The South Asian Conference on Sanitation
The South Asian Conference on Sanitation is a largely government led meeting, involving government decision makers and delegations from all over South Asia.
Debates at the conference have the potential to impact national policy and practice with governments making commitments through a signed declaration. As such, it provides a good opportunity for national and regional level lobbying.
The space for civil society voice in SACOSAN has been varied during the process. Here is a brief history of SACOSAN in relation to CSO involvement and FANSA’s input, and the outcomes of each meeting.
A History of SACOSAN so far:
SACOSAN I – Dhaka 2003
From the Government of Banladesh’s own report, the meeting’s proceedings were arranged by and for government officials and officials in international institutions, and were “strategic” in focus. However, apart from a small window given to civil society to contribute to the final declaration towards the end of the proceedings, it was clear that there was not sufficient regard to or representation from the people that the strategy was intended to benefit.
The conference and declaration did, however, both make good headway in terms of promoting the issue of sanitation further up the priority list of participant governments, and recognizing it as an urgent issue. Furthermore, subsidies for sanitation hardware were agreed to be rolled out by national governments.
SACOSAN II – Islamabad 2006
Recognizing that half the people in South Asia still “do not have access to proper sanitation” and “about one million men, women and children reportedly die annually due to water and sanitation related diseases”, the Islamabad declaration made another crucial step towards recognizing water and sanitation as human rights as they recognized them as “basic human needs”. And although the declaration supports the findings of the Dhaka conference no tangible new commitments were made other than general commitments to the poor and equity.
Civil Society organizations were not included at SACOSAN II, but there were an increased number of national participants including new East Asian countries such as Cambodia and China.
SACOSAN III – New Delhi 2008
“Groundbreaking” Lajana Manandhar, director of NGO Lumanti Support Group for Shelter, describing achievements made at SACOSAN Delhi.
With FAN South Asia newly created in 2008, it was in a position to take a lead on organizing increased Civil Society involvement in SACOSAN III.
Before the conference, FANSA in collaboration with its partner WaterAid and WSSCC organized a civil society meet up to prepare the participants and build consensus on an approach to the conference that would be effective in championing the cause of water and sanitation. Held two days before the event, over 100 community leaders and NGOs from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and SriLanka attended.
The outcome of the meeting was a civil society declaration, endorsed by all participants, which called on governments to change their practices in the areas of recognizing water and sanitation as a basic human right, governance, health outcomes, urban sanitation and slums, manual scavenging, sanitation in educational institutions, menstrual hygiene and social exclusion.
As well as pushing for more space for civil society in the program before the meeting, FANSA also invited and organized extra civil society members to come to the conference that would not have been able to come otherwise.
During breaks in session at the conference, FANSA members urgently pressed their government delegations to recognize the right to water and sanitation among other goals specific to their country or part of the civil society declaration.
The final ministerial declaration, known as the “Delhi Declaration”, recognizes access to sanitation and safe drinking water as a fundamental human right, asserts that giving “national priority to sanitation is imperative”, and, significantly, the declaration commits memer states to strengthen regional collaboration and promote independent monitoring, one of the key demands made by the civil society declaration.
FANSA have seen this as a milestone achievement for the people of South Asia, and members have been following national governments up on the commitments made at Delhi since.
To raise popular awareness of SACOSAN and the Delhi Declaration, FANSA has made sure that there are translations available in 7 local languages.
SACOSAN IV - Colombo 2011
To be held on 4th - 8th April 2011 in Sri Lanka. Check out the official web page for details of proceedings.