DEVELOPMENT

Inequalities in access to water and sanitation are a global risk, say experts

A side event held by the G20 Development WG outlined optimistic strategies for addressing the global sanitation crisis, highlighting the importance of the connection with the impacts of climate change, and the need for financial integration and technological innovations to guarantee these rights

03/18/2024 4:02 PM - Modified 21 days ago
Data from the United Nations Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF) show that 3.6 billion people in the world cannot use the toilet hygienically and safely in the world | Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil
Data from the United Nations Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF) show that 3.6 billion people in the world cannot use the toilet hygienically and safely in the world | Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

On Sunday, March 17, experts in Brasilia argued that access to water and basic sanitation is critical to combating poverty and reducing inequalities worldwide. The parallel event to the forum was held by the G20 Development Working Group and was attended by representatives of G20 member countries, international organizations and academics. 

Joanna Esteves Mills, technical officer on Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health at the World Health Organization (WHO), positioned the issue as a global one that is aggravated by climate change, urbanization processes in cities and recent conflicts. Mills provided examples of these effects all over the world, such as diseases that were once eradicated but have recently resurfaced.

"Vectors like these thrive in urban areas where inadequate water supply and sanitation, as well as poor water and solid waste management, provide ideal breeding conditions. Health emergencies are another global trend that exacerbates the impact of unequal access to water and sanitation on poverty. Over the last decade, disease outbreaks have steadily increased, with an average annual increase of 6.9%," she explained. 

The head of the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean (CAF), Franz Rojas, announced a 65% increase in institutional investments to expand access to water and sanitation in the region. Rojas emphasized that these efforts cannot be solely the responsibility of governments or financial institutions, but also require private resources and coordination to ensure universal rights and combat inequalities.

"We know that water is not available in homes for girls and women. When we promote access to water and sanitation, we promote equality, allowing them to have better access to schools, education, and employment opportunities. We understand this water continuum through education and employment. That's why sanitation and water are important," said the banker. 

Regarding investments and savings in the sector, Dominic O'Neill, executive director of the  United Nations Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF), pointed out that 3.6 billion people in the world are unable to use the toilet hygienically and safely every day, which has an impact on health, education, well-being and the environment, and is "also a missed opportunity for people, countries, economies and the planet," he said. O'Neill considered the situation a challenge but presented optimistic solutions to the issue.

"We can achieve financial integration to make public and private investments more effectively, create new financial models that include the full economic and social value of having access to safely managed sanitation, hygiene and menstrual health. We can also ensure that sanitation is included in climate finance plans, both for mitigation and adaptation. Financiers, including multilateral banks, need to bring in financial innovations," Dominic listed. 

Brazilian experience 

The Brazilian experts presented information on the implementation of public policies to expand access to water and basic sanitation in Brasil and provided information on the government's plans, investment possibilities and also partnerships with the private sector. The aim was to reveal the challenges of advancing this agenda in a country with continental dimensions and policies that can be replicated by G20 member countries. 

For Celeste Badaró, coordinator of the Development WG, the debates are a way of deepening important discussions underway in the working group, together with representatives of international organizations, the Brazilian government and the G20 nations, civil society, academia, to bring the discussion of how the issues we are discussing in the G20. 

"Brasil is a country that has come a long way in terms of access to basic sanitation, but we still have many challenges, as do all the G20 countries. Currently, only eight countries in the world have universal access to basic sanitation, and none of them are members of the G20. So everyone in the group has homework to do. We're going to be able to engage all the members and improve access," she said.

Marcela Ayub, coordinator of the Water and Socioeconomic Studies Superintendence of Brasil's National Water and Sanitation Agency (ANA), presented national statistical information used to monitor the targets and indicators of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 - Water and Sanitation. Ayub pointed out that the country's progress in public policies in the sector has earned it a UN nomination as a success story in promoting universal access to water and basic sanitation. The expert discussed how the Covid-19 health crisis has affected data collection and, potentially, future progress. 

According to Marcelo Chaves Moreira, coordinator of Technical Cooperation and Sanitation Structure at the Ministry of Cities, 65% of households in the country have access to water and sanitation. However, Moreira explained that in rural areas, the rates are lower and pose challenges for strategic investment to expand the water and sewage network in these locations. The coordinator recommends strengthening public policies through arrangements between states and municipalities to increase the population's access to these rights. 

On behalf of UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), Rodrigo Matias Resende, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer, presented the agency's work to support the country's most vulnerable territories, with a focus on indigenous and traditional communities, in the areas of sanitation, education, hygiene practices and capacity building in the Amazonian territories and the Brazilian semi-arid region, with a focus on strengthening the global agenda for access to water and sanitation. "We have the opportunity at the G20 with the presidency of the Brazilian government to advance the issue of sanitation as a global agenda," he said. 

Academic Anderson Miranda de Souza, from the Vale do São Francisco Federal University, shared the institution's experience with sanitation projects, access to water, environmental education and technology, with a focus on rural areas in the states of Ceará and Bahia, located in the northeast of the country. "Academia has an important role to play in implementing structuring actions in the rural sanitation plan. Resources invested in sanitation is a reduction in resources invested in public health, this is what we have seen with the experience of these policies," he stated.

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