Parliamentarians from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and the UK, along with international charity, WaterAid, and other development organisations launched the South Asian Regional Campaign on Sanitation in Kathmandu, Nepal on March 19. About 16 members of parliament from South Asia and UK handed over a citizens’ charter demanding universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030 within the post 2015 development framework to the SAARC Secretary General Ahmed Saleem at the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu.
They also presented the charter to eight SAARC directors, representing all member countries, calling on the governments to work collectively under the association to adopt and present a common position on the inclusion of targets for access to water and sanitation to the UN General Assembly. “Through sanitation campaign you are doing extremely great job. This is a noble cause and I am gracious that you are presenting citizens’ charter to SAARC,” said Saleem, praising the initiative.
A dignity march was also organized to launch the campaign. It was attended by thousands of community members, members of parliaments, civil society organization, disabled people, children, journalists and women to show solidarity with the one billion people in the region who do not use improved sanitation and called for action to save the lives of half million children being wasted due to diarrohea and preventing sexual assault on women not having adequate sanitation facilities.
Whilst there has been considerable progress in South Asia, over a billion people still don’t have access to basic sanitation and around 700 million practice open defecation. Diarrhoea caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene is the second biggest killer of children under five. A huge percentage of people, 69 per cent in Nepal, 66 per cent in India, 63 per cent in Afghanistan, 56 per cent in Bhutan, 52 per cent in Pakistan, 44 per cent in Bangladesh, are denied access to improved sanitation.
The charter called upon governments to spend at least 1 per cent of their GDP to achieve universal access to sanitation, enable monitoring of this expenditure and include a separate budget line for sanitation within national budgets. It also demanded elimination of all forms of manual scavenging and dignity and equality for the sanitation workforce, access to sanitation in all households, schools, health centres, work places, public buildings and public spaces, inclusion of specific measures to increase community participation in planning, implementation and management of sanitation services and improved transparency and accountability.
It urged donors to prioritise and considerably increase financial allocations for sanitation, focusing on the most off-track countries with low domestic resources and called for an increased investment in sanitation programmes and infrastructure in rural areas with special emphasis on marginalised and excluded communities. It also emphasized on increasing the share of grants in total aid to enable countries to focus on basic sanitation services in poor and rural areas.
Before handing over the charter, parliamentarians, including Danasari Anasuya, Rahul Kumar and Binod Kumar Singh from India, held deliberations for three hours and resolved to work collectively for improving sanitation. They adopted a common statement agreeing to persuade governments to increase sanitation financing, calling their political parties to enshrine human right to sanitation and committed to increase the share of their development fund to sanitation.
They also demanded recognition of sanitation as a legally enforceable fundamental right for human health, dignity, empowerment and development. The charter sought the development of a participatory multi-stakeholder monitoring mechanism for annual reporting against clear indicators for poor, marginalised and excluded groups, including people with disabilities, women, children and older people. It also asked the countries to address the stigma of impurity and pollution ascribed to sanitation, especially to menstruation and to those providing sanitation services, and ensure that services are provided in a gender-, age-, disability- and culturally- sensitive manner, consistent with human rights and dignity.