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Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goals

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS) - The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.

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  • drumbeatdeva

    These are admirable goals, but framed as they are, without taking into account the cruelty of capitalism and the devastation of warfare, nearly unattainable.

  • Rokhaya D. FALL

    Definitely, the necessary integration of Goals while addressing one of them is more than necessary. As Congo is taken as an example I will add “Equity on Natural Ressources Management ” as a starting point for the SDGs.

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