Ripples and Waves

Ripples & Waves is an online journal of ideas, commentary, and resources for the Swedish Water House community. 

The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Swedish Water House or SIWI. Readers are invited to respond to posts, and their comments will be moderated for relevance before posting. Swedish Water House and SIWI reserve the right to refuse publication of any comment containing obscenity, inflammatory language, or illegal content. You can also report such content here. 


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SIWI at the Budapest Water Summit

Mr János Áder, President of the Republic of Hungary, welcomed us all to the city of Budapest and the summit, urging for all participants to cooperate in addressing water related challenges now, not later; "There comes a time when every glass spills over", thus calling for immediate action, so that we do not “pull our heads out of the sand to realize that we are surrounded by a desert of despair.” His rather personal approach set the tone for the Opening Ceremony where, on a later stage, H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, Chairman, United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, made the audience laugh with his vivid descriptions.

Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations stated that water is the very key for sustainable development, and that a water secure world will need active cooperation from all sectors to be successful. He addressed waste water, the necessity to let water be the catalyst for cooperation instead of conflict, the water and food interlinkages, as well as water coupled to climate change. On sanitation he insisted that we need to scale up action, as diarrhea is causing the deaths and stunting of children, and said that it is very sad that as many as 1 billion people practice open defecation. Mr Ban Ki-moon lifted the various reports including the report of the High Level Panel and his own report, A life of dignity for all, among others, in which water has a predominant role. In this context, he touched upon the discussions on a dedicated goal on water. Thirsty after his long flight, he drank his glass of water saying that we need to be but very humble to the fact that water is indeed life.

The list of speakers gave promise to an interesting session, with among others, Dr Kandeh K. Yumkella, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and CEO - Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, Chair of UN-Energy, Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Ms Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization and Mr Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water and Secretary General of World Meteorological Organization.


Mr Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council agreed with the Secretary General that cooperation is the only solution, for which we all need to reach "outside the box" for  common strategies. Mr. Braga wanted to see a holistic and transformative development agenda where water is recognized as the thread tying the important pieces of the sustainability puzzle, realizing that water must have a dedicated sustainable development goal.

For the following days, the plenary sessions together with the Science-, Civil Society-, Business Leaders- and Youth Forum will compete over the participants' attention. My initial impression is that of a very well organized and successful conference where the central role of water in our development objectives will be discussed. Representing International Processes at SIWI I hope to engage in the dialogue on the role of water within the Post 2015 framework, and to interact on the policies, processes and coordinated efforts related to the development of a Sustainable Development Goal on Water.

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Sofia Widforss

Sofia Widforss
Programme Manager,
International Processes


Reporting back from UNGA 68 - Tackling water risks to ensure a sustainable future

25th September, New York, USA

The governments of Switzerland and The Netherlands, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, with the participation of UN-Water organized on the 25th of September a Ministerial Luncheon titled "Tackling water risks to ensure a sustainable future". Michel Jarraud, Chair of UN Water and Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization moderated the wide range of speakers; from Ambassadors, UN representatives, to private companies and NGOs.

The outline of the key note speeches were among other the United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster risk reduction and the World Economic Forum  "Global Risks report" which show water and climate risks are increasingly threatening society, nature and lives. The issue of proper water management and governance were addressed, together with the importance to tie the water issues to other sectors (e.g. food and energy) and finding partnerships within civil society and the private sector as it could lead to innovative solutions being identified.

A global goal on Water in the Post 2015-process was discussed whereby it was a unanimous voice for an integrated approach entailing amongst other the equality aspect. 

Partnerships was indeed the order of the day and it was empathized that policy and actions must be interconnected to be effective. Juanita Castaño, member of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation stressed the fact that we shall develop strong and robust targets, and that the solution for sanitation does not end at the toilets but that waste water treatment must be addressed.

Ministerial Luncheon on Tackling Water Risks to Ensure a Sustainable Future

Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council brought in the historical perspective. He touched upon the ecological integrity aspect, and the pressing need to adapt whereas water resource management offers opportunities to find sustainable solutions in all fields, such as agriculture. Countries suffering from low yields could foresee potential increases with rain harvest measures as an example. He posed the question how do we ensure that water remains the catalyst of cooperation across sectors, and which partnerships do we need?

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, said that it is now the right time to unite and addressed the strong connection between water, peace and security. She gave the example of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s initiative on Sanitation for All as a great example of how to draw attention to this extremely pertinent issue.

Other topics covered in the round table discussions were the necessity of transparency and participation on the local level with local involvement in the decision making progress. The pivotal role of women and youth was discussed as well as the resilience perspective with disaster risk reduction and early warning systems being vital within a sound water management.

Water is in the heart of global sustainable development, and the knot tying together other urgent issues such as children’s and women’s health, climate, sustainable energy, food security and inequalities. In order to reach ambitious goals for a truly sustainable future, water needs to be placed high on the agenda.

In the context of the Post 2015-process, Ms. Amina J Mohammed, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, was one of the panelists on the event on the event Science and Higher Education in the Post 2015 agenda: the African context, arranged by The Planet Earth Institute and the African Union on the 23rd of September. She stated that we need to reinforce to finish off the MDGs in an ambitious and effective manner, and that mapping the way ahead is an even bigger challenge. Ms. Mohammed said that we need to move forward from a science based platform where thematic and regional consultations are part of the foundation, and that she hoped that we will find consensus on priorities for a process that is "light enough to fly but heavy enough to make an impact."

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Sofia Widforss

Sofia Widforss
Programme Manager
International Processes


Reporting back from UNGA 68: 24th and 25th September, New York, USA

Keeping our Promises - 24th September

Following yesterday’s "MDG Success: Accelerating Action, Partnering for Impact" event the United Nations Secretary-Generals MDG Advocacy group organized an MDG Innovation Forum event to identify innovative solutions to achieving the MDGs. MDG advocates and industry leaders in the fields of education, health, food security and sustainable growth met to discuss how to accelerate progress on commitments.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon welcomed the audience with a reminder of MDG progress  to date and called for greater action as the deadline for accountability approaches. His speech today expressed that that "we need to bring children back to the classrooms" and  that strong political will at leadership level is a prerequisite in combating high childhood mortality rates from preventable diseases.

The Hon. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (where the fastest decline in mortality rates for children under five was experienced) discussed how broadband availability has empowered people through enabling access to knowledge and information. He talked about the importance of working together and said that "We can reach real effectiveness where there are real partnerships".

Also in attendance was Mr. Jeffrey Sachs, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the MDGs, who stated that "the MDGs are working" exemplifying that the reduction in global child mortality is the results of hard work throughout the world. It was an event where high ambitions were raised and promises to keep investing in the MDGs were made. On a personal note, I would have liked to hear more on the potential for water as the core for sustainable development as it coupled to all of the key fields being addressed; education, health, food security and sustainable growth.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon at the event

Every Woman, Every Child - 25th September

The governments of the United Republic of Tanzania and Canada and the World Health Organization organized on the 25th of September the event "Women’s and Children’s health: The unfinished agenda of the MDGs", in support of Every Woman every child.

Speakers were among others, H.E. Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Co-Chair of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s health, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Canada and Co-Chair of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s health, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Mrs. Melinda Gates, Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Mr. Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The speakers addressed the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5; how to accelerate the action during the next 825 days. Mr. Jan Eliasson started off on a positive note, telling the story about Samira who thanks to a simple midwife kit helped delivered a child in the midst of fight and conflict. Mr. Eliasson said that he felt encouraged by seeing that the numbers in child mortality has fallen, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, but stated that there is still much that needs to be done in order to ensure that the commitments made will be met. Holding up a glass of water, Mr. Eliasson reminded about the fact that safe water is still a dream for 768 million people and that thousands of children die every day because of water related diseases that could have been prevented.

Mrs. Melinda Gates brought up family planning and how many millions of lives that have been saved by only bed nets and community health care and midwife training investments, after having stated that we should "stop speaking about the importance of women, let’s get on with it and invest". 

2013-09-26 Sofia Widforss | Tags: UN General Assambly, UNGA, MDG, water and health, gender, Sofia Widforss
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Sofia Widforss

Sofia Widforss
Programme Manager,
International Processes


Reporting back from UNGA 68 - 23rd September, New York, USA

Today, the United Nations Secretary-General hosted the event MDG Success: "Accelerating Action, Partnering for Impact". Topics such as how to match ambitions with goals and applying lessons in the time period running up to 2015 were explored. Further discussion focused on philanthropy in Africa and leveraging innovation and partnerships for scaled impact.

The UN Secretary-General, (UNSG) Ban-Ki Moon opened the event by addressing the strong connection between peace and sustainable development. His inspiring and aspirational remarks set the tone for the rest of the day. The Secretary General then discussed the Peace and Security Cooperation Framework initiative in the Great Lakes region of Africa which he conceived together with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank and the African Union. The initiative seeks to ‘bring peace, security, and economic development for the Great Lakes region (Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda) which has for so long not experienced the fruits of prosperity’. The Secretary General then  invited among others, Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General UNESCO, HE. Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway and Mr. Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to discuss how to tackle the MDGs which are lagging behind. Responses included capitalising on partnership working opportunities in order to be as effective as possible in the run up to 2015.

Interventions from the audience came from local and global actors and spanned across sectors, regions and perspectives. Ms. Barbara Frost, Chief Executive WaterAid, shared an example of a young girl who was able to study and live in dignity due to improved sanitation in her village. Mr. Paul Polman, CEO Unilever and others, expressed the necessity of responsible business activity and global partnerships for effective action.

Next, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, the UNSG's Special Representative for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, addressed the water-food and energy nexus, commenting that he looked forward of working together with us at SIWI on the linkages between water and energy. He also discussed the necessity of women’s empowerment to sustainability and stated that in house air pollution causes more premature death than totals from malaria and AIDS combined.

Most of the panelists addressed the need to couple initiatives across sectors, to identify synergies, and that the successful way ahead is embedded within partnerships and shared agendas. Dr. Margaret Chan who moderated the second panel concluded with the words "scale, speed and sustainability".

It was a morning with ambitions and engagements but when Mr. Ray Chambers, UNSGs Special Envoy for Malaria and the financing of the Health-related MDGs asked the audience how many were convinced that we would reach MDGs 4 and 5, not many hands were raised. So the conclusion from Mr. Chambers was thus that we all need to be more optimistic, in addition to being committed.

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Sofia Widforss

Sofia Widforss
Programme Manager,
International Processes


[News Stream] Realising human rights to water and sanitation for the Urban Poor: Can new MDG indicators help?

As we move towards the year of 2015 - the day of reckoning for the Millennium Declaration - there is indeed a lot of focus on the MDG indicators. After all, they provide our main mechanism to empirically test the sincerity of our commitment to poverty eradication, and quantify our ability to deal with challenges of global magnitude. No doubt, the current MDG indicators on water and sanitation (target 7c) have their shortcomings. The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of WHO and UNICEF relies primarily on national data - and at least in low-income countries - often of a dubious quality. There has also been much debate over definitions such as “access to safe water”, “improved water source” and “improved sanitation”, as well as their different interpretations in urban and rural contexts. Especially in the urban low-income areas some of these definitions carry little relevance as they don’t fit nicely into the unique contexts of informality. Moreover, with the current aggregated global MDG targets, we are kept in the dark about what consumer groups actually get the services.  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to water and sanitation, Ms Catharina de Albuquerque, has particularly expressed a concern that “interventions in water and sanitation tend to improve access only or primarily for those who are relatively easy to reach, and risk reinforcing existing inequalities” (read more).

According to the most recent estimates by JMP, the world has already met the overall target on water, but will miss the sanitation target. Looking at the regional picture, we also know that sub-Saharan Africa will most likely miss both. If we unpack data further at national level, it becomes obvious that meeting the MDGs on water and sanitation does not necessarily mean that the hoped-for improvements benefit the most disadvantaged groups. Even in top performing countries like Uganda, investments seem to have mostly benefitted the middle class in the cities. Jenny Fredby (currently at Water Aid) and I recently concluded in a paper in the Journal of East African Studies that the water utility in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is still grappling with technological and institutional solutions to serve the large number of urban poor in informal areas, while rolling out services to the middle class has been much easier through a policy on subsidised connections. Even in countries that are on track towards the MDGs, such an ‘equality gap’ can persist. However, there is today global consensus – articulated within the United Nations framework – that safe water and adequate sanitation are human rights. Against this backdrop it is indeed problematic if MDG indicators do not capture and measure the ability and ambitions of governments to progressively realise these rights and close the equality gap.

So how can new indicators help? First and foremost by highlighting the outcomes for different user groups within countries. If access to services is reported for different income groups, it will be easier to track how the governments (and donors) live up to the obligation to progressively realise the rights to water and sanitation for all. In a new consultative draft circulated by JMP, all WASH-related indicators are supposed to be “disaggregated by rural and urban, by wealth, by slums and formal urban settlements, and by other disadvantage identified through participatory national processes taking into account prohibited grounds of discrimination.” Furthermore, the new targets encompass a “service ladder” in which rights can be progressively fulfilled as service provision gradually moves from basic to more advanced services. Hopefully, this can incentivise national and local service providers to close the ‘equality gap’, by offering “some for all” before moving on to higher level of services.

Source: WHO / UNICEF 2012. Public Consultation on Consolidated drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) targets, indicators and definitions. 5th November, 2012.

Probably, the practical realities will catch up with the proposed monitoring framework. It is already a challenge to acquire reliable data on today’s relatively straight-forward indicators, and dealing with these more sophisticated and disaggregated data will not be easier. More and better data will also have cost implications, and capacity will have to be built in national monitoring systems. WASH monitoring in the post-2015 period will have to strike a balance between the optimal and the doable. In this search, UNICEF and WHO now invite comments until November 23 from sector actors all over the world at We should all strive to contribute to this process now; the world will live with these indicators for some 25 years. Hopefully, we will ultimately not just measure the right things, but also get it right!

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David Nilsson (PhD),
Independent Water and Sanitation Adviser


Water that flows through a river is not wasted - A meeting with Achim Steiner

At a breakfast meeting last Tuesday Mr. Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, shared his thoughts on the role of water in the green economy with the Swedish Water House network.

The concept of "green economy" is not always clear to everyone. Mr. Steiner however urged us not to get stuck on a definition, but underlined that the green economy is more a set of principles for how economies should develop in order to sustain a sustainable development. This can be done through many different avenues, fiscal and policy reform to stimulate renewable energy are just a few, as is payment for ecosystem services. It entails a range of delicate challenges, such as how to achieve a policy change in parliaments, or achieving economic development in countries where people don’t even have basics rights in place. The idea that a country must develop first and only then worry about the environment is a fallacy. Mr. Steiner emphasized the importance of moving beyond the North and South opposition, and bringing the green economy discussion to the core of sustainable development.
Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. Photo: Ann-Mari Karlsson 
Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. Photo: Ann-Mari Karlsson

Water has many roles in the economy. The way that natural resources are used always affects people very differently and so equity issues are central to water management. At the Rio+20 conference in June, Mr. Steiner hopes that sectors will stop looking at how to capture and manage "their" particular resource against the interests of others, and instead start linking different users of water and to look at the entire hydrological flow to discuss how these flows should be managed.

Policymakers now need ripe advice on how to move forward with economies in light of the environmental state of the world. Mr. Steiner pointed out that it is difficult for decision makers to navigate in the cacophony of voices on biodiversity issues today. Rio will, among other things, discuss the Millennium Development Goals and whether they should be followed up with a set of Sustainable Development Goals to be reinstated for every country. But how to formulate these goals, should we define each domain according to water, forests, mountains, e.t.c or should we take a systemic approach based on the interconnected nature of these domains? While Mr. Steiner warned against too much fragmentation, parts of the audience pointed out that water as a prerequisite for the functioning of all other domains should have its own role in the sustainability goals.

by Ann-Mari Karlsson, Swedish Water House

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[News Stream] Global Sanitation Coverage - What will it take?

On March 6th of this year the Joint Monitoring program of UNICEF and the World Health Organization announced that the world has met the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. Yet, the same report highlights that the world is still far from meeting the sanitation target and is unlikely to do so by 2015. According to the report, only 63% of the world has access to improved sanitation, well below the target goal of 75%. Without a significant change in the rate that sanitation in delivered, it will take until 2026 until the sanitation target is met.

So the pressure is on to find solutions and new approaches. In fact, that is the theme of the World Water Forum held in Marseille. The conference organizers have started a webpage where people can post their solutions and even gather votes and feedback ( The solutions for sanitation include, increasing the capacity of system operators, backing the human right to sanitation, planted wetlands for biomass production, public education and awareness-raising, empowering young people as change leaders, strengthening women’s roles, decentralized treatment options, and pro-poor financing schemes. Nearly 150 sanitation solutions have been submitted. What is striking about the list is how few of the solutions are technology-based. The majority have to do with providing an “enabling environment” for positive behavior change, pro-active politics and increased affordability. Where there are technical solutions, they tend to focus on the potential for reuse of water and nutrients or gaining energy through biogas or biofuel.

To me the message in this is quite strong - sanitation does not stand alone. The solutions to reaching global sanitation coverage must be integrated into the web of society and its use of resources. Sanitation is not a “thing” that can be packaged and sold like the latest cell phone or pills to cure malaria. It is essentially about hygiene habits and attitudes towards cleanliness. It is a state of being that is created through education and behavior change. Yet, it is also about the management of physical waste streams; waste that is increasingly recognized as a potential resource. The solution to global sanitation thus lies in fostering the values of sanitation and linking it directly to economic gains.

There are of course huge challenges remaining in how to do this on a global scale. But like many changes, it can also start small - with individual changes. It starts with the education of our children; teaching them to appreciate a clean restroom, to pick up trash, to use the toilet properly. It starts with consumers using biogas from wastewater treatment and demanding produce fertilized with recycled nutrients. It starts with citizens pushing their representatives for more closed-loop options that increase resource efficiency in waste management, and supporting the export of these ideas to the areas that need them most. It starts with a global movement and dialogue about the value of sanitation.

2012-03-24 Jennifer McConville | Tags: News Stream, MDG, sanitation, behavior change, biofuel, waste, education, Jennifer McConville
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Jennifer McConville

Dr. Jennifer McConville
Project manager
CIT Urban Water
Management AB