By Paul Polman,CEO of Unilever, vice-chair of the UN Global Compact
In 2015, 6.6 billion people (over 90 per cent of the world’s population) used improved drinking water sources and 4.9 billion people used improved sanitation facilities.Progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), ‘clean water and sanitation’ for all is being made. However, this progress means little to the 3 in 10 people who still lack individual access to safe, readily available water in their homes or the millions of people who do not wash their hands with soap despite its proven health impact.
These issues will only become worse as water resources become scarcer. In 22 countries, mostly in Northern Africa and Asia, the water stress level is above 70 per cent, indicating the strong probability of future water scarcity. Can you imagine the impact this will have on the people who already struggle to access clean water and sanitation? As we see water becoming less and less available, we risk moving backwards rather than forwards. Advances in recent years show that water, hygiene and sanitation for all can be achieved, but we must move faster.
Unilever is already half way to achieving our target of reaching a billion people with our Lifebuoy handwashing programme. We’ve progressed by partnering with others on initiatives such as school programmes and neo-natal health projects. We worked on innovative new consortium models, such as the South Asia WASH Results Program which was the first payment-by-results model to fund WASH projects based on their impact. The initiative exceeded expectations and resulted in improved handwashing with soap for over 7 million people. In addition, we’re making great progress towards helping 25 million people gain access to toilets through initiatives such as Domestos’ partnership with UNICEF, which has already reached over 10 million people.
Industry partnerships like the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) are also critical to driving change. The TBC is a global, business-led coalition of leading companies, government agencies, sanitation experts and non-profit organisations. It supports commercially viable businesses at every point of the Sanitation Economy: infrastructure, service providers, collection and treatment. The power of partnerships is also why we are one of more than 120 companies that endorses the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, committing to shared ownership and responsibility for water.
We know it’s not just about absolute numbers but the additional impact of behaviour change interventions, capacity building and advocacy.
Speedy deployment at scale happens when the private sector, Governments and NGOs work symbiotically. Look at the huge advances with India’s Swachh Bharat programme to revolutionise WASH across the country with many stakeholders joining forces. Hindustan Unilever’s national “Playing Billion” campaign promotes three simple hygiene habits to promote good health and hygiene practices among children. Lifebuoy is partnering with Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance, on an innovative partnership in India that will reach millions of people. Together, we’re promoting the dual benefits of handwashing with soap and immunisation — two of the most cost-effective ways to help improve child survival.
If we are to achieve SDG 6 we must think bigger, focussing not on small steps or individual programmes but on transformation. To accelerate progress for the WASH agenda and subsequently for the SDG agenda, we must use the High Level Political Forum to bring together the right partners who want to act now and push boundaries.
We have the interventions. We have the pilots that prove that these interventions work. We have the investment and the technology. Now we must work together to scale these interventions to impact those who are the hardest to reach and truly ensure clean water and sanitation for all.