Newly wedded: lobbying for water and sanitation services while sustaining nature


The Watershed partnership’s integrated approach to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6.

Twenty-five strategic partnerships funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been working for over a year on their contribution to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of them, Watershed, works on SDG6 – water and sanitation for all. An insight into how this partnership has been doing.

In 2014 the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would support 25 strategic partnerships – coalitions of NGOs working together to strengthen civil society organisations in the global south. By strengthening local lobbying and advocacy skills through these coalitions, the Dutch Ministry hopes that local organisations will hold their government accountable.

Watershed is a unique marriage of organisations: one focuses on the conservation of wetlands, others on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), yet another on open source technology. The idea is to combine their expertise to help strengthen civil society, in order to strengthen their role in delivering SDG6 before 2030. Next to that, Watershed believes that sustainable WASH services cannot be achieved without sustainable water resources, and vice versa.

More than a year down the road of this five-year coalition, the Watershed partners give insight into how they are doing. What are they working on and how is their partnership taking shape?

Separate worlds

“Environmental and WASH organisations generally stay in their own silos,” says Pim van der Male, Senior Policy Officer Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even in the Ministry, these departments are separated, he says. “We move in separate worlds. We have separate networks, partners, and budgets. But it is about time this changes, for both worlds are interrelated.”

Van der Male speaks at World Water Week, the biggest international conference on water and development held annually in the Swedish capital Stockholm. In the room with him are other prominent members of Watershed. Akvo is there – a Dutch water organisation known for its software-oriented, high-tech solutions, IRC and Simavi – two leading organisations working on WASH, and Wetlands International – a non-profit working on ecosystems, water resources management and development around the world.

They have come to Stockholm to exchange ideas, hear about the most pressing water-related issues, and discuss, not in the last place, how to integrate WASH and water security issues to achieve SDG6. The Ministry funded them in 2015 with 16.3 million euros to support a five-year programme in six countries: Kenya, Uganda, Mali, India, Bangladesh and Ghana.

Watershed will work to strengthen civil society organisations in the WASH sector in these countries – to enable citizens to lobby for clean drinking water and basic sanitation services. Their common goal is to contribute to sustainable WASH services for all, including the poorest, by 2030 – without compromising vital ecosystems in the regions where they work.

Climate change and WASH services

“While SDG6 seems to have a sole focus on WASH, it actually aims to integrate water resources and ecosystem management as well”, says Paul Brotherton, Wetlands International’s communications and advocacy officer. Next to developing – or restoring – the link between government and civil society, Watershed has the ambition to help integrate planning for WASH services and water resource management.

For the outsider this may be hard to follow, but getting WASH services to all by 2030 is also dependent on water security and environmental issues. Climate change and increasing water demands around the world affect the likelihood of providing everyone with WASH services before 2030. If not managed correctly, newly built water systems or sanitation facilities can contaminate the water that natural ecosystems and poor people in the area depend on. Planning of new WASH facilities therefore needs to take the natural environment into account, the partnership agrees.

Water in every country fulfils many needs, both in society and in the environment. Yet, it is a scarce good. The United Nations estimate that by 2025, 60 percent of the global population may experience physical water scarcity. Climate change can cause great droughts or flooding – extremes that affect WASH service delivery and that governments, responsible for ensuring WASH services for everyone by 2030, have to take into account. Increasing water scarcity in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia is already contributing to conflict.

Grazing lands and water in Kenya

In Kenya’s Laikipia County droughts made world headlines recently when thousands of armed herders invaded ranches, conservancies and private properties with their cattle in search of grazing lands and water. “This conflict was brought about by poor water allocation and weak linkages between water users”, says programme officer at Wetlands Kenya, Lilian Nyaega. “Upstream small-scale farmers use 80 percent of the total available resource. A large number of this population uses the water illegally, leaving the remaining 20 percent with no water at all.”

In Kenya, around 63 percent of 46 million Kenyans have access to improved water, while 30 percent have access to sanitation facilities. Despite the water scarcity challenges, the government of Kenya plans to deliver on its commitment to achieve SDG6. When planning for WASH services in Kenya, the Watershed partners will lobby the National and County governments to adopt and implement approaches that will ensure coordinated decision making in the development and management of water services, to achieve equity in the allocation of water actors across different social and economic groups.

Stronger local networks

In the first year, in each Watershed programme country the coalition has mapped the context in which they will work – the status of WASH services, how climate change affects ecosystems and the actors involved, including government agencies, civil society organisations and the private sector. Recently, they have started with the training of local civil society organisations in lobbying and advocacy, and data research to support their advocacy work. Building and strengthening existing civil society networks to collectively lobby in every country is the next step.

By the end of the five years, Watershed hopes to have contributed to more responsive civil society organisations which, consequently, influence national authorities to do a better job managing WASH services.

Watershed is one of the few programmes to lobby for WASH and water resource management at the same time. This makes the partnership unique, says Jeske Verhoeven, programme officer at IRC. But marrying the two is not easy. “Integrated water resource management can mean a lot, but not always delivering WASH services. These are two different worlds that need to be integrated.”

And that is part of the idea of the Dutch Ministry. “It might be slow and complicated, but everyone staying within their own sector will not get us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Article written by Jenda Terpstra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *