EU must seize opportunity to adopt new political vision and give global leadership on sustainable development

Says leading EU CSO coalition SDG Watch Europe in Open Letter to EU Leaders


Urgent need for a new political vision for EU

In advance of the planned European Council summit in December (14th & 15th), a leading European civil society network SDG Watch Europe has issued an open letter to EU Leaders highlighting the urgent need for them to focus on the Union’s future by adopting a strong political vision and showing global leadership on sustainable development. The coalition claims that there are very real political risks linked to the current, almost exclusive, focus of EU leaders on the management of Brexit and associated political issues.

“There is a sense that just like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, the EU is distracted with Brexit while political conditions are deteriorating across the Union,” says Deirdre de Burca, member of the SDG Watch Europe steering committee. “Our coalition’s broad membership calls on European political leaders to urgently adopt sustainable development as a core political mission of the Union. We believe this important mission could help unite Member States at this critical time, while allowing Europe to assume an important global leadership role.”

Slow pace of EU implementation of the SDGs

“The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development is an ambitious global agenda which includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that were adopted by all UN member states in September 2015,“ says Leida Rijnhout of Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and member of the SDG Watch Europe steering committee. ”The EU was an important player in the negotiation of this global agenda” she says. “There were high expectations that sustainable development would move to the top of the EU’s own political agenda and those of its member states. Unfortunately these expectations have not yet been met. NGOs are very concerned about the missed opportunity that this represents for Europe and its citizens.”

SDG Watch Europe and its members claim that the pace of implementation of this global sustainable development agenda by the EU has been “very disappointing”. They point to the fact that a full three years after the adoption of the SDGs, the EU has not yet developed an overarching European Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 to implement the goals.

Link to Open Letter: 

Manifesto for a Sustainable Europe for its Citizens

Despite the European Union’s great legacy and mission, the response of European decision makers’ to the financial crisis, to combating climate change and environmental degradation, to halting growing
inequality and undermining women’s rights, to scandals such as those in our food system and Dieselgate, and to increased migration by closing our borders to those in need, have unfortunately run
contrary to the core values of the EU and have walked back some of the historical gains we fought for.
People feel that the economic and financial interests of the wealthy are prioritised over the common good. We are confronted with the impacts of austerity – growing poverty and inequalities, deteriorating
access to healthcare and (youth) unemployment – while large companies are allowed to refuse to pay fair taxes. Urgent problems go unsolved, such as the climate crisis and air pollution, which kill hundreds of thousands of people. In short, people in Europe are being left behind and not everyone shares in the benefits of the Union.

What kind of Europe do we want?

200+ civil society organisations all around Europe are uniting to bring people together to
discuss the “Europe we want”, and to put this on the agenda of the forthcoming European Parliament
elections. We believe strongly in a European project based on Europe’s core ethical values and
sustainable development: democracy and transparency, social and environmental justice, human rights, the rule of law, equality, and solidarity. Those values must be at the heart of all policies. This means fundamental changes from today. We want European policies, rules and standards that do what they
were intended for: protect and safeguard well-being and health, ensure safety and freedom for people
and protection of the climate and the environment. We want policies that support and serve present and
future generations in and outside Europe.

Today is SDG day!

It’s the 3rd anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals today. What have we achieved since the world signed this ambitious document to end hunger by 2030 and achieve good quality water and sanitation for all? Are we heading towards a green and healthy planet and healthy lives for all by 2030 or are the goals further away than before?

Around the world many events are taking place to celebrate SDG day. It is a day of stocktaking of progress and set-backs, of good examples and new policies and practices. We put in the spotlight the progress that is being made in India.

To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, launched the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2 October 2014. The Mission aims to achieve a “Swachh Bharat” (“Clean India”) by 2019 and put an end to open defecation, as a fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. Emphasis is placed on awareness raising to achieve behaviour change and create a demand for sanitary facilities in houses, schools and public spaces as well as for waste management activities. Open Defecation Free villages can only be achieved if all individuals and households conform to the use of a toilet every day and every time. Community action and peer pressure on the outliers are key. Appropriate participation of the beneficiary/communities, financially or otherwise in the setting up of the toilets is advised to promote ownership and sustained use, both at the household and community levels.

In 2017 sanitation coverage had increased from 39% to 69%. This was impressive, but efforts were stepped up to reach the, “hardest to reach”, final 30% of the population without sanitation. Swachh Bharat Mission has picked up great momentum this year and it is on the way to achieve the target of ending open defecation by 2 October 2019.

