A World with WASH: Envisioning a Cleaner, Healthier World Post-2015

Woodburn_Hanna_2014By Hanna M. Woodburn.

Hanna Woodburn is the Secretariat Deputy Director for the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW).

In early July my colleague Orlando Hernandez, from the USAID-funded WASHplus project, and I traveled to London to participate in a two-day meeting of WHO/UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme’s Communications and Advocacy working group. In addition to learning about the upcoming process to establish a new set of global development goals and exploring future advocacy opportunities, we lead a strategy session on how the sector can better advocate for hygiene in the Post-2015 agenda.

As the international community works to agree upon a set of new global development goals, targets, and indicators, it is increasingly important that the value of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) be recognized at the global level.  Water, sanitation, and hygiene are the basic components of a healthy community. Without them, the ability of children to grow, develop, and thrive is inhibited.

From the current Ebola crisis in West Africa to the news that a diarrhea outbreak in Swaziland recently killed nearly 40 children, it is evident that these basics are desperately needed. And for this to happen, they must be prioritized by governments. The best way to ensure this is through a dedicated goal on water, sanitation, and hygiene in the Post-2015 agenda.

Water and sanitation were both addressed in the Millennium Development Goals, but progress on sanitation continues to lag. Clearly, to build further momentum, these issues should be addressed again in the post-2015 agenda. With the establishment of new goals, there is an opportunity to include (handwashing with soap) and drive development forward. This opportunity must not be overlooked, and the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing and the USAID/WASHplus project remain committed to ensuring that the “H” in WASH does not get forgotten.

We know that the full benefit of investments in water and sanitation are not achieved if hygiene is not also addressed. A cleaner, healthier world is possible, but governments must act and now is the time to do so.


In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration and member states agreed to work towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  Given the imminent expiration of these goals, the United Nations and the international community is working to outline and agree upon a set of new global development goals, targets, and indicators. These goals and targets, often referred to as the post-2015 agenda or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire.  The UN process to develop the post-2015 agenda includes global consultations on a variety of themes including water, health, education and inequities—of particular importance for water, sanitation and hygiene.

The post-2015 goals and targets that will be enacted will function as a “report card” against which governments’ progress can be tracked. Furthermore, these post-2015 goals will be a driver behind the work of governments, donors, and non-governmental organizations over the next 15 years. This is an important opportunity to ensure that WASH is a global priority. Water, sanitation and hygiene are essential for health, welfare and livelihoods. Increased access and better services lead to higher levels of school achievement and improved economic productivity. Yet too many people do not have these basic human rights. After 2015, we must do better.

The JMP has put forth recommended WASH targets for inclusion in the post-2015 agenda. The recommendations have been developed through an extensive technical consultation; over 100 experts from over 60 organizations worldwide have debated them during the last three years. They are ambitious, yet achievable.

Vision: Universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.

By 2030:

  • to eliminate open defecation;
  • to achieve universal access to basic drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene for households, schools, and healthcare facilities;
  • to halve the proportion of the population without access at home to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services; and
  • to progressively eliminate inequities in access.

Of the range of hygiene behaviors considered important for health, two key behaviors were prioritized for the post-2015 agenda – handwashing with soap and menstrual hygiene management. These behaviors will be measured by the presences of handwashing facilities with soap and water and facilities for hygienic, safe, and private menstrual hygiene management for girls and women.

Unfortunately, a comprehensive WASH target in the SDGs is not yet guaranteed. While some high-level reports and proposals have incorporated WASH, they often focus on water and sanitation, but fail to include hygiene.  The reasons for this are myriad. Some argue, for example, that hygiene is a personal behavior, and governments cannot be held accountable. While good hygiene is a behavior, the facilities to make the behavior possible (i.e. gender segregated toilets, handwashing facilities with soap and water), can be measured and governments should be held responsible for their provision. It is clear that there are many misunderstandings about the role of hygiene in the global development agenda. This toolkit seeks to address these falsities and ensure that all member of the WASH sector are armed with the necessary facts and talking points to successfully advocate for the inclusion of hygiene in the SDGs. We must continue to advocate for all three components of WASH: water, sanitation, and hygiene, equally Hygiene is not a WASH extra, but an essential.

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