Bartram, Brocklehurst to Critique UN’s Global Goals for Water and Sanitation in New Nature Journal

May 9, 2018

Clarissa Brocklehurst and Jamie Bartram

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity,” include a dedicated goal for water and sanitation. Goal Six calls for UN member states “to ensure access to water and sanitation, for all,” and, like all SDGs, includes both outcome targets (What is the desired result?) and means of implementation targets (How do we make it happen?).

How fit for purpose are the means of implementation (MoI) targets of the water and sanitation SDG? This is the question examined in a journal paper, “Policy review of the means of implementation targets and indicators for the sustainable development goal for water and sanitation,” published April 26 in the inaugural issue of Nature’s new online and open access journal, NPJ Clean Water.

Co-first authors of the paper are Jamie Bartram, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Water Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Clarissa Brocklehurst, adjunct professor at the Water Institute.

Bartram and Brocklehurst are members of the Strategic Advisory Group for the World Health Organization (WHO)-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) and the Global Assessment and Analysis of Sanitation and Water (GLAAS), a group of water and sanitation specialists who advise the WHO and UNICEF as they monitor progress toward the SDG water and sanitation targets.

Before coming to Carolina, Bartram was the head of Water, Sanitation and Health at WHO, and Brocklehurst, as chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene, was his counterpart at UNICEF. Both played key leadership roles in running the WHO-UNICEF JMP and the GLAAS. Their understanding of these programs and their rich knowledge of the water and sanitation sector led to their being invited members of the Strategic Advisory Group.

The water and sanitation goal has two means of implementation (MoI) targets, which apply to all six of the outcome sub-targets. Concern over the formulation of these means of implementation targets grew in the Strategic Advisory Group when the GLAAS was assigned the daunting task of monitoring the progress against them. Several members of the advisory group came together to offer constructive criticism as to how the MoIs could be altered and added to.

Bartram, Brocklehurst and their co-authors, Distinguished Professor Emeritus David Bradley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Professor Mike Muller of the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg; and Professor Barbara Evans of the University of Leeds (U.K.), suggest changes to the language of the targets that would bring the targets more in line with the cooperative spirit of the SDGs.

These include, for instance, the need for considerable investment that will not come exclusively from development assistance and the fact that much investment comes from householders and taxpayers in emerging economies. They note that nine of the SDGs have MoI targets that include finance or investment, but SDG6 does not. The targets should also address the fundamental need to assist governments in establishing good policies, laws, plans and financing.

The authors also propose the development of indicators applicable to governments in both aid-providing and aid-receiving countries, unlike the current language, which singles out developing nations. They suggest that indicators for a target on participation would better reflect the rights to information and the need for citizen voice. They suggest adding a new target focused on government’s role in planning, innovation and capacity building, with indicators that encourage resilience and adaptability to stressors, such as climate change and population movements.

Bartram, Brocklehurst and colleagues, invited by Nature to place the paper as a “Perspective” in NPJ Clean Water, believe the publication is timely. There is precedent to change global targets even after they have been established, and in July, the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum will review the water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goal.