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Countries are committed to address inequities in access to water and sanitation services under the Protocol on Water and Health

The need to ensure equitable access to water and sanitation is getting more and more visibility in global, regional and national agendas. The Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation were recognized in 2010. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly under Sustainable Development Goal 6, includes targets specifically addressing equity. However, despite progress, inequities persist: for example, in the Caucasus and Central Asia, about 72% of the people without basic water services and 95% of the people using surface water as drinking water live in rural areas (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program, 2017 data). Ms. Anne-Claire Amprou, Deputy Director General for Health at the French Ministry of Solidarities and Health, recalled that “all countries are concerned, including France” and highlighted the great opportunity offered by the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health to improve equitable access to water and sanitation.

The Protocol on Water and Health: contributing to the achievement of equitable access to water and sanitation in the pan-European region

In the pan-European region, Parties to the Protocol have committed to ensure access to water and sanitation for everyone, recognizing equitable access as a priority. Representatives from 11 countries exchanged experiences and recommendations on how to better understand and address equity challenges at the 5th meeting of the Expert Group on Equitable Access to Water and Sanitation under the Protocol on Water and Health, held in Paris on 26-27 June. Francesca Bernardini, co-Secretary to the Protocol on Water and Health, reminded that “the Protocol has had a remarkable impact on increasing awareness on the challenges still faced in ensuring equitable access in the region. It prompted concrete improvements through policies, measures and targeted actions addressing the equity gaps”.

Assessing the situation of equitable access to water and sanitation: inequities are often not fully recognised

Participants discussed lessons learnt from applying the Equitable Access Score-card in 11 countries of the pan-European region, where it helped governments and other stakeholders to establish baseline measures of the equity of access, identify priorities and discuss necessary actions to be taken. Serbia reported that the assessment raised awareness of local governments and the media on the equity issues and on actions needed. The experience of Bulgaria highlighted that significant geographical and social inequalities in access exist, despite official statistics reporting more than 98% compliance with access to safe drinking water. Participants agreed that assessments in countries often unveiled the lack of data related to access by vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as access for people in schools, prisons, refugees living in refugee camps or centres, for homeless people, travellers and nomadic communities, etc. This points to the need to collect disaggregated data and for stronger cooperation between sectors (water, environment, health but also social protection, justice, education).

Significant changes on the way: several actions taken in countries to improve equitable access to water and sanitation

The Expert Group discussed a variety of actions taken by countries to improve the equity of access to water and sanitation services. France reported on numerous on-going initiatives and plans: National Plan for Health and Environment including specific actions to improve equitable access, on-going implementation of an experimentation for a social pricing of water, and the launch of a governmental plan for the sustainable management of drinking water and sanitation services in the overseas territories. Armenia noted progress in the implementation of their National Action Plan 2018-2020 for the Provision of Equitable Access to Water Supply and Sanitation. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the development of Local Action Plans for Equitable Access to Water and Sanitation has prompted concrete improvements, such as the renovation of toilets on village schools, the building of public toilets close to the main taxi station in Skopje and the on-going reform to make menstrual hygiene management more accessible.

Financing equitable access to water and sanitation: more work is needed

Members of the Expert Group discussed the elaboration of the new publication “Capitalizing findings and lessons learnt from the work on equitable access to water and sanitation under the Protocol on Water and Health” and provided input to it. They confirmed that further work on the financing of equitable access to water and sanitation would be valuable, as no change can be sustainably achieved without proper financing.

More information on the Expert Group meeting and presentations are available at:  http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=46379

More information on the work on equitable access to water and sanitation under the Protocol on Water and Health can be found at: http://www.unece.org/env/water/pwh_work/equitable_access.html