Claims and realities of implementing the human right to water – FAMA and WWF8

Consensus has been achieved that water and sanitation are human rights, but problems to realise these rights remain. Different views on how clean water and sanitation for all can be achieved impede progress for the most vulnerable and marginalised. Global and abstract debates sometimes seem far from local realities, but can have big impacts. Vice versa, local actions can change the global debate.

Every three years two World Water Forums take place to discuss global water issues and problems. This year in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, between 17 and 23 March and always around World Water Day 22 March. The “official” Forum – WWF 8 – is set up by private water companies, the “alternative” Forum – FAMA 2018 – is organized as a response by water justice activists to challenge the biased view of the corporations towards water. ‘Water justice’ does not only aspire that the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled, but also that control over water sources must be in public hands as a collective right. Corporations claim that they can promote the human right to water and sanitation by selling water and managing water resources.


In 2013 the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) called “Right2Water” collected 1.9 million signatures and passed the threshold in 13 EU Member States. The ECI demanded the European Commission to implement the human right to water and sanitation in European legislation, following the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2010 in which the human right to water and sanitation was recognised. The “Right2Water” campaign was organised by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and supported by a large number of NGOs, public water companies and water activists in Europe. It aimed to shift the focus of the European Commission from a market approach to rights-based approach in European water policy. With the slogan “water is a public good; not a commodity!” it urged that water services in Europe should not be liberalised. Trying to counter the support that “Right2Water” was gaining, the two big multinationals in water (Suez and Veolia) claimed that they were the ‘real’ promoters of the human right to water and sanitation and that “Right2water” was fuelled by a ‘German public lobby’. It could not stop the success of the ECI: Water services were excluded from the concession directive.

What is the problem with liberalisation and privatisation?

Creating a market undermines the objective of universal service provision. Market principles bear the risk of exclusion of the poor that cannot afford the new water price.  If in these cases governments would subsidize water supply to the poor, it would imply that the governments subsidize the profits of the corporation. The ’Cochabamba Water War’ is the most prominent example of a water conflict following from privatization of water services, but many more conflicts have risen over water in the past decades. Strong market failures provide an overwhelming justification for public regulation and ownership of assets. At the World Water Forum in Mexico City in 2006 private water companies issued a statement recognizing the right to water, but in 2012, at the World Water Forum in Marseille this statement appeared void when the private companies declared that it was ‘logic’ that people who had no money would get no water. If profit comes at first place, human rights obviously become a secondary concern. A human right to water does not imply that water should be for free, although this is at odds with cultural and religious views on water in many parts of the world. Moreover, drinking water is a non-substitutable resource, essential for life and a networked water supply is a natural monopoly that should not be in the hands of profit driven corporations.

Write “Water”, speak “Democracy”.

Strengthening the democratic, public character of water services is fundamentally at odds with the currently dominant neoliberal model, which subordinates ever more areas of life to the harsh logic of global markets. Claimed benefits of privatisation appear to be false in many cases. A study by the World Bank said: “there is no statistically significant difference between the efficiency performance of public and private operators in this sector”. Public-Private partnerships (PPPs) are increasingly controversial due to conflicts between the private sector’s commercial objectives and local developmental objectives. These conflicts have led to widespread social resistance. Lack of transparency over finance, service management and investment, is a motivation for public authorities to terminate PPP contracts. This is increasingly happening in large cities around the world. The case of Berlin is exemplary. PPPs, presented as form of cooperation appear to be privatisation in disguise.

The recognition of human rights to water and sanitation is forthcoming from long ongoing struggles for social and environmental justice. It is both a result (e.g. Uruguay, Bolivia) as well as a driver for these struggles (e.g. “Right2Water”, Indonesia). Although the human rights to water and sanitation are both being claimed by proponents of a social economy as well as by proponents of a free market economy, it is clear that the realization of these human rights is more advanced by social public policies. It is a support to citizens if they legally can claim their rights and it shows a government’s commitment when human rights are enshrined in constitution or regulation. A legal framework converts political intentions into enforceable rights and obligations, thereby moving the discourse ‘from one of charity to one of entitlement’.

Diverging world-views, different realities

The struggle for access to and control over water does not only take place at local level where services must be provided, but also at global and ‘meta’ level in the fight between the organisers of the World Water Forum (WWF) and the organisers of the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA). Corporations dominate the debates at the World Water Forum, while activists that campaign for local and public control over “their” local water sources are campaigning at the alternative water forum. The diverging views (‘commodity’ vs. ‘commons’) make it hard to reach consensus on the much-needed global water architecture that should unify each and every organisation’s effort to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. A global water architecture should align all UN, global, regional, national and local institutions that work on water issues and aspire to achieve the SDGs, but this seems far away.

