Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Call for more active involvement of CSOs at water and sanitation events

Ceridwen JohnsonCeridwen Johnson, Networking and Communications Manager at FAN Global, recommended more active involvement of civil society organizations (CSOs) in forums and events like the WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene, held recently in Mumbai.

"We need to recognize the role of CSOs in the process of bringing change in the WASH sector. Their participation in events such as the Global Forum should be encouraged. They should also be involved in the preparation of these events from agenda setting to follow-ups”, she said.

Ceridwen suggested that the CSOs could even be made part of the organizing committee. This would ensure more voices from the communities, especially from those who have more marginalized. Past experiences have underlined the increased expectations of the CSOs, who want opportunities for more active participation in policy-making and governance advocacy. A lot still needs to be done in terms of technical and financial support in order for CSOs to engage effectively.

In her talk, Ceridwen also pointed out the challenges faced by the CSOs, based on her own experience of working with FANSA and ANEW. Inferences were also drawn from documentation of FAN, FANSA, ANEW, WaterAid and WSSCC and information gathered from interviews with over 40 members in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, who had been involved in at least one conference on sanitation in their region.

The CSOs found regional sanitation meetings an occasion to come out of their local environment and voice their opinions and concerns in front of the decision makers at country level meetings.

The CSOs observe these meetings as unique opportunities to….
  • Present their voices to a large but influential audience
  • Share their perspective
  • Bring in grassroots wisdom and highlight best practices
  • Learn from each others’ challenges
  • Promote pro-poor arguments and discussions
  • Share their approaches and technologies
  • Network with sector stakeholders
  • Influence policies
  • Track progress  
  • Work as pressure groups on the governments, donors and institutions
  • Expedite sanitation coverage for all 

Evolution of CSO involvement

Participation of CSOs in the WASH sector has evolved dramatically over the years. In South Asia the engagement of CSOs is viewed as a process – it’s a series of complimentary and coordinated activities, which bring forward the people's perspective on sanitation.

Example 1: At SACOSAN IV in Colombo this year, the Minister’s Declaration stressed efforts towards the realization of the right to water and sanitation, time bound delivery of commitments, monitoring and accountability mechanisms, and focus on the inclusion of the marginalized. This declaration echoed the declaration by the CSOs and thereby underlined the results of intensive efforts of FANSA, WaterAid and WSSCC. The final declaration was translated into local languages to be used as a lobbying tool to influence the national, regional and state level policies and make the government turn commitments into action.

Example 2: At AfricaSan this year AMCOW recognised civil societies as the official voices. The CSOs working on water in Africa became an official part of the conference as a special session was devoted to them. Also, after working over the years, CSOs have now gained access to information and knowledge which is otherwise difficult to get.

Example 3: At LatinoSan, which lacks a formal political process, the participants were happy to network with each other. The members were keen to learn more from the work being done under the banner of SACOSAN and AfricaSan. The event is evolving towards a more formal political process in the region, with the aim of holding governments accountable.

A platform for CSOs

For CSOs these meetings act as a platform for formal and informal interactions and establish meaningful associations. Many participants have admitted that these events result in increased dialogue within the countries through preparatory and follow up processes.

Participation increases the credibility of the CSOs, making national governments more willing to work with them. Many have also since been invited to support the governments in the process of developing strategies and formulation of policies.

However, the whole process has various challenges:

  • The impact of CSOs involvement is clear, but gaining space and making effective use of it is a huge responsibility.
  • An enormous amount of networking and coordination is essential to influence policy and the commitment of governments in the run up to and during the conferences.
  • The CSOs lack financial and human resources to do what is really required.
  • There is a need for more evidence-based research and country-wide consultations to raise awareness of ministerial commitments.

Despite this challenges, as the population burden increases, the role of CSOs is becoming more important and their particpation at events like the Global Sanitation Forum is vital.  

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