Monitoring water and sanitation beyond taps and toilets (3/4)

This third blog is part of a four-part blog series on monitoring the Global Goal on water and sanitation & the challenge of data aggregation. This week’s blog is authored by Kate Medlicott, Sanitation Team Lead, and Betsy Engebretson (WHO Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Unit).  It offers some insights on the importance to successfully monitor all components of Global Goal 6, including wastewater and faecal sludge. 

The Millennium Development Goal covering WASH (Goal 7) focused on access to improved water sources and sanitation. While the number of first time users for improved water and sanitation did greatly increase, the fact is that the entire story wasn’t being considered. Was the water at improved sources safe to drink? Were we considering access in all settings, including WASH in healthcare facilities, in schools or in the workplace where we spend most of our time? What was happening to wastewater and faecal sludge? Were they being safely managed and treated or ending up back in the environment and making people sick? Were water and sanitation systems being managed and sustained?

These unanswered questions sparked the Global Goals to take a broader view of water and sanitation. Instead of focusing solely on access and the enabling environment needed to provide access to improved water and sanitation, discussions included topics such as water quality, water reuse, water resource management, and faecal sludge management. These topics are all covered under Global Goal 6, which is focused on water and sanitation, but moves beyond access to taps and toilets and focuses on the entire water cycle.

At the global level, we do not have the data to fully monitor this ambitious agenda. For example, sanitation data on disposal or treatment of excreta are not available for most countries.  However, existing data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) shows that most household in the developing world use onsite facilities that are not connected to sewers even in urban areas.  Where sewers and treatment plants exist many are overloaded or dysfunctional.  Therefore, it is critical to analyze flows and treatment for all sanitation types to represent everyone and help decide where to make improvements towards the Global Goal target for sanitation.  A faecal flow framework for all facilities can be used to estimate safe management and treatment.

This broader focus will give the world a better understanding of what is (or isn’t) happening with wastewater and faecal sludge, both of which can cause serious illness and negative environmental impacts. By including these topics in targets for Global Goal 6, governments will need to take stock of these issues, and the less glamorous, but extremely important, side to water and sanitation will be in the spotlight.

The international community has created an  expanded monitoring initiative for Global Goal 6 to assist countries in getting an accurate picture of what is currently happening with the water cycle and track progress  during the Global Goal period.  The initiative brings together expertise from UNEP, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, FAO, UNESCO, WHO and WMO under the umbrella of UN-Water and links with ongoing monitoring by the WHO/UNICEF JMP that tracked MDG progress to ensure that all components of these complex issues are successfully monitored.

With the Global Goals, we have moved beyond access to taps and toilets and are working to achieve sustainable, safely managed water and sanitation systems.

By Kate Medlicott and Betsy Engebretson, WHO Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Unit.

-> Read the previous blogs in the series “The challenges of monitoring WASH in Health Care Facilities” (2/4) and  “WASH Monitoring and the Global Goals” (1/4)

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