Opinion: Voice of Civil Society Muffled in Post-2015 Negotiations for Better Future

A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Esmee Russell
LONDON, May 22 2015 (IPS)

In September, the United Nations will agree on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will set development priorities for the next 15 years. The draft goals that have been developed are ambitious – they seek to end poverty and ensure no one is left behind.

Until now, civil society has been engaged in discussions over goals and targets; through national consultations and U.N. hearings. As End Water Poverty (EWP), a global civil society coalition of over 280 organisations worldwide, we campaigned for a post-2015 world where we see the end of inherent systemic inequalities and the full realisation of the human right to water and sanitation.A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

Through these opportunities, Member States heard our call; that water and sanitation is a fundamental aspect of all development and a key priority to address in order to improve our future. Together as a united civil society, we achieved securing a dedicated water and sanitation goal – goal 6 – and welcome this progressive advancement.

However, there is still much work to be done. The only way to make this goal an achievable global reality is to have effective, inclusive indicators that can be monitored. This critical need has not been met.

To date, the discussions around indicators have been led by technical experts behind closed doors, without input from other stakeholders. The voice of civil society has not been heard.

This is despite the United Nations stating the setting of the post-2015 agenda will be fully inclusive of all stakeholders. The time to act is now. Civil society have to stand united to call for a positive future; one that prioritises improving the lives of those most in need.

EWP is calling to ensure that space is created for civil society to be an important contributor in these processes, particularly in the critical stage of developing indicators.

A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

We must hold the U.N. accountable to fulfil its promise that the next development framework will be fully inclusive, as so far, the indicator process is reneging on that promise. Being asked to meetings is not enough; civil society’s participation cannot be tokenistic inclusion.

We are also calling for specific and necessary changes to the draft indicators, to ensure that they are sufficient to truly measure governments’ delivery on their commitments.

Civil society have serious concerns about the current drafts tabled, as they are insufficient to truly measure whether people have access to safe, affordable and equitable water and sanitation.

These draft indicators do not go far enough to ensure the full implementation of the human right to water and sanitation.

This is why EWP member Freshwater Action Network- Mexico (FAN-Mex) will be attending the upcoming informal interactive hearings on the post-2015 development framework held by the U.N. General Assembly from May 26 to 27.

We need to ensure that these processes are fully inclusive of civil society’s voice and that our future agenda is based on a human rights approach; that no one is left behind, and that ending poverty and tacking inherent systemic inequalities are of fundamental priority for our future.

The global crisis of water and sanitation is not caused by scarcity or population size. It is a political crisis, of unequal and unfair distribution determined by money, power and influence. This needs to change.

The two day hearings ahead will see representatives of civil society, major groups and the private sector offered a critical opportunity for deeper engagement in the post-2015 development agenda.

We have to use this opportunity to call for the change we need, to reprioritise the importance of improved access to water and sanitation.

We feel that particularly for goal 6, additional indicators are required which will monitor access to safe and equitable water and sanitation in schools and health centres, and that civil society is involved in the monitoring of the indicators.

For us, it is most critical that indicators will need to be disaggregated. This is to ensure that disparities and inequalities in progress are made visible, to prevent the poorest and most marginalised from being left behind.

EWP will be highlighting that the current draft indicators will not direct government action towards those who need it the most, the vulnerable and marginalised. Therefore, if left as is, they will simply replicate some of the failures of the MDGs.

To reinforce this call and amplify our voice, simultaneously next week EWP members, alongside other civil society representatives, will be attending AfricaSan 4 in Senegal, a cross-continental meeting to assess levels of access to sanitation.

“Governments must work harder to meet their obligations on water and sanitation and improve people’s lives. Africa in particular has a very poor track record in ensuring sufficient access to sanitation; this needs to change to address major inequalities,” Samson Shivaji CEO at Kenya Water and Sanitation CSOs Network (KEWASNET), an EWP member stated.

