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: 

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.

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).

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 >    

5 takeaways from Stockholm World Water Week

Experts have pointed to a growing momentum among politicians, finance and business leaders toward meeting the global water and sanitation development goals. However, many also warn that development finance is still woefully small, that silos persist among actors, and that not enough attention is being paid to reaching the poorest of the poor.

These were some of the main messages heard during last week’s Stockholm World Water Week, which saw more than 3,200 participants from 133 countries descend on the Swedish capital for six days of sessions and discussion centered around reaching the water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goals. How to access new sources of finance and how to spend existing flows more effectively was a prominent theme. The World Bank now estimates an additional $114 billion per year is needed in order to extend universal access to WASH beyond what was required for the Millennium Development Goals. But in 2014, development finance for water totaled just $18 billion per year.


Meeting WASH specific SDG targets by 2030 is a huge challenge. Currently the U.N estimates that 2.1 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, and 4.5 billion are without improved sanitation services. Furthermore, with population growth projections at their highest in water scarce areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, and increasing rates of urbanization, the challenge is set to get even harder in the coming years.

Here are five key takeaways and issues to watch.

1. The SDGs have ‘galvanized’ the WASH sector

2. But how much is being translated into practice?

3. Unlocking new financial flows for WASH

4. The most promising new developments are in urban sanitation

5. Waste management is an increasingly urgent problem

Read more >


CSO coalition messages to ministers at SWA high level meeting

From over the world Water/Environment Ministers and Finance Ministers met at the Sanitation and
Water for All (SWA) high level meeting in April 2017. A global coalition of CSOs, led by End Water Poverty passed the following messages to advance progress in achieving SDG 6.

Access to water and particularly sanitation and hygiene for the poorest populations and communities
is lagging behind!

More than one third of the global population – some 2.4 billion people — do not have access to sanitation facilities (of which 70% live in rural areas), and 946 million people practice open defecation. These water and sanitation needs especially affect the health and economic potential of women and girls.

– Governments have to take into consideration the urgency of addressing the needs of the poorest
and most marginalised (in both rural and urban areas and informal settlements) through adequate
policies, participatory approaches and financial planning and funding allocation.
– Governments, donors and service providers need to include the Human Rights to Water and
Sanitation as guiding principles for the implementation of SDG 6.1 and 6.2 and ensuring that
financing reaches the most marginalized.
– Governments, donors and international organisations need to honour their financial obligations
and increase the resources available to the sector and the poorest populations, especially on
hygiene and sanitation.
– Addressing the rights of women, ethnic minorities and people living with disabilities is key to achieve universal and sustainable access to WASH for all.

Generating adequate financing requires trust and integrity in strengthened and more efficient national
systems, with strong safeguards and CSO and local participation, as well as, broad societal consensus
on the way WASH services are sustainably financed.

  • Governments should establish strong accountability mechanisms and allow for stakeholder
    engagement and oversight mechanisms for large investment programmes, including collaboration
    with a capable independent institution (e.g. auditing office or specialized watchdog CSOs) for
    oversight and complaints management. They should enable citizen monitoring and feedback
    through all stages of policy and programme implementation.
  • Governments and service providers (including CSOs, CBOs and NGOs) need to put in place
    transparent mechanisms to track financing to water, sanitation and hygiene, linking expenditures
    with the services provided and ensuring that increases in expenditure produce the intended results
    (e.g. increased or expanded services).
  • Financial mechanisms need to include sustainable financing of local CSOs, CBOs or NGOs to
    facilitate a strong and independent civil society. Empowered local communities can greatly
    contribute to SDG implementation by monitoring and providing feedback on the performance of
    governments and service providers, as well as by directly engaging in service delivery.

CSOs have a role to play alongside and in collaboration with governments, donors, and
international organisation in the implementation of the SDG 6.1 and 6.2 and of the Collaborative
Behaviours, as they are also implementation partners. Participatory approaches for service
delivery and budget programming should be reinforced to allow for all partners to play a role in
the new ambitious SDG agenda and to promote mutual accountability.


Manual on Human Rights approach for IWRM

The recently launched manual on Human Rights based approach for Integrated Water Resources Management brings together two fields that, until recently, have been separate: Human Rights and IWRM. The union of these two fields is a natural one, as water-management practitioners and human rights professionals have become increasingly aware of the importance of water in key human rights domains, such as the right to life, the right to health, the right to food and the right to a healthy environment.

“It has become increasingly important to understand that there are some key existing dilemmas in the IWRM concept that can, at least partly, be resolved through a human rights-based approach (HRBA),” said Jenny Grönwall, Programme Manager, Water Governance in SIWI. “For instance, the HRBA emphasises the need to take the rights of each individual into account and give priority to vulnerable groups, and not stop short at planning for the river basin without recognising under-represented stakeholders.”

The manual provides an introduction on IWRM, the human rights-based approach and the principles of water governance, ensuring readers, whether they come from a water management or human rights background, have the knowledge base to be successful. Moving beyond just being a tool for reference, the manual expands into the realities of implementation and includes a facilitator’s guide. “The human rights-based approach reminds that each and every one of us have certain rights and entitlements, most importantly to safe drinking water, which the state and its proxies–including water utilities–have corresponding obligations to realise,” added Grönwall. “Likewise, we all have responsibilities towards one another, to future generations and to the ecosystem that provides us with services.



Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Rome 2017

Final Statement,  result of the Workshop ‘Human Right to Water: An interdisciplinary focus and contributions on the central role of public policies in water and sanitation management’ held on February 23rd and 24th, 2017 at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican City and organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences with Cátedra del Diálogo y la Cultura del Encuentro (Chair of Dialogue and Culture of Encounter). The Final Statement was signed by His Holiness Pope Francis, the organizers and participants as detailed at the bottom of the Statement.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis presents the main issues related to the human right to water, including the lack of access to drinking water, sanitation, and continued inequality of quality and availability of resources. The encyclical also refers to the repercussions of droughts and floods on food production, the prevalence of pollution-related diseases and warns us against a “green economy” that is often green not because it is ecological, but because it treats nature as a commodity.

The socio-environmental crisis that we face arises from environmentally irresponsible human action that has resulted in spreading socio-environmental injustice, increasing inequality and poverty, and a lack of adequate food supply. Throughout the world, the lack of access to safe water and the pollution of water sources seriously and increasingly affects quality of life, particularly women, the poorest, and the most vulnerable. In addition, thousands of people put their lives at risk by demanding the right to water or by actively defending natural resources.

Production models focused on fossil fuels are directly responsible for global warming. Climate change, like water scarcity, is a consequence of human action. The degradation of the environment has increased exponentially and today the world faces the consequences of economic models of production that “privatise the profits and socialise the losses”. In regions such as the Amazon, deforestation and pollution of water sources have accelerated in recent decades as a result of the development of mining, production and developing infrastructure, leading to potential conflicts varying in nature and scale.

Many cultures, societies and religions of the world recognise water as a spiritual and material principle of life, thus finding common ground. They also recognise that everything in the universe is connected and that the care for the common good requires solutions based on cooperation, solidarity and a culture of dialogue. On this basis, new paradigms must be built in which humanity does not claim unlimited and disrespectful dominion over nature, but rather exercises a collective responsibility.

Those most affected by the scarcity of water and a lack of basic sanitation must be involved in the developments towards universal access. Everyone is called to participate actively in caring for our common home, each with their own experiences, initiatives and capabilities. Households, neighbourhoods, cities, regions and countries, with small and large responses and actions, are called to guarantee universal access to safe water and sanitation, and to exercise the responsibility to our fellow human beings and to the generations to come.

Ensuring the human right to safe water is essential for the exercise of other rights such as food, health and welfare. Human rights provide a normative basis and constitute a source of authority and legitimacy for realising universal and fair access to this resource. The inclusion of the right to clean water and sanitation in international agreements, instruments and declarations is indispensable for the development of human life. For this reason, the recognition of access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right is indisputable.

Although the challenge is great, we rely on solidarity and collective sensitivity, fruits of the dialogue of philosophies, knowledge, spiritualties and epistemologies. There are currently many valuable projects and initiatives working towards the care of our common home and we have a better understanding of the problem, not primarily as an issue of scarcity but as an inadequate management of the resource. Today we know that the use of fossil fuels in energy generation contributes to climate change but we have inherited a significant body of scientific knowledge, as well as clean energy technologies that can help mitigate global warming. Today, we know what we have to do: develop another paradigm of development, centred on the care of our common home, centred on solidarity, equality and justice in the use and management of water.

Many of today’s economic and production systems, ways of life, and consumption behaviours cause environmental degradation. We need an education that fosters a cultural change around the recognition of the other and the defence of water and ecosystems; we urge a cultural change in which science and technology can make fundamental contributions to the preservation of water and its universal use. More effective legal tools are needed to protect common assets and a human rights perspective can ensure that water supply and sanitation do not fall under the influence of powerful groups, but are safeguarded by binding legal obligation.

We need governments that have the will and political force to generate the necessary changes, following the moral imperative of the Sustainable Development Goals approved after Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations, in particular points 6 and 14. This requires a collective commitment to the creation of global, state and local public policies that incorporate real and effective participation in the full exercise of citizenship and the concern for the common good. Today it is urgent to reach a consensus on models of governance that allow for the formation of an authentic culture of water. Governments must also ensure the safety and lives of all those who work for the right to water and the preservation of nature.

The recognition of rights must be met by a universal responsibility for action. This implies changes in lifestyle, production and consumption, as well as the development of renewable and clean energy. The provision of safe water in necessary quantities and the collection of wastewater and its disposal by environmentally adequate means, contribute to the care of our common home and people’s dignity, whilst also contributing to the development of responsible citizenship amongst present and future generations.

Each of us, scientists, entrepreneurs, politicians, labourers for humanity, must be aware that the threat of climate change demands concrete and urgent measures. In the encyclical, Pope Francis proposes the development of an integral ecology for the care of our common home, inviting a collective and joint mobilisation for the defence of universal access to safe water by governments, institutions, the private sector, workers and societies around the world. Uniting with a collaborative commitment and collective action is necessary to demonstrate the urgency of the change of the instrumental rationality towards a true intergenerational solidarity. We call for the implementation of an integral ecology, incorporating environmental, economic, social and cultural dimensions, for fostering a culture of encounter, which acknowledges the human right to water and sanitation. Science, culture, politics and technology all have a part to play in achieving societies of justice, solidarity and equality, committed to the care for our common home.


Papa Francisco –  Card. Claudio Hummes –  Mons. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo – José Luis Lingeri –  Luis Liberman – Gabriela Sacco

Jerónimo Ainchil – Alejandra Alberdi – H. Dogan Altinbilek – Cristian Asinelli – Juan Ayala – Adrián Bernal –  Asit Biswas – Emilia Bocanegra – Rutgerd Boelens – Valeria Bubas – Rebeca Céspedes – Keshav Chandra – Michael Cohen – Ismael Cortazzo – Elena Cristofori –  Emilio Custodio – Magalid Cutina – Leandro Del Moral – Gabriel Eckstein – Emanuele Fantini – María Feliciana Fernández García –  Ana Ferreira – Alfredo Ferro – Héctor Floriani – Enrique García – Alberto Garrido – Peter Gleick – Adrián González – Quentin Grafton – Joyeeta Gupta – Pedro Hughes – Giulia Lanzarini – Marcelo Lorelli –  José Luis Inglese – José Paulino Martínez Cabrera –  Ugo Mattei – Hugo Maturana – David Molden – Alberto Monfrini – Daniel Nolasco – Virginia Oliver – Rosa Pavanelli – Ivo Poletto – Pedro Romero – Carlos Salamanca – Farhana Sultana – Danya Tavela – Cecilia Tortajada – Jorge Triana Soto – Jerry van den Berge – Gianni Vattimo – Virgilio Viana – Alessia Villanucci – Martin Von Hildebrand – Aaron Wolf – Ana Zagari – Christian Ferrando – Christiane Torloni – José Romero – Laureano Quiroga

Final declaration in Spanish