The movement to restructure the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of 2000 into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of 2015 has become a major part of the agenda at the United Nations this fall. Margaret Batty, the Director of Global Policy and Campaigns at WaterAid UK emphasizes the importance of SDG #6 which focuses on water and sanitation. Claiming that sanitation is not the most ‘glamorous’ topic, she believes that sanitation goals need to obtain some serious political momentum in order to properly fund the projects necessary to end the public defecation of 1 billion people worldwide.
Batty considers that in order to have success in sanitation countries do not need to be wealthy or fully developed. In fact, sanitation projects simply require political priority in order to make significant impacts on society. In the United States, highly intricate networks of sewage and sanitation ensure Americans access to clean water and a healthy environment. WaterAid has worked with various city administrations around the world in order to design similar networks of sanitation that ensure individuals living in the most isolated regions of the country have access to the same standards of sanitation found in urban centers.
Still, when political entities do not prioritize sanitation or monitor the implementation of projects, there is very little positive effect on communities that need assistance. Anjali Chikersal, a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Policy Research, analyzes the effectiveness of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) that was launched in India in October 2019 with the goal to end open defecation. This program targets informal agencies to provide the majority of the implementation of this mission. Due to the fact that there is no formal way of monitoring or tracking the progress of these projects, sewage and other waste is often dumped into nearby water bodies thus, widening the circle of problems surrounding sanitation. Chikersal indicates that “…even when we do use toilets, our government’s apathy has ensured that we unsuspectingly continue to contaminate our land and our drinking water sources.”
Both Batty and Chikersal agree on one thing: political mobilization and prioritization is required in order to advance the not-so-sexy topic of sanitation. Due to the fact that proper sanitation deeply affects education, nutrition, equality, and development as a whole, the governments in the regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia must hold sanitation programs to a high standard of accountability and formal monitoring. In India, President Narenda Modi has said, “It is a sad situation that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in the open. Villages have lakhs of temples but no washrooms. That is bad. Gandhiji [Mohandas Gandhi] gave so much importance to this issue.” Only governments that understand the importance of prioritizing sanitation will see serious, long-term impacts in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal #6.