New forms of cooperation.

The resolutions of the UNGA in 2010 has not only encouraged states to increase their domestic efforts to realize the human rights to water and sanitation, they have also served to mobilise resources – above all in specific developed countries which cooperate with developing countries in the area of water. Good examples of solidarity that helps to realise the human rights to water and sanitation are shown in public-public partnerships (PUPs). These ‘alternatives’ for public-private contracts ensure equality of partners and focus on the poor and marginalised. Making progress to achieve universal, equitable access to clean water and sanitation – realizing these human rights – requires a socially just economic model. PUPs, as examples of solidarity cooperation, therefore merit more attention and support. By making a change at local level in public water services and resource management, they can help to shift the public economy from a neo-liberal model of competition – with a few winners and many losers – to a social model with not-for-profit collaboration and fair, shared prosperity for all.

FAMA and WWF8, two different worlds discussing water issues in Brasilia

From 17 to 23 March two large events took place in the capital of Brazil, both dealing with water to raise awareness about (rising) global water problems and to discuss pathways to achieve good quality drinking water and sanitation (Sustainable Development Goal 6).

The biggest event: the 8th World Water Forum (WWF8), organized by the World Water Council, had a participation of over 50,000 people from mostly governments and business, with some academia and NGOs that could afford the trip to Brazil and costs of the event. The biggest Forum in numbers in spite of the fee that ranged from 170 euros for students to 660 euros for participants from OECD countries. It showed that big interests are at stake in water and water resource management, but it also led to a protest letter of NGOs from the Butterfly Coalition to the organisers that too many people and NGOs from Africa and Asia could not participate due to the high costs, stating that “too many are left behind” at WWF8.

Opening ceremony FAMA

The alternative world water forum, in Portuguese ‘Foro Alternatovo Mundial de Agua’ (FAMA), was self-organised by Brazilian NGOs and social movements in protest to WWF8 for its inaccessibility to the poor; qualifying WWF8 as an ‘elitist’ gathering. FAMA took place in the shadow of WWF8 with 4000 participants that paid only a small fee of 50 reais (13 euros) in the Brasilia City Park and at the University Campus. In contrast: WWF8 took place at the big Ulysses Guimaraes Convention Centre and the Mane Garrincha Stadium. But the size and budget were not the only difference between the two Forums. There is a huge ideological gap in between.

Participating at both sides I saw a commitment and passion to help solving the ‘global water crisis’, to achieve SDG 6, fight climate change; that has its first and most noticeable impact in the water sector, and to help realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. It is remarkable that both forums identify the same major problems related to water, but the debates and proposed solutions are like a left-turn at FAMA and a right-turn at WWF8. At the same time there is no clearer evidence that water has become a political issue.

FAMA represents itself as the voice of people. Raising the question: “for whom is lack of water a problem?”, it highlighted the fact that the poor are not participating in WWF8. Debates at WWF8 are primarily held between governments and business. The solutions that they provide, are in the interest of government and businesses, not (necessarily) in the interest of the poor. “False solutions”, according to FAMA participants. Protests at FAMA were not limited towards WWF8; the Brazilian government and Brazilian industries were also frequently under attack for non-democratic, unjust and non-sustainable policies. The main objective at FAMA was for social movements to learn from and support each other in struggles for a more democratic and just management of water, natural resources and land.  In the final declaration of FAMA they stated that the social movements are united in the fight against privatization and financialization of nature. Water is a commons, not a commodity!

At WWF8 the objective was to come up with recommendations to global policy and law makers, increasing the profile of the water sector and its actors and stakeholders. WWF8 ended with a final declaration in which governments and UN institutions were called to increase their commitments to advance SDG 6, to increase finance for water and sanitation and to cooperate with the private sector and NGOs to help solving the crisis. The way to address water problems at WWF8 is by increasing finance for water and sanitation. This finance is not seen as just development aid. According to many at WWF8, there are business opportunities in water and sanitation that are waiting to be captured. The expo at WWF8 provided a space where companies, governments and organisations could meet, organise events to show their business cases or attract customers or investors. For them water definitely is a commodity.

Closing ceremony WWF8

It is a pity that the worlds of FAMA and WWF8 are so close with regards to the goals (clean water and sanitation for all and sustainable water management for future generations), but so far apart on the identification of root causes of the problem and on how to address them. In order to make progress for the poor and people that are ‘left behind’ without access to water and sanitation it is indispensable that the two different worlds meet, respect and learn from each other’s view and cooperate. Because the adage ‘water is life’ counts for all of us.

EuSAIN welcomes new EU Drinking Water Directive: increasing access and improving quality.

