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When human development is linked to devolution

Dawn's special coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 continues.
Updated Sep 25, 2016 05:51pm

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation


• Eight targets for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water

• Includes sanitation and hygiene for all, and an to end open defecation with special attention to the needs of women and girls

By Nergis Sethi

The writer is a former federal secretary for cabinet, defence, water and power; and was principal secretary to the former prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani.

The recent hullabaloo to play out on our television screens focused on garbage dumps and waste disposal in Karachi, incidentally Pakistan’s most populous city and seventh largest urban centre worldwide. Sanitation is a challenge in Karachi as is solid waste management. If nothing else, for policymakers this should highlight the fact that managing their affairs through centralized governance at both federal and provincial levels will not improve the quality of life of an average citizen. Orders in this particular case were issued by the previous head of the provincial government and subsequently by the newly inducted Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah that the city be cleaned and waste disposed of immediately. Even the threat of heads rolling changed nothing. However, the rapid increase in urbanization in Pakistan projected to equal the rural population by 2030 poses serious challenges to the already over-burdened basic amenities, including water and sanitation. When viewed in the context of human development, Pakistan’s dismal performance vis-à-vis the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is reason enough for rethinking the strategy needed to implement them. Therefore, participating states – Pakistan included – that are signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have agreed between now and 2030 to end poverty, leading to sustained economic growth and shared prosperity; thereby enabling inclusive and peaceful societies.


When people are dying on a daily basis from drinking contaminated water and in many cases there is a total absence of water in their areas, this demonstrates inadequate municipal water supply and sanitation leading to deteriorating health standards.


Goal 6 of the development agenda talks about ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation; eight specific targets have been formulated to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all, to end open defecation with special attention given to the needs of women and girls as well as to improve the quality of water by reducing pollution and minimizing the release of waste and chemicals, etc. Efforts are needed to ensure water efficiency across all sectors and to reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity through the participation of local communities.

Provincial governments must be held accountable to ensure that all have access to clean drinking water by 2030.—White Star
Provincial governments must be held accountable to ensure that all have access to clean drinking water by 2030.—White Star

In October 2015, the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to launch the SDGs and to establish SDG centres to regularly review progress, at the federal level as well as in the four provinces. In July this year, the Ministry of Climate Change collaborated with UNICEF to host a national consultation workshop to track the implementation of Goal 6 related targets. While these efforts are commendable, past experience does not bode well for likely success as ground realities are very harsh. When people are dying on a daily basis from drinking contaminated water and in many cases there is a total absence of water in their areas, this demonstrates inadequate municipal water supply and sanitation leading to deteriorating health standards. With urban water demand – and industrial demand – increasing by 95pc between 2001 and 2025 because of increases in population, falling water flows and erosion in storage capacities, much work needs to be done.

Effective implementation of the SDGs is undoubtedly linked to devolution, right down to the district level leveraging the newly established local governments. How can we expect those sitting far away and dependent on mineral water for their good health to formulate policies providing clean and safe tap water fit for everyday consumption? Ironically, the reluctance to truly devolve powers approved by all political parties through the 18th Amendment comes mostly from the provincial governments themselves. Policymakers at both federal and provincial levels are reluctant to allow those at the grassroots formulate policies relating to water and sanitation.


How can we expect those sitting far away and dependent on mineral water for their good health to formulate policies providing clean and safe tap water fit for everyday consumption?


Sanitation is altogether absent in cities with people using the sides of the roads and green spaces as toilets a common sight with hardly any toilet facilities available for men and far fewer for women. The most important take-away from this development agenda is that all goals and targets are integrated and not divisible, thus a lack of progress on any goal, for example, Goal 6 can have repercussions for those related to health, education, climate change, etc.

Provincial governments must be held accountable to ensure that all Pakistanis have access to clean drinking water by 2030. One way to track progress at the highest level without intruding into the domain of provincial governments is for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to convene a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on a quarterly basis with a permanent first agenda item being the evaluation of the progress each province has achieved on SDGs. Doing this will also reflect the commitment made by the prime minister last year when he spoke at the UN General Assembly that the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 complements the government’s Vision 2025. On Jan. 1st, 2017, it would have been a year since the launch of the SDGs and the government can mark the occasion by guaranteeing that by then local governments are in place in all four provinces enabling them to make a modest but significant contribution in transforming our world. More importantly such a move will also be a vote of confidence by political parties in a genuinely democratic polity.


Continue reading Dawn’s special coverage of the SDGs by clicking on the tab below.

Pakistan's challenges: Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030

Goal 1: Ending poverty and Goal 2: Inequality

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Goal 4: Quality education

Goal 5: Gender equality

Coming next: The clean energy imperative

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