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The Status Quo Isn’t Good Enough: The Water Crisis & National Systems Strengthening

Last week, UNICEF and WHO released their latest report on water, sanitation and hygiene progress in schools. One in five children lack basic drinking water and sanitation services at their school. One in three don’t have access to basic hygiene. We are not where we need to be and in our current way of working, we will not get there by 2030.

It’s one of the reasons Water For People and IRC co-founded the One For All alliance and Water for Good joined last year. Solving for SDG 6 (water and sanitation for all) requires urgent, innovative, collective action as we face the growing impacts of the climate crisis and other interconnected challenges on people’s lives. National systems strengthening is one way this can happen. We’re so committed to it that it’s part of our shared strategy together.

When the Heads of State Initiative was announced at World Water Week last August, the goal was to get commitments from governments around the world to secure water, sanitation and hygiene access for their citizens. Championed by One For All member IRC WASH, Sanitation and Water For All (SWA), the Government of the Netherlands and United Nations Children’s Fund the commitments would also include support from a network of global and national SWA partners that coordinate joint advocacy activities and technical assistance.

This week South Sudan’s President H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit signed the country’s Heads of State Initiative Compact on Water and Sanitation. South Sudan is the first country on the African continent to sign the Compact by a Head of State.

The President of South Sudan, H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit, signed the country’s Heads of State Initiative Compact on Water and Sanitation on June 3.

David DeArmey of Water For Good, who focuses on work in the Central African Republic—South Sudan’s neighbor—explains, "President Kiir’s presidential compact and commitment to empower communities to an open defecation-free country by 2030 and to pass its water bill to ensure safe water supply is an astounding signal of hope to the citizens of the country. South Sudan’s citizens have been at high risk of being left behind in the global efforts to reach SDG 6.1 and 6.2 by 2030. The president’s engagement is a call for all stakeholders to support the initiative and an invitation to other heads of states to make an equally courageous commitment."

South Sudan, like many of the countries Water For Good, Water For People and IRC WASH work within, faces enormous water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges, which cause poor health, including malnutrition, school absenteeism, loss of household income, and reduced workforce productivity. When leaders make a commitment like this, water, sanitation and hygiene issues are seen as a priority and it can jumpstart resources and action from different areas of the government and their partners.

"The universal realization of the human right to water and sanitation is possible only if leaders make visible and actionable commitments in service to their countries," says Melissa Revotskie, Director of Partnerships, Policy & Advocacy at Water For People. "The next phase of implementation will require strategic and collective action from communities, service providers, politicians, funders, and countless other partners."

"Political engagement," explains John Butterworth, who oversees Global Programmes at IRC, "is crucial to mobilizing investment, and also changing and strengthening systems. Part of that systems strengthening is about using existing money well. The status quo is never good enough."

Read more at Sanitation and Water For All.

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