A year full of promise for sustainable development, water and sanitation

by Dinesh Suna last modified 05 November 2015 11:38 AM
A year full of promise for sustainable development, water and sanitation

Dinesh Suna at the UN general assembly.

05 November 2015

Year 2015 is an important milestone for all those who care for the environment, climate and water. Arguably it could be remembered along with 1992, as one of those “green years”. For networks such as the Ecumenical Water Network, who are engaged with both water concerns as well as other ecological issues such as climate change, this year has been an excellent opportunity to highlight issues of water and sustainable development.

To highlight some of the important milestones witnessed this year so far, we started with the World Water Day celebrations in March, the triennial World Water Forum in Daegu , South Korea in April, and the ground-breaking Papal encyclical, Laudato Si’ on “care for our common home” released in May.

Shortly after the silver jubilee of Stockholm World Water Week in August, the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in September, which was marked by Pope Francis’s first address to the UN.

Finally, the “now or never” global climate change summit, the COP21 to take place in December, might just be able to deliver the much anticipated legally binding treaty on emission reduction. Never before so many important processes around the issues of water and climate change have happened in one single year!

All the world leaders are talking about the SDGs and the COP21. Civil society organizations have never been so involved, particularly in drafting the SDGs compared to a similar mechanism of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose time frame came to an end in 2015.

As someone engaged with the human right to water and sanitation, I had the opportunity to follow the processes related to the post-2015 SDGs for the past couple of years.

Attending the UN summit on SDGs in New York during the UNGA was a great experience for me. It was heartening to hear the leaders of the nations announcing their commitment to the 17 goals which include eliminating poverty, inequality, hunger and water scarcity and curbing climate change by 2030.

One of my observations from the SDGs processes is that relatively smaller countries played important roles leading the way to ushering in the SDGs.

In response to the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2012 to develop a mechanism for the post-2015 development agenda, a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons had been formed, co-chaired by the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia and the UK prime minister. In a next step, the UN permanent representatives of Kenya and Hungary served as co-chairs of the 30 member UN Open Working Groups which worked for over 17 months to develop the 17 goals of the SDGs and 169 targets.

All through, civil society organizations continued to contribute in the processes. The Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) of the World Council of Churches had the opportunity to give feedback on several occasions.

Water and sanitation were not among the eight stand-alone MDGs, but only present in this development agenda for the years 2000-2015 as a target of goal #7. However thanks to much effort by water activists, water and sanitation found a place among the 17 goals of the SDGs.

The EWN, too, contributed in its small ways in this effort. Now the goal #6 of the SDGs reads: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

The agenda of water and sanitation had gained momentum with the World Water Day on 22 March, which got accentuated at the World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea. The final push needed for water and sanitation to find a place among the SDGs was provided by the World Water Week in Stockholm. The EWN participated actively in all three global events.

Water has cross-cutting linkages with almost all of the SDGs. Water and sanitation has to be addressed in order to achieve the 2030 agenda.

Even though many of us were pushing for a human rights language in goal #6, at least the “vision declaration” of the final SDGs document called, Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, clearly mentions the “human right to water and sanitation“.

The WCC and its water network continue to support the UN's development goals through the Prayer for Everyone initiative. Faith communities can play a critical role by popularizing the SDGs and engaging their members in prayer and action. Christians, being among the largest faith communities, can exercise great influence.

The WCC prepared liturgical resources for each of the 17 goals and shared them widely through its website and partners. It also organized a special prayer service at its headquarters in Geneva.

WCC had a strong presence at the UN SDGs Summit through its staff members. As the UN Inter-agency and Expert Group is developing the indicators for the 17 goals and 169 targets, the WCC is committed to contribute.

The WCC leadership wants the WCC to bring the ecumenical fellowship together in backing the SDGs. That's why the WCC is planning a global conference on the SDGs for 2016.


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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