No time for complacency in reaching SDGs

In recent times, the water and sanitation sector has been progressing at varying speeds in different parts of the world.  Despite the progress made, as water and sanitation professionals and leaders, we cannot be complacent. We need to further mobilise action focused on the sometimes inconvenient truths that 1.8 billion people do not have access to potable water, and 2.8 billion people do not have access to sanitation services.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has served to sharply bring into focus the notion that nobody should be left behind in terms of water and sanitation services.  Although COVID-19 is not a water borne disease, the need for clean potable water and safe sanitation services to facilitate hygienic practices cannot be overstated.

In fact, COVID-19 has made us realise that the future cannot and should not be similar to the past, and that adopting historic practices and strategies bring no assurance of future success. Furthermore, the reality of climate change and its impact on water services delivery presents an additional challenge which needs to be addressed simultaneously.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to review the somewhat slow rate of progress towards achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We need to reformulate bold and innovative strategies to radically accelerate progress by removing impediments and adopting new technologies, practices and approaches.

While the adoption of new technologies is important and long overdue, the political environment is critical and must also be addressed by water leaders and professionals. Lack of political will, poor governance, leadership and unethical practices all require serious attention if we are to make meaningful progress on the SDGs.  These challenges necessitate active participation and engagement from water professionals of all types, such as utility leaders, municipal leaders, academics, practitioners, political leaders, development banks, donor agencies etc.

Therefore, my vision for the future is rapid and meaningful progress on overcoming these inconvenient truths, ultimately bringing about universal access to water and sanitation.  The IWA and water professionals globally should be excited by this challenge. Indeed, the IWA and its partners are ideally positioned to connect global experts to focus on alleviating such challenges.

Recently I became a Distinguished Fellow of IWA, which has both a highly symbolic and practical meaning for the South African water industry, Rand Water and myself. This recognition demonstrates that experts from South Africa, and the African continent in general, are more than capable and should be supported to engage and lead at a local, continental and global level.

My journey with the IWA has been exciting, challenging and stimulating. I have felt extremely grateful for the opportunity and privileged to work with many outstanding leaders and to engage openly and robustly about improving our sector.  I now intend to use my position further to speak out and engage on the challenges I have described above.

Ultimately, the efforts of water professionals should be channelled to simultaneously achieve excellence and relevance for our sector, in order to make the world a better place. After all, water is life, and sanitation is dignity.