Post MDGs: the Sustainable Development Goals

A more integrated approach: the nexus between 17 SDGs

Realizing that the MDGs failed, a more comprehensive and integral set of 17 sustainable development goals were formulated, with strong involvement of the private sector and the finance sector. SDG 6 has 6 sub goals addressing drinking water and sanitation under 6a and 6b. Wastewater treatment, rainwater harvesting and water system approach is addressed equally. SDG 6 covers all water related issues for agriculture, industry, fishing and emergency and has strong links with many other SDGs.

 

Policy developments

In September 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at the UN Summit, which includes Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water and sanitation and in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” (2018–2028) in support of the achievement of SDG 6 and other water-related targets. Water is also at the heart of milestone agreements such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Interesting are attempts to identify the social and natural value, in SROI, either by avoiding negative externalities (avoid non action-costs) or by monetizing social and/or natural value (positive externalities). The valorization of WASH interventions , avoiding costs from trends in environment, health, emergency, climate change or conflicts or valuing the positive externalities (energy, resources, food, economic growth, job creation and gender equality) is still in its premature stage.

Already before ending the MDG period in 2015, the UN and its actors in the field acknowledge the partial failure of the MDG-approach, in spite of its reach out to millions of people improving their livelihood and its contribution in poverty alleviation. An important lesson learnt is the rethinking from access to improved facilities/products towards operating safely managed services. WASH is more and more accepted as economic good (for which payment is acceptable to maintain the services) and social good (giving priorities to SDG 6 as basic intervention to support other MDG’s-SDG’s) .

Population growth, cross-sectoral dependency and the need for an integrated approach leads to the urgency to formulate a more comprehensive and integral set of development goals, with strong involvement of the private sector and the finance sector, a total of 17 sustainable development goals. WASH is addressed in SDG 6 as two of the 6 sub goals, addressing drinking water and sanitation under 6a and 6b. Wastewater treatment, rainwater harvesting and water system approach is addressed equally.  SDG 6 covers all water related issues for agriculture, industry, fishing and emergency. SDG 6 has strong links with other SDGs on food security (2), health (3), education (4) and gender (5) while affecting SDG 7 (renewable energy from water and waste), SDG 8 (job creation and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry & infrastructure) , SDG 11 (resilient cities), SDG 13 (climate action),  SDG 14 (marine ecosystems) and SDG 15 (land ecosystems) and last but not least in SDG 16 (peace and justice) and SDG 17 (partnerships). 

The importance of WASH is underlined even more prominently and proven when virus epidemics occur (SARS, Ebola, COVID-19) but to date this has not brought the wanted paradigm shift (yet).

Actors and instruments

While drinking water utilities in the Netherlands already have experience in the re-use of (solid) waste streams (launch Reststoffen Unie 1995, since 2016 called Aquaminerals), it takes years to apply circular economy thinking in WASH and Wastewater recycling. Circular economy thinking has turned the sanitation economy today into a threefold economy of sanitary services, circular economy waste processes (with value creation in new resources) and data economy (on access, service level, health and other SDG impact areas. A breakthrough was created by the Toilet Board Coalition in Geneva. Waste water recycling and rainwater harvesting are still largely absent, only explored in water-scarcity prone areas. A further push in that working field is coming from climate change adaptation.

A large variety of impact investors, innovation funds (pushed by the climate change agenda) and IT sector players start dominating the WASH investments. Examples are Transform (Unilever) DanoneCommunities, Development WorldMarkets (DWM), Responsibility, GIF, GEF, Water Finance Facility, project 1800, DFCD, iW+, impact Family Offices, MFI-investments, pension funds and others .

Also a new cohort of social entrepreneurs emerge in a wide range of technology driven services.

Various consortia were formed to address the cross-sectoral, integral and integration agenda of SDGs, its crosscutting issues around water/accountability and risk mitigation. Important was the Agenda4Change initiative (in May 2015, large NGO’s like Wateraid, IRC, WaterforPeople, PSI ao).

Developments and lessons learned

The influence of ICT and AI (Artificial Intelligence) has geared the data economy, the monitoring and communication techniques, the dashboard-tools for management and the exchange globally in knowledge-expertise and innovation. Not only for large scale infrastructure based water and wastewater operations by utilities (scada systems, sensoring and monitoring, pre-paid) but also in decentralized WASH services with borehole-monitoring and sensoring,  water kiosk-operations on pre-paid base (using tags/creditcard/mobile phone) and the complete data economy around WASH-health-insurances.

