Lesley Pories, GWP’s Coordinator for the Global Water Leadership Programme, participated in the 2022 Sector Ministers’ Meeting (SMM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 18-19. The event, convened by the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership (SWA) in collaboration with UNICEF, was hosted by the Government of Indonesia. Lesley serves as Co-Chair of the SWA High Level Political Dialogue Working Group, which oversees content development for SWA high-level events. Here she offers reflections on the event.
This event was the first of its kind. I say that not because it was the first SMM – it definitely was not! – but because this SMM was the first to look outside the WASH sector and invite ministers from non-traditional sectors such as environment, climate, health and economy to join them in their discussions. United under the theme Building Forward Better for Recovery and Resilience, this SMM sought to engage a full array of ministerial stakeholders in discussing how to turn the triple crisis of a global pandemic, subsequent economic downturn, and ongoing climate change into a triple win.
350 people from 51 countries attended the meeting, including over 53 ministers and two vice presidents from 35 countries. Instead of focusing on WASH for traditional WASH goals of universal access and meeting SDG6 ambitions, the carefully crafted plenaries and intimate ministerial dialogues focused on topics that resonate across ministries – the role of political leadership in establishing national priorities, governance and finance reforms for recovery and long-term resilience, and accountability.
An essential feature of the SMM is always the Ministerial Dialogues, when ministers are divided into small breakout rooms and seated together at a roundtable with one facilitator and a few others. The roundtables are intentionally small and adhere to Chatham House Rules, enabling ministers to confidentially converse with each other about the issues (although some will always feel more inclined to share than others). While bringing the ministers together in this way is always beneficial for cross-country learning, in this case I sometimes observed ministers from 3-4 different ministries of the same country participating in a dialogue. When we think about how seldom these ministers might come together in their home country, much less talk about issues related to water and sanitation, you begin to see how invaluable this event really is.
The inter-related nature of our chosen topics was always known, but became increasingly apparent as the ministers spoke. “Transparency triggers trust,” observed one minister, “and trust triggers finance.”
The issue of reframing WASH came forward in a number of conversations. “How do we move as a society from treating WASH as an emergency into treating WASH as an economic enabler?” asked one minister. Techniques such as renaming key WASH programmes such as “One Borehole per Village” to the “Presidential Development Programme” help assign importance to initiatives – but of course depend on having national leadership that supports such efforts.
The intertwined reality of WASH with climate change was emphasized repeatedly, with multiple ministers indicating that they no longer talk about WASH without talking about climate change. This reflects the reality that many of the ministers present are experiencing at their respective homes: roughly 74 percent of all-natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water-related, and 40 percent of the global population is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change (IPCC 6th Assessment Report).
One always leaves high-level meetings and events such as this one questioning whether the level of effort and resources that it took to produce it will lead to change on the ground. Among other things, ministers committed to increasing prioritization of climate-resilient water and sanitation in national budgets, and developing financing strategies and investment targets which support sustainable, safely managed, and resilient access to water and sanitation; and bringing these conclusions to key global processes in 2022 and 2023, such as the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties (COP) 27, the G20, the U.N. 2023 Water Conference, and the 2023 SWA Finance Ministers Meeting.
They will not be able to achieve these commitments alone – it will depend on the many partners that comprise SWA (and undoubtedly others!) to help them achieve these goals at the national and global levels. I’m proud to know that GWP is lending its bench strength to the fight, and that the Global Water Leadership Programme I coordinate has an integral role to play in connecting that local action to global stages.