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Published on: 02/05/2018

Participants at the IRC WASH Debate 'Leave no one behind', 18 April 2018

Speed read

  • ensure that everyone is assured a basic level of service supported by the private sector and middle classes through cross subsidies that can free-up public funding; this needs to be sustained by strengthening the enabling environment
  • there are initiatives and tools to make programmes more (gender) inclusive both for implementers and beneficiaries
  • monitoring is both costly and a challenge, because it involves not only measuring who is left behind but also the effort in terms of equitable resource allocation


The world has committed, both legally and politically, to the principle of leaving no one behind. How this can be achieved in practice was the topic of a WASH Debate that attracted some 80 sector professionals to The Hague on 18 April 2018 and over 200 viewers who followed or replayed the Twitter livestream. Participants engaged in a lively discussion with presenters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Watershed empowering citizens' programme and IRC's Ghana country office.

Legal and political framework

There is a legal and a political route in place to ensure that no one is left behind. The UN General Assembly recognised the human right to safe drinking water in 2010 and the human right to sanitation in 2015. The human rights framework defines the legal rights and responsibilities especially for states, but there are no legal binding obligations for non-state organisations.

Simavi’s Senior Programme Officer Sara Ahrari explained that the human rights to water and sanitation can be applied at two different levels. Countries such as the Netherlands acknowledge these rights, while in Belgium, India, Kenya, South Africa and Uruguay you can go to court to enforce them because they are included in their constitutions.

IRC Chair Robert Bos added that “the water quality and safety aspects of the rights to water and sanitation link them to the right to health, which make them much more powerful”. He also mentioned that some countries are reluctant to include the rights to water and sanitation in their constitution because they are unaware that they are part of the economic, social and cultural rights framework and not of the more contentious civil and political human rights framework.

Enforcing the legal route framework requires strengthening the enabling environment, for example by supporting water regulators. Kenya’s Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) was instrumental in promoting the inclusion of the rights to water and sanitation in the constitution because they have already included them in the national regulatory framework.

Politically, the 'leave no one behind' principle is embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which governments agree to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first”. For a “person who is working in the WASH sector”, says Simavi’s Senior Programme Officer Sara Ahrari, it is a “blessing that we are working in a period that we are making history.”

Dutch development policy

The 'leaving no one behind' principle fits within the larger context of the pro-poor policies of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its Women's Rights & Gender Equality Taskforce  and its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), this principle is embedded in the acknowledgement of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and the Ministry's own WASH strategy. In practical terms, the Director Inclusive Green Growth Carola van Rijnsoever pointed out that her Ministry includes 'leaving no one behind' principles in WASH programme development, implementation and monitoring and in its choice of partners and regions/countries.

Ghana case study

Wamahinso community, Asutifi North district: Pressing for water after the taps went off while they were collecting

Even though the World Bank says that Ghana will become the fastest growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, the country still has pockets of poverty, exclusion and inequity in access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Ghana has a WASH safety net and social protection policies, but challenges remain. The Asutifi North Ahonidie Mpontuo (ANAM) - or Clean Asutifi North Initiative - aims to reach the target of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which means ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable safe water and sanitation services by 2030. The district, providers, supporting NGOs and the communities are partnering to implement a WASH masterplan. In her presentation, IRC Ghana Country Director Vida Duti discussed how the plan maps the district’s unserved and identifies the dilemmas that need to be overcome to ensure that no one is left behind.

Assessment and monitoring tools

Sara Ahrari presented the related concepts of social inclusion and the participation ladder as well as a conceptual framework for social inclusion in WASH programmes. For WASH Alliance International (WAI), she produced a set of tools designed to incorporate inclusiveness both within WASH programmes and WASH organisations.

Ghana’s Asutifi North programme used household surveys to produce poverty maps. Tracking resource allocation to those 'left behind' and whether safety net measures for the poor are being implemented are among the monitoring tools being used.

Among the lessons learned from the Watershed empowering citizens programme in Bangladesh, Sara mentioned the importance of including 'invisible' groups. The taboo surrounding disability led to under-reporting on the exclusion of the disabled. Their reliance on daily wages, can prevent ultra poor’s participation in decision making when it comes to attending public meetings.

Carola van Rijnsoever stressed the need to use tailor-made approaches when assessing and monitoring 'left behind' groups. Each country may prioritise a specific group (e.g  nomads, women). Monitoring certain minorities could be sensitive. Tactful approaches are needed.

For more tools check out the RWSN list of key “Leave No One Behind” documents.

The way forward

Moderator Stef Smits from IRC, summarised the key conclusions of the WASH Debate. One of the dilemmas for development agencies and governments is: should they prioritise services for the furthest behind or for as many people as possible. The consensus reached in the WASH Debate was that they need to do both. This can be achieved by making sure that everyone is assured a basic level of service supported by the private sector and middle classes through cross subsidies that can free-up public funding. There are initiatives and tools to make programmes more (gender) inclusive both for implementers and beneficiaries. Monitoring is both costly and a challenge, because it involves not only measuring who is left behind but also the effort in terms of equitable resource allocation. Finally, when everyone gets a basic level of service this needs to be sustained, for example through tariffs and regulation. This sustainability phase again requires strengthening of the enabling environment.

In his concluding remarks, IRC CEO Patrick Moriarty said that many of the dilemmas we face in the WASH sector can be solved if we clearly define the geographical area we work in – the district, the city or the country.

Watch video highlights and the full recording of the WASH Debate below. You can find the three presentations under Resources.

Acknowledgements: video: Jeroen van Veen, livestream: Sara Bori and Dechan Dalrymple, review/editing: Tettje van Daalen.



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