Civil society must have a voice in setting our future and call to prioritise sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene. We must ensure the human right to water and sanitation is realised for all. There is an urgency to prioritise improving people’s lives, with no one left behind, and the time is now.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Slum-Dwelling Still a Continental Trend in Africa

Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Nompumelelo Tshabalala, 41, emerges from her dwarf ‘shack’ made up of rusty metal sheets and falls short of bumping into this reporter as she bends down to avoid knocking her head against the top part of her makeshift door frame.

“This has been my home for the past 16 years and I have lived here with my husband until his death in 2008 and now with my four children still in this two-roomed shack,” she told IPS.

Tshabalala lives in Diepkloof township in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a densely populated informal settlement – a euphemism for slums, where an estimated 15 million of the country’s approximately 52 million people live, according to UN-Habitat, the U.N. agency for human settlements.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe has an estimated 835,000 people living in informal settlements, according to Homeless International, a British non-governmental organisation focusing on urban poverty issues. “Local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs” – Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust

“Slum-dwelling here in Africa has become normal, a trend to live with, which is difficult to combat owing to numerous factors ranging from political corruption to economic inequalities necessitated by the growing gap between the rich and the poor,” Gilbert Nyaningwe, an independent development expert from Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Overall, out of an estimated population of 1.1 billion people, Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, reports UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Worldwide, notes the U.N. agency, the number of slum-dwellers now stands at 863 million and is set to shoot up to 889 million by 2020.

Development agencies in Africa say slum-dwelling remains a continental trend despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goals targets compelling all countries globally to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

According to the United Nations, that 100 million target “was met well in advance of the 2020 deadline”, and in African countries such as Egypt, Libya and Morocco the total number of urban slum dwellers has almost been halved, Tunisia has eradicated them completely, and Ghana, Senegal and Uganda have made steady progress, reducing their slum populations by up to 20 percent.

However, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest rate of “slum incidence” of any major world region, with millions of people living in settlements characterised by some combination of overcrowding, tenuous dwelling structures, and poor or no access to adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Hector Mutharika, a retired economist in late Malawian President Kamuzu Banda’s government, blamed poor service delivery for the increase in slums in Africa.

“The increasing numbers of slum dwellers in Africa is due to poor service delivery here by local authorities which more often than not worry most about filling their pockets from local authorities’ coffers instead of channelling proper housing facilities to poor people, which then pushes homeless individuals into building slum settlements anywhere,” Mutharika told IPS.

For Rwandan civil society activist Otapiya Gundurama, the roots of the problem go far back in time. “Shanty homes in Africa are a result of the continent’s urban infrastructure set up during colonial rule at which time housing and economic diversification were limited, with everything related to urban governance centralised, while towns and cities were established to enhance the lifestyles and interests of a minority,” Gundurama told IPS.

Some opposition politicians in Africa, like Gilbert Dzikiti, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE), see the trend of growing slums here as a result of government failure. “The perpetual rise of slum settlements in Africa testifies to persistent failure by governments here to invest in both rural and urban development,” Dzikiti told IPS.

African civil society leaders blame rising unemployment on the continent for the continuing rise in the number of slums. “Be it in cities or remote areas, slums in Africa are a result of huge numbers of jobless people who hardly have the means to upgrade their own dwellings,” Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

In order to reverse the trend of growing slums across the continent, Shumba said, “local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs.”

African slum-dwellers like South Africa’s Tshabalala accuse city authorities of ignoring the mushrooming of informal settlements for selfish reasons.

“Slums here are sources of cheap labour that keeps the wheels of industry turning, which is why local authorities are not concerned about our living standards because they [local authorities] are getting more and more revenue from firms thriving on our sweat,” Tshabalala told IPS.

Meanwhile, rising slum settlements in Africa are also having a knock-on effect for other development goals in the education and health sectors for example.

“The United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal attainment of primary education for all by the end of this year is certainly set to be missed by a number of countries here in Africa, especially as many of these sprouting slum settlements have no schools to help the children growing in the communities get any education,” a senior official in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

At the same time, “there are often no toilets, no water and no clinics in most slum-dwelling areas here, exposing people to diseases, consequently derailing the MDG of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in informal settlements,” Owen Dliwayo of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris