Blog post written by Murali Ramisetty, Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) Regional Convener - on successes and spaces for improvement, and the role of civil society at the recent SACOSAN VI conference.
SACOSAN VI, with its motto of ‘Better Sanitation - Better Life,’ was held at Dhaka, Bangladesh in early January of this year, and again had active participation from members of Freshwater Action Network for South ASIA (FANSA) from across all 8 countries in the region. SACOSAN meetings have always held a high significance for FANSA, being in line with our vision of better sanitation and water facilities to the poorest people in the region. In the run up to the actual event, all at FANSA were involved in different aspects of preparation: conducting research on urban sanitation and faecal waste management, measuring progress on commitments made during previous rounds, and reviewing the SACOSAN process itself, all of which were to be presented and reported at the conference in Dhaka. FANSA also undertook the job of ensuring that governments in South Asia meet the tenth commitment made in SACOSAN V in 2013; to ensure direct participation of different marginalised groups.
With the support from Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), 55 consultations were organised across South Asia in the lead up.[i] Outcomes were presented in the report ‘Leave No One Behind: Voices of Women, Adolescent Girls, Elderly, persons with Disability, and Sanitation Workforce’. There was a palpable excitement as FANSA was the proud presenter of four reports, two papers and one video in collaboration with WSSCC, WaterAid and Center for Policy research, Delhi. These achievements were however hindered by some big disappointments just before the conference began: more than half the community representatives identified were not selected as national delegates, and the Pakistani delegates were unable to get visas in time, thus ruling out their participation. Luckily, live streaming of events by FANSA’s communications team did ensure that Pakistani colleagues could participate in the conference at least virtually.
The conference was well-organised, with active participation from governments and civil society members of all participating countries. Plenary sessions included the presentation of country ‘traffic light’ reports on sanitation and hygiene, showing progress on SACOSAN V commitments in the region, review of the SACOSAN process, community approaches for sanitation, and ‘voices’ from the grass-roots on access to sanitation. Country papers triggered discussions on issues such as capacity building and governance, demonstrating "how far SACOSAN has come" as one eminent participant described.
The highlight of the conference was that space was giving to hear voices of diverse, marginalised stakeholders directly, including women, adolescent girls, people with disability, sanitation workforce and trans-gendered communities from around the region, ensuring governments met their commitments. Though certain constituencies, such as the elderly, still were missing (they were unable to secure a slot in the national delegations), the opportunity to raise the voices of vulnerable and marginalised groups was an exciting experience and was well received by governments. This initiative will certainly lead to more active engagement of other marginalised groups in WASH – a great achievement in the region.
SACOSAN VI clearly was a step towards linking these issues with the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the importance of sanitation and hygiene in achieving many SDGs was highlighted in the declaration as well. On the flip side, sessions and side events had sparse attendance and limited time given for discussion or questions from participants. More could have been done to market the sessions prior to the meeting. Unfortunately, the process of self assessment/ self-monitoring was not evident in majority of the country reports presented; nor were the governments supportive of the presentation of the “Traffic Light Paper (TLP): An independent assessment of progress on SACOSAN V Commitments”. The presentation of the TLP was dropped last minute and brought back only after persistent efforts from FANSA. Lack of proper session coordination created confusion among the participants and only a few people were left to attend the TLP presentation. Total absence of any country monitoring mechanisms in the declaration was viewed a retrograde in the SACOSAN process.
The significance of SACOSAN is the political will generated to addressing issues of sanitation. It was very encouraging to see the active participation, contribution and explicit commitments made by the Honourable Minister from the Government of Sri Lanka, for example. However, the same degree of commitment could not be seen in all country delegations. The conference was also not given much space by the media in print or television and made no headlines. Finally, declarations made during SACOSAN VI did include safe conditions for sanitation workers but were otherwise very repetitive of what has been previously committed in the past 5 conferences.
Suggestions to make SACOSAN more productive include broader selection of national delegates (these must include more number of women, civil society and community representatives). The country reports must include progress made on previous SACOSAN’s commitments and a follow-up mechanism to ensure the incorporation of the final declaration is made at country level action plans must be put in place. SACOSAN process will have no relevance if the countries do not report back with their progress on the commitments made during the intervening periods of the SACOSANs and the gaps that still need to be addressed.
Finally, please find below the links to reports and papers presented by FANSA at SACOSAN VI:
- Traffic Light Paper: Progress on SACOSAN V Commitments 2016
- SACOSANs: Present, Past and Future: FANSA report
- Faecal Waste Management in Smaller Cities Across South Asia: Getting Right the Policy and Practice.
- ‘Leave No One Behind’: Voices of Women, Adolescent Girls, Elderly, persons with Disability, and Sanitation Workforce - FANSA Report with WSSCC 2016.
- ‘Leave No One Behind’: A Short Film.
- Sustainable and Equitable Financing of Sanitation Services - FANSA Report.
[i] Over 2700 participants women, adolescents, the elderly, people with disability, sanitation workers, waste pickers and trans-gendered persons, and their community representatives were selected to participate in the plenary session at SACOSAN VI.