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50 years of IRC: Interview with Al-Hassan Adam of End Water Poverty

Published on: 12/07/2018

The importance of evidence-based reports, SDG 6 accountability and the new role of civil society.

IRC 50: Al-Hassan Interview

Al-Hassan Adam acts as the International Coordinator at End Water Poverty and has been instrumental in the development of the joint report on accountability mechanisms for Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) released last week.

In continuation of our IRC 50 interview series, we share with you our conversation with Al-Hassan. In it, he discusses some of IRC's greatest strengths and how he sees the sector evolving—focussing in particular on the sector's relationship with civil society and the increased role of accountability.

Al-Hassan reminds us that achieving SDG 6—reaching everyone everywhere by 2030—is an ambitious target. Although much has been done to improve access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), much more needs to be done. 

We invite you to watch the highlights of the interview below. The video is followed by the full interview transcript.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of IRC?

I would say first and foremost: research in water, evidence and the strong focus on credible reports. IRC has been particularly helpful in assisting us to position our policy lines. They have also supported our research efforts—particularly with our more recent Global Review of Accountability Mechanisms for SDG6. IRC was instrumental in terms of the leadership around the development of the report. Without IRC's support, input and enthusiasm from every level of management, the report would not have happened. When IRC says they're in it, they're in it. They will not let you down.

Currently for example, I'm working with IRC's Head of International Programme, Catarina Fonseca, who is the lead researcher of that report. She constantly brings her enthusiasm and whole-hearted support. Always going the extra mile—working on weekends and well into the night. You can reach her anytime and have discussions on the research. The energy and enthusiasm that she brings on board rallies everyone else around the cause—she really encourages them to be a part of it.

What would you say is IRC's greatest contribution?

The provision of evidence. Evidence is key to engaging effectively with policy makers. If you are just demanding change without any evidence, politicians will simply not listen. IRC's ability to provide evidence has been been very valuable and it has supported our work in a great way. It is something I think IRC should keep doing and not shy away from doing in the future.

IRC has played a role in holding organisations accountable. For example in 2016, we, as End Water Poverty, called out the UN Secretary-General's progress report for not being in line with the SDGs—that they had used 2015 baseline data. Despite our efforts, we did not get a response from the Secretary General's office.

But then IRC decided to follow up with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and explained the situation. UN DESA accepted that they did in fact use the wrong data to report for the progress on SDGs—and they reported on their error.

To me, that is a credible way of working with other organisations. To pick up the loose ends and to follow up to get clarity on the issues. This made my year in terms of our advocacy around the UN and in terms of holding the UN accountable.

It's not just about holding governments accountable, but also organisations. We should be comfortable doing that. IRC was able to do that back in 2016 and I'm happy about that.

How do you see the sector evolving?

I believe the sector is at a crossroads. There is a big opportunity out there: SDG 6. For once we have a dedicated goal to water and sanitation in the whole UN process, but the goal is quite ambitions. I am worried that civil society, non-government organisations (NGOs) and think tanks are not being ambitious enough to meet that goal. Goal 6 demands safely managed sanitation for all by 2030, and that may not be achievable. What we need to do as a sector is step up our ambition—the level of drive that we need to see to achieve SDG 6 is something that I believe is lacking. We need to work to try to push above our weight to do more.

IRC needs to try to engage more with players outside the traditional stakeholders that they are used to working with. I want to see more work with trade unions and more work with social movements, and not just NGOs that are in-country.

I would like to see more work with civil society—not necessarily civil society organisations (CSOs). These are groups that are sometimes informal; they are not registered and it is there where you can find the more marginalised issues involved. CSOs are now becoming too professionalised and just working with them might not be enough to reach the SDGs.

That is the idea behind the national accountability study: We want to build accountability hubs in countries and we would like to do that beyond just CSOs, to include civil society as a whole instead. That could be a loose consumer group, a targeted community, such as a LGBT group or other minority group, to ultimately bring on board their voice.

Do you have any final comments you would like to share?

Look, IRC has done a lot in terms of shaping the discourse in the sector. They are a very important voice in the sector and have contributed significantly to its advancement, but a lot more needs to be done to reach the SDGs—as they are quite ambitious and as a consequence, IRC should also be ambitious.

 

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