Water holds the key to sustainable development

Next week (18-22 May) the fifth round of post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations begin focusing on follow-up and review. This is an incredibly important session because the post-2015 outcome will affect the lives of all people. Thus, the review and monitoring structure must provide an effective platform for including and integrating disproportionately affected populations, including persons with disabilities. The review framework must incorporate inclusive and participatory mechanisms at national, regional and global levels that allow people, particularly those experiencing poverty, inequality and marginalization to participate effectively and without discrimination.

In light of the upcoming negotiation theme, I am focusing on one sustainable development goal (SDG) – Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – in which persons with disabilities must be explicitly included, because without WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), sustainable development is not possible.

Why is WASH important for sustainable development?

  • Improvements to WASH represent a good economic Some countries lose as much as 7% of GDP because of inadequate sanitation.[1]
  • Improving WASH is a key way to reduce inequalities, including persons with disabilities who are amongst the excluded groups who are adversely affected from poor WASH services.
  • Better WASH means higher levels of school achievement and greater [2]
  • WASH is also closely linked with dignity, and in 2010 the UN General Assembly recognized WASH as a basic human right, a decision echoed by the Human Rights Council later that year.

Although persons with disabilities are not explicitly mentioned in Goal 6, they can be found in generally inclusive wording in targets 6.1 “By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and target 6.2 “By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.” That being said, persons with disabilities must be explicitly mentioned in the WASH indicators being developed in line with the SDGs.

Background

Globally, 2.5 billion people (36 per cent of the world’s population) lack sanitation[3] and 884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water despite the fact that WASH are among the most basic human needs. Assuming this group is the poorest of the poor, at least 177 million are likely to be persons with disabilities (20% of poorest).[4]

Access to water and sanitation facilities greatly benefit persons with disabilities and their families, improving health and nutrition; reducing poverty; labour saving; reducing hazards; and increasing dignity, self-reliance and independence.[5] [6] Yet, persons with disabilities face both technical and social barriers that thwart their access to basic sanitation at great cost to their health, wellbeing and autonomy. Persons with disabilities frequently are unable to access clean water, toilets and sanitation, as well as gather and use water due to inaccessible structures or lack of information access in Braille and sign language. Also, persons with disabilities have reported being pushed to the back of the line at distribution points, and thus denied access to water.

More than 20 per cent of deaths and years lived with disabilities are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene among children under the age of 14 in developing countries.[7] Also, more than half of all primary schools in developing countries do not have adequate water facilities and nearly two-thirds lack adequate sanitation.[8]

Moreover, through CBM’s work it has come clear that persons with disabilities often are unable to access community facilities, such as wells and latrines, and are often excluded from disaster management activities. Even when a tapstand is accessible, its location may still be inaccessible to wheelchair users.[9] This exclusion occurs despite the fact that most water and sanitation facilities could be made more accessible to all persons with disabilities with only minor, low cost and sustainable adaptations of current facilities and practices and new facilities if planned form the outset.[10]

Inclusion of persons with disabilities in WASH

Information on the accessibility of water supplies is lacking and even more so regarding hygiene, but disability inclusion is higher on the agenda than it was a decade ago. WASH personnel are far more likely to recognise that inclusion is a legitimate concern and part of their responsibility.[11] For example, in 2009, nine standpipes were installed in addition to the 35 standpipes in Tenkodogo, Burkina Faso. After consultations with local organisations of persons with disabilities, six out of the nine water points were made accessible for persons with disabilities and persons with disabilities were part of the process of managing the water points.[12]

Keep tuned for more updates on the next round of the post-2015 negotiations! I’m ending on this powerful quote by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (March 2013): “Water holds the key to sustainable development.”

Additional information

Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals

Disability inclusive WASH benefits all!

[1] JMP, WHO, & UNICEF. (2013). WASH – water supply, sanitation and hygiene Human rights that are crucial to health and development.

[2] JMP, WHO, & UNICEF. (2013). WASH – water supply, sanitation and hygiene Human rights that are crucial to health and development.

[3] JMP, WHO, & UNICEF. (2013).WASH – water supply, sanitation and hygiene Human rights that are crucial to health and development.

[4] http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_FS_7_EN.pdf (see World Health Organization and World Bank (2011) World Report on Disability. Geneva: WHO Press).

[5] Jones, H. (2013). Mainstreaming disability and ageing in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. WaterAid UK, p. 20.

[6] Jones, H. & Reed, B. (2005). Water and sanitation for disabled people and other vulnerable groups: Designing services to improve accessibility. WEDC. Loughorough: UK. (book), p. 5-6. Accessed from https://wedc-knowledge.lboro.ac.uk/details.html?id=16357

[7] UNICEF. (2010). Raising Clean Hands: Advancing learning, health and participation through WASH in schools. UNICEF: New York. P. 6. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/wash/schools/files/raisingcleanhands_2010.pdf

[8] Burgers, L. (2000). “Background and Rationale for School Sanitation and Hygiene Education.” UNICEF. Retrieved from http://www.wsp.org/Hygiene-Sanitation-Water-Toolkit/Resources/Readings/RationaleSSHE_Burgers.pdf

[9] Jones, H. & Reed, B. (2005). Water and sanitation for disabled people and other vulnerable groups: Designing services to improve accessibility. WEDC. Loughorough: UK. (book), p. 17. Accessed from https://wedc-knowledge.lboro.ac.uk/details.html?id=16357

[10] UNICEF. (2010). Raising Clean Hands: Advancing learning, health and participation through WASH in schools. UNICEF: New York. P. 6. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/wash/schools/files/raisingcleanhands_2010.pdf

[11] Jones, H. (2013). Mainstreaming disability and ageing in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. WaterAid UK, p. 17.

[12] Jones, H. (2013). Mainstreaming disability and ageing in water, sanitation and hygiene programmes. WaterAid UK, p. 46.