Signed, sealed… delivered?

BloJB picg post originally published at WaterAid blogs

by Jayde Bradley, Advocacy Coordinator, WaterAid UK, Twitter: @jayde_bradley.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outline a diverse, universal and incredibly ambitious programme of work. So how will national governments measure progress and make sure we’re on track to achieve them by 2030?  

‘A practical good starting point’

Although it didn’t quite dominate the headlines, another significant piece of the 2030 Agenda puzzle slotted into place on 11 March.

The 47th session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) recently met in New York, and top of the agenda was the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicator framework. These indicators will be used to measure governments’ progress towards achieving the ambitious 2030 Agenda, including universal access to water and sanitation.

Blog image 1 - credit WaterAid and Adam Ferguson
A sign at a community toilet in Harijan Basti slum, New Delhi. The percentage of people using sanitation services that include a handwashing facility with soap and water will now be measured under the SDG indicators.

The snappily named Inter-agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal indicators (IAEG-SDGs) was given the unenviable task of coordinating the development of these measures. For months WaterAid and many others have contributed to shaping this framework which was very recently agreed as a ‘practical good starting point’.

You would be correct in thinking this language hints that not all issues arising from the process have been resolved, even as the UNSC set down its rubber stamp.

Room for improvement?

One such issue is disaggregation, i.e. the different groups of people that need to be included in the information that is being collected to ensure the vision of ‘no one left behind’ is met. A snapshot of this long and important list features dimensions such as age, gender, location, ethnicity and disability.

One aspect of WaterAid’s work in the area has been to call for water and sanitation indicators to be disaggregated by service level and location (download our latest briefing here [PDF]), so we can measure improvements in service access, and access for people outside the home (especially in health-care facilities and schools where highly vulnerable people often spend a lot of time).

Guidance from the IAEG on how the data outlined in the indicators will be disaggregated (and how governments will be supported to deliver on this) is very much ‘wait and see’. A sub-committee was established to take this work forward.

There has been criticism from civil society and some member states around the process by which the indicators have been discussed and agreed on, including concerns around the transparency and accountability of the discussions.

Although these have often been framed as ‘technical’ discussions involving statisticians from around the world, the indicators cover inherently political issues which touch on many of the trickier negotiation points of the 2030 Agenda itself.

 Hygiene indicator ‘win’

But there have also been some very positive developments as part of the indicators process. WaterAid and many others working on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) were delighted by the announcement of an indicator that included a measurement of hygiene. Measurement will be achieved by collecting data on the ‘percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a handwashing facility with soap and water.’

Hygiene was missing from early drafts of the indicators, despite recognition of it as a life-saving intervention in the language of target 6.2 (to ‘achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’). WaterAid and partners have worked tirelessly to raise the profile of hygiene during the entire post-2015 negotiations. After much research, lobbying, feeding into UN consultations and campaigning with many different partners ranging from academics to Big Bird (see picture below), we consider the inclusion of hygiene a real ‘win’.

2015 Global Citizen Festival In Central Park To End Extreme Poverty By 2030 - Show
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 26: Big Bird and President of World Bank, Jim Yong Kim MD, PhD, speak on stage at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival to end extreme poverty by 2030 in Central Park on September 26, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen) *** Local Caption *** Big Bird;Jim Yong Kim

We also welcome the acknowledgement of key interlinkages between WASH and other aspects of the 2030 Agenda, clearly reflected in the indicators – for example, the inclusion of sanitation and handwashing facilities in schools under indicator 4.a.1 covering ‘inclusive and effective learning environments for all.’

What happens next?

Clearly, measurement of progress of such an ambitious agenda will need to evolve and be refined over time, but work is already beginning to meet this challenge. For example, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation has begun the process of identifying how to capture data across all the types of disaggregation that Agenda 2030 calls for.

In February a group of inequality monitoring experts, drawing on household survey teams, international agencies and the UN Special Rapporteur for the human right to water and sanitation, produced a work plan to assess different data challenges for marginalised groups.

Now that we have the Agenda 2030 indicator framework, governments will be starting to think about how they will use the indicators in their national contexts. They will then report back on progress to the UN, including as part of the High Level Political Forum in New York later this year.

Although it has taken many years to get to this stage of a globally approved roadmap aiming to end extreme poverty in the next 15 years, as UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo highlighted, “Completing the indicator framework is of course not the end of the story – on the contrary, it is the beginning.”

And this is a story WaterAid will continue to follow closely.

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