FAN has come a long way since it was established after the 2nd World Water Forum in March 2000. At that time, although it was evident that local NGOs working on water and sanitation had a wealth of knowledge and experience to contribute to the sector, their participation at international events was confused, confrontational and chaotic.
Confusion arose from the lack of process. There were too many highly background documents used as reference and no NGO inputs. The language used by decision-makers was alienating; there were no translations and no support with preparations. Local actors found the political dimension impenetrable and only the loudest voices were heard. People who usually worked with communities felt overwhelmed and the environmental and developmental movements were at odds.
The time was right to launch an organisation like FAN; to tackle these problems and bring civil society together, to offer them support and facilitate constructive participation in policy processes.
It didn’t take long to build momentum around the network and, by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, we were able to put on a huge exhibition showcasing the work of NGOs from all over the world. We were the only platform for southern civil society at the Water Dome. We were punching above our weight and it worked. FAN began to be known as the voice of organised southern civil society working on water issues and, since then, members of the network began forming alliances at the regional level.
FAN’s unique characteristic is the ability to internationalise lots of small civil society organisations. There is a real sense of ownership and pride amongst the active members of FAN and we have managed to link local NGOs across continents, to the international arena and offer a platform where they have been able to influence key political agendas. This has consistently been achieved on a small budget with a small team.
At the 3rd World Water Forum, held in Japan in 2003, FAN was offered the opportunity to deliver a formal NGO statement and Hilda Coelho, a woman representing a grassroots organisation from Andhra Pradesh in India, stood up on a podium at the ministerial conference and delivered the statement. Whilst the statement critiqued the controversial Camdessus report, it also put forward positive solutions based on real experiences from the local level.
In 2007, FAN evolved into a consortium of regional networks. The regional networks are becoming stronger and are moving into the driving seat.
During the 3rd World Water Forum, FAN members from Africa met and decided to have an inception meeting in Kenya to create what is now known as the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW) in October 2003.
This regional network has been developing steadily, convening sessions for African CSOs during the 4th World Water Forum, three years on. A EUWF grant provided funding to ANEW to promote and improve the capacities of African CSOs for advocacy and participation in governance.
The idea for a network in Central America was borne out of the FAN activities at another international meeting; the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. FANCA has since played an integral part in the Latin American process at the 4th World Water Forum.
At the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico, FAN South Asia members, after witnessing the positive impact that FANCA and ANEW were making, expressed a strong interest in establishing their own network.
In 2007, a long and broad based consultation process was led by FAN members in South Asia to explore the need for a South Asian regional water and sanitation network. Over 200 key actors from the water and sanitation sector took part, mostly small and medium sized civil society organizations from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
FANSA was formally launched in Nepal in January 2008. Despite being a nascent Network, FANSA demonstrated tremendous potential with its influencing work around the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN-III, November 2008, New Delhi) in which South Asian governments made a huge forward step by committing to recognize access to both sanitation and drinking water as a basic right.
FAN Mexico played a key role in civil society activities surrounding the 4th World Water Forum in 2006 and is actively involved in advocating for the rights to water and sanitation.
FAN South America is the youngest of the regional networks and is busy establishing itself throughout the region by setting up national networks.