This Thursday, the 1st of February 2018, the European Commission has published its proposal for a revision of Directive 98/83/EC (the “Drinking Water Directive”). We welcome this proposal, which places water utilities at the centre of a more holistic approach to managing the provision of drinking water services.

EuSAIN joins ‘Building Change’

‘Building Change: Global Goals at Home and Abroad’ is an initiative of ‘Partos’, ‘Woord en Daad’ and ‘Foundation Max van der Stoel’. It is a follow up from ‘Ready for Change’ in which Dutch Development NGOs aspire to contribute to an ambitious and concrete implementation of the SDGs. This coalition is broadening to the wider Civil Society and advocates for a Fair Dutch government policy that has no adverse impact in developing countries. We want Sustainable Development at home and abroad. ‘Building Change’ puts the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) firmly on the Dutch and European political agenda. We are a coalition of over 40 Civil Society Organisations and we strive to broaden the alliance to knowledge institutes, business and local governments. Together we expect to be able to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

‘Building Change’ works to realise these Goals in a coherent, fair and ambitious manner with a supportive and facilitating government. Participation of other stakeholders like financial institutes, and business is essential. We strive to bring all stakeholders together on three major Sustainable Development themes: Climate, Finance and Trade. We need real break throughs in these areas and we aim for a united voice towards the Dutch government to realise this.

EuSAIN is part of the working group on SDG 6, together with the Netherlands Water Partnership, Gender and Water Alliance, IRC and Partos. SDG 6 is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and essential to reach all other development goals. Clean Water and Safe Sanitation need to be prioritised in order to reach health for all (goal 3), food for all (goal 2), end extreme poverty (goal 1), achieve gender equality (goal 5) and education for all (goal 4). It is also essential to combat climate change (goal 13), reduce inequalities (goal 10) and reach sustainable cities and communities (goal 11).

MP Corrie van Brenk adopts SDG 6

Corrie van Brenk is the Dutch MP that will monitor and promote Dutch government commitment to SDG 6. She supports the “adopteer een SDG”/ ‘Adopt a SDG’ – campaign by a coalition of Dutch Civil Society Organisations (‘Building Change’) that EuSAIN is part of.  The ‘Adopt a SDG’ – campaign aspires first of all to make the SDGs more visible in Dutch politics. More visibility of the SDGs improves the connection of Dutch policy to the global Sustainable Development agenda. In addition, we hope that it promotes coherence between policy at home and abroad.

Clean Water and sanitation as SDG 6 aims, means that in 2030 everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water. That women and girls can make safe use of sanitary facilities. But also that the water quality is improved, the discharge of chemicals is addressed and the ecosystems that are water-based, are to be protected and restored.

With the contribution of Corrie van Brenk the ‘Building Change’ coalition works further to achieving a fair and ambitious implementation SDG 6.

We support Corrie van Brenk in her mission and wish her a lot of success!


19 November is World Toilet Day

World Toilet Day is about inspiring action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. Today, 4.5 billion people live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste.

The Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure everyone has access to a safely-managed household toilet by 2030. This makes sanitation central to eradicating extreme poverty.

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated November 19 as World Toilet Day. World Toilet Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with governments and partners.


One of the global activities that you can join is the #UrgentRun. Each year on World Toilet Day, the World Toilet Organization commemorates this day with the Global Urgent Run. The Global Urgent Run is a call for urgent action to end the sanitation crisis. It aims to bring communities around the world together, to raise awareness for the global sanitation challenge and engage people with sanitation issues in their local communities. Support the sanitation cause by joining the 2017 Urgent Run event near you. Look where it takes place this year

Why we need to talk about shit

Today, about a billion people worldwide face the indignity of defecating in the open. The lack of clean and safe school toilets leads to higher dropout among girls once they reach puberty. Diarrhoeal diseases – a direct result of poor sanitation – claim more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. A taboo topic often shrouded in ignorance and silence, toilet sanitation begs for open discourse and social awareness in its global implications on health, education and safety. Jack Sim asks the provocative question: what would it take to mobilise our society and see social change in this sorely neglected issue, and what can we do about it? Widely known as Mr Toilet, Jack Sim broke the global taboo of toilet and sanitation by bringing the agenda to global media centre-stage. After attaining financial independence, he retired from business to devote the rest of his life to social work. In 1998 he founded the Restroom Association of Singapore and the World Toilet Organization (WTO) in 2001, a global network and service platform for toilet associations to promote sound sanitation and public health policies. WTO declared November 19th as World Toilet Day which has now been adopted as Official UN World Toilet Day.

Watch Jack Sim explaining why we need to talk about shit >