Sustainable Development Goals: Designed to Finish the Job SDG 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” Print E-mail
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Written by By Rudolph Williams   
Thursday, 30 November 2017 00:00

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the result of the perseverance of the Director of Economic, Social and Environmental Affairs at Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  She maneuvered through a long and complex journey facing challenges such as the ongoing MDGs, developed versus developing countries responsibilities, varying countries’ national circumstances, lack of funding, questioning Colombia’s authority as the champion, and outright opposition to name a few.  Nevertheless perseverance garnered allies and support and we now have the SDGs.  They never gave up.  The SDGs is a universal agenda – applicable to all countries and for which all countries are accountable.

The MDG targets for 2015 were set to get us “half way” to the goal of ending hunger and poverty, and to halve the proportion of the universal population without sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The SDGs are designed to finish the job – to get to a statistical “zero”, that is universal access to clean and safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2030.

In April 2016 I reported to you that Belize would easily achieve Targets 6.1, and 6.2, however Targets 6a., 6b., and 6.3 through 6.6 will require some serious attention. In Belize the 2015 MDG targets for access to potable water were far exceeded and little was needed to achieve universal access.  Sanitation was and remains a major challenge.  The SDGs by name implies that through development there will be increased demand for potable water.  Where do we get the raw material for potable water?  Our rivers and underground water reservoirs - aquifers.   So we can expect that there will be more pressures on our naturally occurring waters.  Water use, just as any other natural resource (land, forest, fisheries, petroleum, ores, diamonds, gold, soils, mineral sands, natural gas, light, air, spectrum, etc.), should be properly managed for sustainability.  The SDGs target water resources management to ensure that we do not have water crises and poor water quality along with their attendant maladies.

I thought that achievement of SDG 6 was a no brainer because we have the water policy, water strategy, and the water laws, in place.  The institutional and the financial sustainability plans were articulated and approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources.  However putting those instruments in place did not mean achievement of the relevant SDG targets is easy.  It is yet more difficult. Despite all the preparatory progress for the achievement of SDGs 6.4 and 6.5 no management mechanism is instituted. We do not understand or intentionally disregard the connection between water resources management and universal access to potable water and sanitation.  We fail to recognize that politics and personalities have no place in the management of so vital a natural resource such as water.  The SDGs were borne out of perseverance, likewise perseverance is required for the implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM) in Belize.  Efforts to implement IWRM in Belize started in 1992.

In April 2016 I requested that we put water higher up on the political agenda, maybe at the top, after all, without water nothing is possible.   Maybe I should have used government and not political agenda.  To better understand government’s position on SDG 6.5 (IWRM) I reviewed Belize’ major strategy documents that have the same time bound as the SDGs – 2030.  The Horizon 2030 is mum on water resources management.  The Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy (GSDS) while it claims alignment with the aims of the SDGs and that no one will be left behind.  It surely leaves water resources governance behind and focuses on access to potable water, a target that we are already on our way to achieve despite the advent of the SDGs.  The GSDS made passing mention of decentralizing water resources management in Goal 1; No Poverty and the Water Resources Master Plan under Strategy for Goal # 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, not in SDG 6 which specifically addresses water and sanitation.

It is now understandable why, as I reported in 2016, an Area Representative ranted in  the House of Representatives that water drilling and water abstraction permits were NOT being handed out like candy,  that is, without proper due diligence.  It is understandable why senior officials do not wish to institute the management mechanism.  We do not understand the vulnerability of our excellent economic progress to poor or mismanagement of our water resources.

Michel Jarraud Chair of UN-Water reminds us that water is inextricably linked to climate change, agriculture, food security, health, equality, gender and education, and there is already international agreement that water and sanitation are essential to the achievement of many sustainable development goals”.

Every institution need qualified managers, I beg that we begin to build technical water management capacity, possibly reserve a few of those University scholarships for expert training in water resources. Institute the National Integrated Water Resources Authority to sustainably manage our water resources.  It has its own built-in financial sustainability mechanism.