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Reflections from the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York

Moderator Catarina de Albuquerque opens the HLPF side event on national accountability methods

Elynn Walter and Erma Uytewaal represented IRC and the Watershed consortium at the July 2018 UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York. They share their findings from this year’s HLPF, which  included a review of the Sustainable Development Goal on water (SDG 6). 

CSO side event on accountability

If the SDGs are to be more than just good intentions, accountability mechanisms should be in place. At the HLPF, only one session was entirely dedicated to accountability. That was the side event “Why Robust Multi-Stakeholder National Accountability Mechanisms are Essential for Achieving SDG 6” co-organised by a group of civil society organisations (CSOs), governments and others including the Watershed consortium.

Erma says the event was a milestone in a longer term process of building a coalition of global and regional WASH CSO networks. The coalition succeeded in developing focused messaging on accountability, concludes Elynn. These collective messages are derived from the coalition’s “Global review of national accountability mechanisms for SDG6”, which was launched at the side event on 11 July. Now there are targeted asks and recommendations on accountability and transparency for all stakeholders: CSOs, governments, development partners and UN agencies.

The aim of the side event and global review, according to Erma, was twofold:

  1. to influence the UN major groups, which have speaking time at the HLPF
  2. through the regional CSO networks support the involvement of national CSOs in the preparation of voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of the implementation of the SDGs

Some of the gaps in the global review were reflected in the side event. These were the under-representation of private sector stakeholders and a bias towards SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2 on drinking water and sanitation.

Moving forward

The common advocacy agenda on accountability needs to be taken forward at forthcoming global and regional SDG 6 policy influencing events, Erma says. Strong regional CSOs are needed to help national CSOs engage with governments in accountability platforms. Leadership in taking this forward is crucial. Who exactly will take the lead, however, is still to be determined.

CSO participation in the annual HLPFs is currently limited. Next year they have an opportunity to change this, Erma suggests, when the entire HLPF mechanism will be reviewed.

Reviewing the implementation of SDG 6

The major event for the WASH sector at the HLPF was the session on the review of implementation of SDG 6. This session discussed the findings of UN-Water’s SDG 6 Synthesis Report.  

The report’s main message is that we are not on track to meet the SDG 6 targets by 2030 and we need to accelerate (see UN Water’s promotional video below). Erma found, however, that the country interventions during the session did not reflect this urgency.

The report calls for more money, working more at scale and integrated approaches. What Erma misses is a discussion on how the sector needs to be changed, how it should be financed, how resources can be used more effectively, and how accountability mechanisms can be established (see also the blog by IRC CEO Patrick Moriarty).

Other key themes that came up, says Elynn, were: the importance of multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral partnerships; capitalising on innovative ways to collect data to strengthen monitoring systems; the importance of good water governance; and the need for high-level political support for and ownership of SDG 6.

Cross-sectoral collaboration between for instance water, nutrition and health, can help build a stronger case for WASH. Nevertheless, Erma and Elynn warn that both multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral collaboration require a disciplined approach: you need to set priorities and keep a focus on key WASH challenges.

One intervention in particular caught Elynn’s attention. It came from a representative from Indonesia, who requested more information from Peru and Uganda about their experiences with innovative financing. There should be more space for cross-country sharing of knowledge at the HLPF, Elynn recommends.

UN Water vice-chair and moderator Dr Joakim Harlin echoed the concerns of many at the session that “three hours of review at the HLPF of SDG 6, once in every 4 years is not enough”. France, supported by the Netherlands and El Salvador, proposed to hold annual or biannual  high-level SDG 6 review meetings convened by UN Water. Erma stresses that these must go hand-in-hand with the accelerated development of national accountability mechanisms. These reviews should build on existing platforms and use inputs from the High Level Meetings of the Sustainable Water and Sanitation (SWA) global partnership, she adds.

Final thoughts

This was the first time that IRC and Watershed took part in such a high-level UN event. It took time to find out how to influence discussions, but it has helped to build the confidence of regional CSO networks. Erma believes that in future it may be better to focus CSO engagement on the ministerial conference in the second week of the HLPF.

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