Technical innovation in production of water from different sources into safe water as well as in treatment of waste streams has geared a circular economy approach on waste water, its nutrients, the waste streams from sanitation interventions (sludge, septic tanks, latrines) and organic waste.

Pumping-treatment-sensoring-monitoring- assembling and manufacturing is benefiting innovation in large and small scale solutions, more and more based on local resources, skills and capacity.

Developments in membrane technology, solar energy, data economy and AI have changed the working field of WASH services drastically in the last 10-15 years.

Working and investing in the public domain of water and sanitation with an inclusive business model is even today perceived as a high risk-low revenue-volatile market sector.

A safe water market of over 2 billion consumers (waiting for safe water services with a high willingness to pay) is identified but yet waiting for (financial)risk mitigating concepts.  The emerging circular economy market in waste streams including human waste, faecal sludge and wastewater, its nutrients and its energy potential, its protein-production potential and its contribution to recovery of scarce metals is well documented but yet splintered and locally based applied.

Already from 2011 a new thinking emerged in addressing social outcomes, monetizing its impact in adding value to negative externalities (the so-called in-action costs) as the positive externalities (jobs, health, climate adaptation, circular economy).  New concepts are emerging like carbon credits for safe water projects, green and blue bond-concepts are developed for the finance sector.

More and more nexus based funding programs emerge (Food4Water, climate funds, innovation funds).  For operators, lease concepts for water technology, cashless payment, pre-paid metering and private investments in handpump-concessional programs are examples of new concepts in funding investments with (de-risking first loss capital (DRFLC) from donors and grantors. Data economy drives the water agenda to monitor the output-outcome-impact claims by donors, financiers as well as end users/beneficiaries.

Willingness to pay for water and sanitation services largely depends the level of service that is provided. Concessional delegation of services to operators with technology suppliers and IT-agencies strongly accelerated pre-paid approach while securing tariff components for maintenance and repair, on escrow kind of accounts ‘in the cloud’ . Mobile phone and internet based cashless payments by tokens, credit cards and up loadable tags enhance the pre-paid metering options that increase both trustworthiness, service level and maintenance level of the facilities.

Technology suppliers involve their own finance options using Micro and mezzo finance options while issuing bonds for infrastructure investments. Donors start using their grants to de-risk the investors.

Note: Challenges, tenders, calls for proposals, innovation contests, grant-instruments have triggered thousands of ideas, concepts, plans and projects. Orchestration and synchronization, alignment of finance policies and catalyst-scale structures however is lacking and leaving the finance setting in a fragmented position while a global finance gap is observed given the need for investments (for SDG 6 alone 114 billion/year) versus the actual funding level (less than 20 billion /year).

Accountability and private sector involvement.
Willingness to pay for water & sanitation services largely depends the level of service that is performed. Concessional delegation of services to operators with technology suppliers and IT-agencies strongly accelerated pre-paid approach while securing tariff components for maintenance and repair, on escrow kind of accounts ‘in the cloud’ . Mobile phone and internet based cashless payments by tokens, credit cards and up loadable tags enhance the pre-paid metering options that increase both trustworthiness, service level and maintenance level of the facilities.
Technology suppliers involve their own finance options using Micro and mezzo finance options while issuing bonds for infrastructure investments. Donors start using their grants to de-risk the investors.

Challenges, tenders, Calls for proposals, innovation contests, grant-instruments have triggered thousands of ideas, concepts, plans and projects. Orchestration and synchronization, alignment of finance policies and catalyst-scale structures however is yet leaving the finance setting in a fragmented position while a global finance gap is observed given the need for investments (for SDG6 alone 114 billion/year) versus the actual funding level (less than 20 billion /year).

After the failure of the MDG’s approach , various consortia were formed to address the integral agenda of SDG crosscutting issues around water/accountability and risk mitigation. Important was the Agenda4Change initiative (In May 2015, large NGO’s like wateraid, IRC, waterforpeople, PSI ao).

As a reaction to international WASH discourse and developments, DGIS joined forces with Dutch water supply companies and water boards. You can read more about here.

The UN monitors the progression, which can be seen here.