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From: Hygiene and sanitation – Footsteps 97

How behaviour change happens, the importance of handwashing and how to make soap

By Anna Ling

The deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is fast approaching. Has the world succeeded in achieving them? And what comes next?

The World’s Longest Toilet Queue: a campaign outside the UK Houses of Parliament to demonstrate that global action on sanitation is needed. Photo: Jay Butcher/Tearfund

The World’s Longest Toilet Queue: a campaign outside the UK Houses of Parliament to demonstrate that global action on sanitation is needed. Photo: Jay Butcher/Tearfund

Exciting progress has been made towards the eight MDGs that were agreed by 189 nations in September 2000. The targets were set to be achieved by the end of this year, 2015. The MDGs have inspired campaigning action and have increased efforts to tackle poverty. They have provided a clear focus and have helped to increase commitments to aid.

Sanitation is part of Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability. Target 7c is to ‘Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’.


The target to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water was achieved in 116 countries five years ahead of schedule. We can celebrate the End Water Poverty campaign, which Tearfund helped to set up, for its contribution to increasing access to improved water for 2.3 billion people between 1990 and 2012. 

Huge progress has also been made to ensure all children can attend primary school. Enrolment in primary education in the developing world is reported to have reached 90 per cent in 2010. This means that more children than ever are receiving primary education and girls are not being excluded from the system.

Difficult goals

However, there hasn’t been success across the board. There are three areas where progress has been particularly slow: environmental protection, hunger and sanitation. The facts:

  • global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by more than 50 per cent since 1990
  • there are still 842 million people in the world who are undernourished
  • 2.5 billion people are without access to a basic toilet and 1 billion people resort to open defecation.

There are many complex reasons why these targets have not been achieved. For example, global emissions of carbon dioxide are often a consequence of economic development, and open defecation is usually a taboo subject to talk about, which makes it more difficult to campaign on.

What next?

So what will happen beyond September 2015? Member states have agreed to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will expand upon each of the MDGs and include a new set of goals designed to ensure environmental sustainability.

One of the main criticisms of the MDGs was that because they were measured by averages and proportions, progress was achieved by helping those who are easiest to reach. Therefore, further progress may be much harder to achieve. So it is encouraging that the goal to reduce inequality is due to be included. This will help focus attention where the need is greatest and make sure no one is excluded. It will also address inequality between and within countries, which is a continuing and growing problem.

Advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs represent a global ambition to make sure economic growth is shared by all and does not harm the environment. Real change will happen at a national level, where there will be exciting opportunities to use the SDGs in national-level advocacy.

Here are some ideas:

  • Be aware of the new SDGs as they are agreed and monitor to see what progress is being made towards them in your community.
  • Highlight to the authorities where the need is greatest and who the most marginalised people in your country or region are, using your work as evidence.
  • Push for government funding to be allocated to the most off-track targets, for example: environmental sustainability, hunger and sanitation.
  • Use the new SDGs to highlight the work you are already doing in these areas and advocate for your government to help.

For the full list of SDGs see:

Anna Ling is a Policy and Research Associate in Tearfund’s Advocacy team.

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