When discussing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), most international development practitioners focus on the approaches and challenges in low- and middle-income countries. At the 2020 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Water and Health conference, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) researchers and practitioners instead discussed WASH inequalities in high-income countries.
Mortenson Center alum Dr. Kaitlin Mattos and Mortenson Center Associate Director Dr. Karl Linden are among the authors who synthesized the results of that conversation and provided approaches and next steps to increase access to WASH services in communities that are often forgotten. Those results can be found in the recently published paper titled Reaching those left behind: knowledge gaps, challenges, and approaches to achieving SDG 6 in high-income countries.
The virtual session included 130 participants; half were from the U.S. per provided demographic data. Facilitators had participants focus on knowledge and data gaps, challenges associated with extending WASH services. and approaches to improving WASH services.
Many practitioners found that high-income countries, usually so data driven, lack data related to WASH access. For example, the United States does not presently collect census data on how residents get their water or handle sanitation. The groups identified challenges to be lack of local capacity, inadequate funding, justice and discrimination issues, cultural obstacles and specific technical challenges.
The article recommends three broad priorities for WASH stakeholders in high-income countries:
- Restructure national, regional, state and local laws related to drinking water and sanitation.
- Involve marginalized communities in the decision-making process.
- Launch targeted, data collection campaigns.
Critical Next Steps for SDG 6 in High-income Countries:
The authors call for the termination of racist and nationalist policies that deprive historically marginalized communities access to resources; improving legislation; fulfilling existing treaties with Indigenous peoples; increasing the rights of undocumented persons; and starting national efforts to collect and share WASH data.