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Water, sanitation and hygiene: good progress but much to do

With World Water Week 2017 underway in Stockholm, Jonathan Gill, Unilever’s Senior Manager of Health & Wellbeing in our Chief Sustainability Office team, gets the views of Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid UK, on the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) agenda and how private sector partnerships have a key role to play in delivering its goals.

A gathering of experts

Children splashing water on their faces
Tim Wainwright
Tim Wainwright

Chief Executive of WaterAid UK

Tim also serves as the chair of Bond, the consortium of UK international development agencies. Before joining WaterAid, Tim spent six years as Chief Executive of ADD (Action on Disability and Development) International, an NGO working to promote independence, equality and opportunity, for persons with disabilities in poverty in Africa and Asia.

We need a strong citizen voice demanding these basic human rights

Tim Wainwright

This is my first World Water Week as Chief Executive of WaterAid UK. It’s a fantastic opportunity for experts and innovators in the WASH community to come together and discuss how to collectively deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s not just about SDG6: water and sanitation for all. WASH is fundamental to any progress in development, especially in education and health.

It’s a key event for WaterAid. As an organisation, we’re full of world-leading thinkers doing fantastic work on the ground. We don’t just tell decision-makers the difference water, sanitation and hygiene makes… we show them. Everything we do is 100% focused on making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene a normal part of daily life for everyone, everywhere.

We will continue our active participation with the WASH4Work initiative during the week. I am also particularly looking forward to our ongoing discussions about strengthening the business case for WASH, and the research around this which WaterAid is leading on with Unilever and Diageo.

We must leave no-one behind

Reaching everyone, everywhere within a generation is a big challenge. And the SDGs demand higher standards than ever before. To make it happen, we need to ensure no one is left behind – that we change the lives of everyone: the very poorest people, those in remote communities, people living in slums, women and girls, persons with disabilities, the older generation, and so on. In today’s challenging world, this requires renewed energy and collaboration with partners from civil society, governments and the private sector.

The need for targeted investment

Compared to other areas of development, investment in WASH isn’t that high. Which is why it’s so important we push for more and better-targeted investment. But it’s about more than aid. We also need long-term sustainable partnerships between the private and public sectors, with a strong citizen voice demanding these basic human rights.

Three critical success factors

Three things are critical to our success. Firstly, ensuring we make change happen at sufficient scale. Secondly, we need to make sure progress is felt by the hardest to reach people – those who have, to date, been left behind. And thirdly, we must get better at making sure what we do is truly sustainable – that we create a lasting difference.

The power of partnerships

Partnerships are most interesting when organisations are quite different, but share a common goal – like Unilever and WaterAid. We’re both committed to improving hygiene, but we have very different skills. Too often organisations fall into the trap of partnering with others who are very similar, so there’s little added value. It’s really important to respect the contribution made by your partners, to challenge each other but appreciate your own unique skills, positions and perspectives.

Together, we can change the world

Unilever is an amazing organisation and has already made a huge difference to health and wellbeing globally. But there’s so much more to do. Almost 850 million people – 1 in 10 – don’t have clean water, and 2.3 billion – 1 in 3 – don’t have a decent toilet. With its unprecedented global scale, Unilever can be an absolute game-changer in reaching everyone, everywhere with clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, with knock-on effects in health, education and development. Together we will make a bigger difference!

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