Opening Remarks – SWA Meeting – Addis Ababa

It’s good to be back in Addis. It’s good to be here at this important meeting.

As you all know, this is not the first such meeting. This is the fourth ministerial meeting since this partnership was established in 2008.

But it’s the first to be convened since the international community agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York last September.

It’s certainly the first of which I’ve had the great honour of Chairing.

And in that capacity, I look forward to all of your contributions to this meeting – given that each of you brings unique expertise to this table.

We are here to listen. We are here to learn. We are here to debate. We are here to plan. Most importantly, we are here to act.

I don’t need to remind a gathering such as this that SDG six is our core business.

And to remind us all, and through you the international community, SDG 6 is to:

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

As we, at this gathering, are here to listen, to learn from each other, and to act, the organizing principle is how our combined actions turn SDG 6 into reality.

Because that is the benchmark against which each country, and the international community more broadly, will be measured.

And through the activities of the Joint Monitoring Programme, the reality is that we have important data to work with.

And it will be that data against which we are all measured.


The 2015 Assessment of Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water provides a number of telling points – points which illustrate both progress and problems in delivering on the objectives the IC has set for us all.

In 1990, 76% of the global population used improved drinking water. In 2015 91% of the population used improved drinking water sources.

In 1990, 1 in 4 people worldwide practised open defecation. In 2015 1 in 8 people worldwide practised open defecation.

Of course, these are all statistics. But behind each statistic lies a real live human being. Or, in millions of cases, dying human beings.

According to the World Health Organization, over 300,000 children under-five years of age died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene

And because many of us in the international community do not see this happening each day, the great temptation for so many is to conclude that because they can’t see it, it just isn’t happening.

It’s a bit like the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s happening “over there”.

We are members of the international community and we are responsible member-states, and we all share the common human value called compassion.

We do care.

But beyond our values, the values we share as members of the human family, those of us in governments have an acute responsibility.

And that is why we’re here. And that is why together we intend to make a difference – a measurable difference over time.

And the truth from all of the above is that, as an international community, we’re doing better at providing drinking water than we are at the provision of sanitation and hygiene.


So who are we, this partnership called Sanitation and Water for All?

We gather certainly as responsible Ministers from member-states of the United Nations.

But we’re also a broader family than that.

In the true spirit of partnerships, our purpose is to bring together people from across this critical sector.

So I welcome each and every one of you who are ministers, representing your governments.

I also welcome the strong representation from civil society – those of you who have worked long and hard in this field, often for many decades.

I also welcome those who we blithely call “technical experts” – in other words, those folks who really know what they’re talking about, whose expertise is fundamental to the success of our enterprise.

I also welcome those from the private sector and from private sector peak institutions who are with us today.

The truth for us all is that if we began to calculate the quantum of investment necessary in water and sanitation across the world today to meet our collectively-agreed SDGs, we are looking at a vast number.

And if we are truthful, there have always been limits on national budgets and certainly on budgets of the various international agencies engaged in this sector.

Which means that global private finance is of deep significance to the future of what we seek to do together.

We are, therefore, a very broad family at this gathering – made up of leaders, legislators, regulators, technicians and the research community, civil society and the private sector.

And in the spirit of the best-functioning partnerships in the world today, we begin with mutual respect for the role which we all play in this endeavor.

In this context, we should remember that with the adoption of SDG goals, all the governments of the world have agreed that it’s time to embrace the spirit and the reality of partnerships such as this for the future.

And in case some of us didn’t quite get the message last September, 193 Heads of Government agreed on a SDG specifically on partnership – SDG number 17, the last in a series, but arguably the first in importance about how we actually get things done.


So what are our objectives for this meeting?

We have sought to consult as widely as possible with all of you about what the objectives of this meeting should be.

Just as we’ve consulted about how our meetings should be most productively conducted for all participants.

In summary, I would suggest we have five objectives:

To analyze the Sanitation, Water and Hygiene components of SDG 6, and what that now means for a global and national plans of action for the WASH sector.
To identify the respective roles and responsibilities for the future for the various participants in the WASH sector – governments, development partners, civil society, research institutions and the private sector – in achieving these targets.
To begin work on what might constitute a global framework for action on Water Sanitation and Hygiene, including our collective agreement on the most useful data sources of measurement in order to inform national planning processes in this sector.
To lay the groundwork for the development of clear national action plans, including the deployment of national data systems and evidence-based policy, over the next 12 months before we gather again as SWA Sector Ministers next year.
Consistent with the above, for sector ministers to work with their finance ministerial colleagues to develop robust financing strategies and investment plans for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – and how those strategies and plans can also incorporate innovative financing mechanisms involving not-for-profits and the private sector. These will be discussed at next Spring’s planned SWA Ministers of Finance Meeting hosted by the World Bank.
Underpinning each of these objectives above will be the spirit and practice of mutual accountability between us all. The truth is, we are engaged in a global partnership because the SDGs, by definition, are global.

At the same time, unless this global partnership is anchored in the reality on the ground across the various nations represented here, it will simply be a paper exercise.

The truth is, SWA is a global partnership.

And with your support, that is the spirit that we intend to embrace in its deliberations.

And it also means that we will be welcoming of all participants in their sector for the future, in our work together.


Of course the outcomes for this meeting lie entirely in your hands.

You are the decision-makers. The ministers among us face hard decisions daily about the allocation of resources in their portfolios.

And you have the rolling task of convincing your heads of government and finance ministers that this should be a priority among the many other priorities you face.

But I believe we can, in our deliberations, focus on the objectives I have just outlined.

Which we have sought to develop after much consultation with the sector.

I believe we can produce outcomes from this meeting which will enable us to produce real results for us all.

And of course apart from our formal deliberations here over the next two days, our planned third day is of particular importance.

It’s the day when technical staff from the governments gathered here will be gathering together on the nuts and bolts of developing national planning documents.

This is really important work.

Over the next couple of days, colleagues will be working together to produce a Summary Report about outcomes here.

And this document will be fully mindful of the contributions made by all participants to this meeting.


To conclude, the work in which we are engaged here is good work.

Many in the international community do not find this to be glamorous work.

My experience of public life is usually that the least glamorous work is the most rewarding.

But we should remind ourselves, as we begin our substantive deliberations, that we are in the practical business of trying to save millions of lives each year through improved water and sanitation for all.

We’re talking about the lives of millions of children.

We’re talking about the lives of millions of women and girls.

We’re talking about the lives of girls who do not have access to sanitation which protects their human dignity and their physical security.

We cannot tolerate, under any circumstances, girls living in fear of rape when they need to go to the toilet.

Nor can we tolerate the drudgery, the lost opportunity, and arguably the slavery of women and girls forced to spend years of their lives acting as beasts of burden carrying water over massive distances.

We need to have a world which is better than that, for all members of the human family, female and male alike.

We are reminded by the UN General Assembly resolution of 2010 thatWater and Sanitation are fundamental human rights.

I argue that our mission here is to put all of our shoulders to the wheel in terms of turning those rights into reality.

And the truth is, my friends, this is entirely deliverable. This is entirely doable.

We should never conclude that we’ve embarked on a hopeless cause without conclusion.

The progress of the last 25 years demonstrates that we can have a major impact.

And we should be encouraged by that.

We should be encouraged to complete the task.