The Covid pandemic shows the urgent need for safe water and sanitation. Health authorities universally recommend frequent handwashing as a barrier to block the spread of the virus. Yet this simple act is difficult for hundreds of millions who still lack access to safe water and sanitation services.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 represent a commitment by all governments to achieve universal access to water and sanitation services by 2030. However, based on current progress, universal access is not even close.
Part of the problem is how to pay for the infrastructure needed to bring water and sanitation services to all households and all communities.
Part of the problem, as usual, is how to pay for the infrastructure needed to bring water and sanitation services to all households and all communities, and to maintain existing infrastructure.
For PSI, the problem lies in large part in the lack of political will to finance this and other essential public services. Even in the planet’s richest country, the USA, universal access to water is not guaranteed. This is the result of many decades of an ideological battle against public services and in favour of for-profit corporations.
This ideological battle has shaped the political landscape of many countries, and increasingly of our global institutions. So, we see that the SDGs assume that private finance must be relied upon to ensure the provision of water and other essential public services. Governments are told to change their rules and laws for the sector to be more attractive to private investors. Government budgets are to be used to entice private finance. Plans to build and improve water and sanitation utilities must be “bankable”.
March 22, World Water Day, is being used by labour unions to warn that the privatization of water supply systems will cause serious problems for workers and citizens. An interview with the Deputy General Secretary of Public Services International, David Boys. Duration: 5'36"
The United Nations chose Valuing Water as its theme for World Water Day 2021. The World Water Day report, published by UN Water, will provide hundreds of pages of analysis about the different ways in which water is valued. However, we doubt that there will be a solid critique of the models proposed for financing.
This is the result of many decades of an ideological battle against public services and in favour of for-profit.
As a partner with UN Water, PSI helped launch a global virtual discussion about the value of water, in order to hear from everyday people, not just water policy specialists. This global discussion showed that people expect their human right to water to be implemented and defended by government.
PSI recommends that global water policy integrates the following:
Universal access to water and sanitation will depend, in part, on resolving global tax evasion and illicit financial flows. Water advocates at all levels need to integrate this demand.
Universal access will require more workers, better trained, equipped and paid.
The not-for-profit public-public partnerships model, including as implemented by the GWOPA office at UN Habitat, deserves support from national governments and IFIs.
Statistics show that water causes 90% of the damage of extreme weather events.
As the climate crisis deepens, governments will need to better address water in all its complexities. Statistics show that water causes 90% of the damage of extreme weather events. Public institutions at all levels need to urgently ramp up adaptation measures in order to both secure water supply and sanitation systems and to reduce the damages borne by water. Adaptation funds need to be committed and made accessible, including to local and regional governments. Loss and damage funding negotiations must also advance.
The growing trend of water remunicipalisation shows that local governments from all political perspectives recognise the responsibility to ensure universal access to quality public water and sanitation services, as well as the inherent limitations of delegating this responsibility to for-profit corporations.
The pandemic starkly revealed the fractures in our hyper-consumerist globalised world. Even while imposing physical distancing, the pandemic has brought many of us together to fight for the future we need, to strengthen our democracies and our public services. The pandemic also showed that our governments can take far-reaching actions to solve big problems. It is up to us to insist on more.