The United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation held its final meeting in New York on the 20th of November 2015 as the Board’s mandate – to support the Millennium Development Goals for Water - comes to an end.
The meeting gathered high-level personalities previously members of the Board, including His Majesty Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands as former Chair of the Board, and active members such as HIH Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan as Honorary President and Uschi Eid as current Chair.
Acknowledging that much is still to be done as the world embarks on a renewed quest for universal access, the Board’s current Chair presented its final advisory report, “The UNSGAB Journey” to Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General.
The report outlines the 7 transformational changes that were the focus of the Board's work to galvanize efforts towards the MDG target on access to water and sanitation. These included work to: create the will to act, secure more safe water management, mainstream sanitation, increase and improve financial flows, catalyse better resource management, seek action on pollution prevention and promote water-disaster protection practices. Reflecting on the achievements of the Board's work, partner engagement and clear recommendations were highlighted as important success factors.
Reflecting on the achievements and lessons learnt over the past decade, His Majesty Willem-Alexander underscored the example shown through UNSGAB of what can be achieved through ‘joint efforts’ and he called for lessons to be drawn from the Board’s multi-actor approach. In the final set of recommendations, the Advisory Board made a call to action for, "a full-scale water-cultural revolution within the UN".
The Advisory Board was mandated to boost efforts toward the MDG on access to water and sanitation and developed the first Hashimoto Action Plan (HAP) in 2006. One of the recommendations of this first HAP was that a specific mechanism be created to support the world’s operators, mostly public, through not-for-profit partnerships, or Water Operators’ Partnerships. This recommendation was taken up by Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, who requested UN-Habitat to lead the creation of the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance.
Since UNSGAB instigated its creation, GWOPA has grown into a global alliance of stakeholders committed to the capacity development of operators and the practice through WOPs.
UNSGAB’s mandate may be over, but the work is not done
UNSGAB’s first, and one of its most important recommendations was to call for support for public operators, and the GWOPA process is a key part of that. Public operators need to step up their game, they have 15 years to implement universal access to water supply and sanitation. GWOPA needs to facilitate and encourage more partnerships such that utilities can skill up their staff and develop solid teamwork to plan for the future. Bilateral aid agencies should also support and encourage their own public utilities to be mentors overseas. Far too few of the capable public operators are involved, they perhaps don’t see themselves as part of the solution. Development banks need to get serious about this initiative, with at least as many resources as they have spent supporting private sector participation.
David Boys, Public Service International, Member of UNSGAB Board and GWOPA International Steering Committee