New Government Spending Watch data and report – Scaling-up WASH spending to reach everyone, everywhere (2/4)

This second blog is part of a four-part blog series written by Jo Walker who manages the Government Spending Watch (GSW) programme. It reflects some of the conclusions outlined in the most recent Government Spending Watch report “Financing the Sustainable Development Goals: Lessons from Government Spending on the MDGs”.  This week’s blog questions what it will take to reach the unreached.

WASH spending needs to double to achieve the SDGs
The stagnation in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) spending in recent years is worrying- as we explored in last week’s blog – not least because the SDGs goal and targets envision a massive scale-up – to universal coverage. While the water target for the MDG was globally met (implying action might be easier in the SDGs), many countries still have far to go, especially as the sanitation target for the MDGs was not met. This is clearly going to entail a huge expansion of financing. Therefore there is no doubt that vastly more investment is required for the sector.  According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), around US$24 billion could be required annually to ensure universal access to safe water and sanitation. The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) estimates that sanitation will account for the vast bulk of these investment needs. According to our analysis, universal WASH coverage would require a doubling in current spending.

Leaving no-one behind is going be an even greater challenge
The MDGs allowed governments to focus on improving lives for the relatively easy-to-reach populations. The SDGs will require a focus on the hardest to reach. For instance, bringing infrastructure services to the poorest slum dwellers, living in chaotic informal settlements, or those living in remote hard-to-reach rural areas, is going to be harder (and costlier). This implies higher unit costs to reach marginalised groups, especially in informal settlements and urban slums.  In addition, the SDGs are broadening the focus as they include sustainable water resources management given increasing water scarcity, and specify more detailed goals for hygiene. All this requires that delivering services may become more expensive.

UNCTAD also suggests that expanding equitable coverage to all will require public investment in services to meet the needs of the poorest. This will almost certainly require a heavy reliance on government and donor funds – even if private finance can play a more prominent role-  to ensure equity and that ‘no-one is left behind’. As well as now being committed to the inclusive development commitments enshrined in the SDG framework – which means governments should ensure they find sufficient funds to meet these goals – it is also a sound investment by governments to do so, with clear economic gains. For instance, WHO estimates that for every US$1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of US$4 by keeping people healthy and productive. While the according to UNDP Human Development Report has estimated that lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene causes sub-Saharan African countries annual losses equivalent to 5% of GDP, more than the entire continent receives in development aid.

There can be no doubt that overall, a dramatic increase in investment is required for the sector.  In the post-2015 development world, WASH spending will need to grow dramatically as the global goals are made more ambitious, to provide access to WASH for all.

This blog is part of four-part blog series written by Jo Walker who manages the Government Spending Watch (GSW) programme. GSW believes that there is an urgent need for a much clearer picture of government spending, and for citizens, and their representatives in civil society organisations, to have access to comprehensive and timely data, so that they can hold their governments to account.

-> Read the third blog in our series “A balance between government, donor and private funds”(3/4) to learn more about some key financing solutions for the WASH sector.
-> Read the first blog in the series “Lessons from the MDGs” (1/4).