If Water is Life, Sanitation is Dignity

The Budapest Summit began with a session on the theme of Striving for Universal access to WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene). For the whole morning, youth from different countries gathered to discuss why sanitation remains as a low priority in water governance.


One of the presenters, Luca di Mario, asked a provocative question: why aren’t we attending the Budapest Water & Sanitation Summit? Or Budapest Water & Shit Summit? Does it sound weird to you? Well, it seems that the first step to change the uneven provision of water services is to reframe the discourse, definition and the importance we give to our own waste. Truth is, we worry a lot if safe water is going to run in our taps and tend to ignore what happens when it goes down the drain.
However, something has to be clear from the beginning: sanitation is not only about infrastructure! Bathrooms are necessary indeed, but they must be kept functioning well. And the pipes. And the wastewater treatment plants. Therefore, as Lucas di Mario explains, sanitation, as well as water supply, have to be treated as a service which requires provision 24/7 and proper maintenance.
Willice Onyango (International Youth Council Kenya) shared his experience of being raised in a country where only half of the population has access to drinking water – and less than that to toilets. He highlighted the importance of addressing social inequalities if we ever want to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. “When it comes to combat poverty, we simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind! Poverty and education have to become targets as well”, he said.
Adding to that, Olimar Maisonet-Guzmán (SustainUS) reminded us that, when we discuss the future for water supply and sanitation, we must keep in mind that most of us are simply lucky to have enjoyed the provision of those services over our life. “Diarrhea is (still) the leading cause of illness and death all over the world, as 2.5 billion people live without adequate sanitation”, she shared with the audience.

In order to implement the human right to water and sanitation, Jovana Dodos (European Environment and Health Youth Coalition) called attention to the fact that uneven provision of water supply and sanitation is not only a matter of water availability. Above all, we must overcome social vulnerability, the marginalisation of groups based on gender, income or culture; and the infrastructural gaps between urban and rural areas.

The session was closed by the moderator Peter Rohony with a message that must be shared with everyone: once we are no longer youth and assume leadership positions in public, private or third sector organisations, we cannot forget all the experiences we have had and ignore the voice of the next youth generation.
 What about you? What do you think are the main challenges to achieve equality in access to safe water and sanitation?