After 15 years of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the international community is preparing itself for 15 more years of development ambitions.
The MDGs were a success because indeed they worked as ambitions for countries, donors and civil society. They generated discussion on what exactly an improved water and sanitation service is, whether notions of sustainability and equity should be incorporated, whether these goals should be aligned with the human right to water and sanitation and more. And they did work as a benchmark: are we getting there or not?!
MDGs have been the platform for sharing and gathering around something bigger than oneself. Jeffrey Sachs in a recent ODI meeting said that the MDGs were important for two reasons: they attracted attention for development and they have set an ethical standard for what is just and every human being should be entitled to.
The SDGs should do the same. There is fear that because of the much bigger number of goals and targets the power of simplicity of the MDGs will be lost. On the other hand, the world has moved on, there is more to aspire and there is need for more subtlety. At the moment the proposed water SDG not only includes targets for drinking water and sanitation but also for wastewater treatment, integrated water resources management, water-use efficiency and water-related ecosystems. And all of them are important: what sense does it make to know whether people have access to sustainable water and not knowing whether the water resource is sustainable? The challenge for the international community will be to find the right balance between enough granularity in goals and targets and preserve their simplicity and clarity.
Adding targets, like the ones mentioned above, will put much more responsibility for data collection on institutions in each country. The water and sanitation MDGs were largely monitored using household surveys. However, the new targets will need to be monitored using data gathered by sector ministries and service providers and this data is often hard to collect.
This calls for increased efforts to strengthen country sector monitoring systems. Not only those for monitoring water resources, wastewater treatment or IWRM, but also the ones for monitoring drinking water and sanitation.
Therefore, the new SDGs are a great opportunity to support countries in strengthening their water sector monitoring systems. Wouldn’t that be a great international ambition?! Enjoy the year of the SDGs!
Ton Schouten, Chair