follow through on them that is key. Read the 2013 Progress Update to learn more.
  • Map influencers locally: identify, study and package advocacy and communications to those at national and sub-sovereign levels to build the right type of political momentum for change, in a way that decision makers can translate into policy and practice.
  • Guard against separation: Stockholm was dominated in large part by discussions about the post-2015 agenda this week; any focus on how to elevate political traction for sanitation cannot afford to be separate from the anticipated outcomes of that agenda. The indicators post-2015 will set the framework for our work towards 2030.

Like the Swedish Chef, some of these ideas are unorthodox ways to reach our common goal. Unlike the Swedish Chef, it is clear to me that we need more common language and consistent messaging to drive into sustained practice these critical lessons learned.

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