Revisiting the SDGs – Effects on the Upward Spiral

During the next two weeks, we are taking the last steps to finalise our work. Now that the SGT course is almost at the end, it is good to take a step back and revisit the fundamentals of this project to take a look at the issues we are dealing with.

Around Easter we had a mid-review session when the SGT teams had the possibility to meet other groups and, most importantly, to discuss our experiences, process and results, as well as receive valuable feedback and questions. It was interesting and surprising to hear how each team had faced similar challenges, varying from adapting to local culture to dealing with information lost in translation. Given the fact that from time to time our team struggled with the feelings of inability, helplessness and self-doubt when facing the enormity of water and sanitation issues in Dar es Salaam, one of the questions our team was asked in the mid-review got stuck in my mind: “Did the fact that your project is related to push the UN Global Sustainable Goal number 6 affect your project?”

From the beginning of our project we have listed the SDG6 as one of our main drivers, and contributing in finding solutions to the sanitation and water related issues in Tanzania and Dar es Salaam was identified as our main objective.

During our journey, we experienced a slight setback when realising that a push to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals will remain weak, if no support from higher governmental and administrative levels is received. One of our main findings depicted a mismatch and imbalance between motivation and power in different levels of decision making. We learned that while motivation to enhance their sanitation in the communities was high, the decision makers were persistently closing their eyes to the problem.

After coming back home to Finland we have learned that this issue is not just local but is part of the global pool of issues related to sanitation. For example, Chen (2017) argues that the challenges in WASH sector are merely “administrative or political” rather than technological. It seems that a quote we heard in one of our interviews: “Every one produces shit, even the president, yet no one wants to talk about it”, truly is in place.

By definition the SDG6 is defined as a goal to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all”, which per se is rather an ambitious target to achieve. In Dar es Salaam the sanitation coverage is low and access to water and sanitation is ensured only for 15% of the population. Additionally, the fact that the majority of Dar es Salaam’s population is living in informal settlements does not help the issue, as uncontrolled urban sprawl and irregularity of the city are making it difficult to plan any centralised systems to get the sanitation under control.

However, based on our findings and research around the topic it seems that, even though the current sanitation system in place is still in poor condition, sanitation issues have gained more exposure in national development agendas and guidelines in Tanzania. For example, the poor physical and institutional state of sanitation was addressed in the Five-Year Development Plan proposed in 2016 which noted that in addition to poor infrastructure, low access to improved sanitation is due to “weak policy and institutional arrangements for sanitation” and “limited coordination between different entities” (MFP 2016). Additionally, several guidelines for urban sanitation are provided by the Ministry of Health.

In the end, it seems that the issue is getting acknowledged more and more, and meeting the target of SDG6 might be possible somewhere in the future. However, without public visibility and functioning communication between stakeholders any policies are hard to implement. Also, even though the sixth goal for sustainable development works as a driver for many NGOs and other entities working in the field around the Globe, it is important to remember that their work alone does not solve sanitation issues in the world. For that, active commitments and collaboration from higher up in the political sphere are also needed.

Venla & the Squad

References:

Guangzhe Chen, 2017, The numbers are in: Water is key to poverty reduction and health, World Bank (WB, [Online], Accessed: 14.4.2017, Available at: https://blogs.worldbank.org/water/water-key-poverty-reduction-and-health?CID=WAT_TT_Water_EN_EXT.

Ministry of Finance and Planning (MFP), 2016, National Five Year Development Plan 2016/17 – 2020/21, [Online], Accessed: 14.4.2017. Available at: ehttp://www.mof.go.tz/mofdocs/msemaji/Five%202016_17_2020_21.pdf

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