Inclusive action and empowered communities are key to sanitation goal

20th July 2015

As part of our series gathering reflections on the recent SDG "zero draft" text Deepak Sanan of the CLTS Foundation looks at the draft goal on availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation.

The SDG zero draft, in relation to sanitation, is a significant advance on the MDGs. Sanitation is implicitly recognized as a public good that must reach all for the benefits to be enjoyed by all. Open defecation must be eradicated if safe sanitation is to be achieved. The poor, the vulnerable must be included and gender issues addressed, if sanitation for all is to be a reality. These characteristics of the draft  deserve appreciation.

CLTS triggering process in the Volta Region of Ghana

CLTS triggering process in the Volta Region of Ghana. SuSanA Secretariat, 2014, License CC BY 2.0


Having said that, the SDG for sanitation could be couched better. In its current formulation, it suffers on three counts. First, a goal that wishes to secure both an end to open defecation and sanitation for all only by 2030, condemns millions to suffer the scourge of water borne disease for longer than should be countenanced. Secondly, the language still draws on the traditional association of sanitation with water (a vastly different commodity) in finding it necessary to speak of adequate and equitable access and inclusion of certain sections, as if sanitation that is not safe and sustainable for all, can still be an achievement. Thirdly, it needs to implicitly recognize that achieving sanitation is about changing collective behaviour and this happens when communities (from village to metropolitan city) realize this need themselves and are empowered to take action to redress their situation.

With only months to go a substantive rewriting of the goal seems unlikely now. However to address the infirmities listed above and recognizing the need to be succint and follow a common format, we would, given the opportunity, seek a reformulation of the SDG on sanitation on the following lines:

By 2030, achieve safe and sustainable sanitation for all  while securing the end of open defecation at the earliest through inclusive action by empowered communities that addresses the special needs of girls and women as well as those of other vulnerable sections, in undertaking this responsibility.