Last week, TNC joined with USAID and the Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG) to launch Freshwater Conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Integration Guidelines: A Framework for Implementation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Another day, another report released here in Washington, right? It’s especially hard to compete when Beyonce drops a surprise album the same week, so what’s got me so excited about these guidelines?

#1. The collaboration the report represents, and the important signal it gives about the growing commitment to break down the silos those of us working to address some of the world’s biggest water challenges often find ourselves in. The guidelines are based upon the experience of 19 different development and conservation organizations, as well as US Government agencies. A number of the groups had previously put together a joint statement that laid out our thinking on why it’s so important to integrate work across water sectors; ABCG had compiled a report that looked at some of the projects in sub-Saharan Africa that reflect some efforts to link conservation and WASH. But these guidelines take the next step by putting together a set of 7 principles that provide a concrete framework to help health, development, and conservation professionals in sub-Saharan Africa plan, coordinate, and achieve mutually-supported freshwater conservation and WASH goals.

#2. My belief that, while the guidelines are an important step, they will not be the end of the process towards better addressing human and ecosystem health in a holistic way. I hope the document will inspire new integrated work as organizations get intrigued and decide to try out the principles in practice; that we’ll all be able to learn from those projects how to work better to address WASH and conservation needs together, and how to better measure the improved impacts integrated programs offer; and that those lessons help to unite some of the separate funding streams which are so frequently named as a significant roadblock to meaningful integration.

#3. My sincere hope that even though the launch event was in Washington, DC, the impact will be greatest in villages, cities and watersheds in sub-Saharan Africa. And, I also hope the learning from such approaches will find its way into capitals around the world and eventually to New York City where conversations around the Sustainable Development Goals – the development framework expected to follow when the Millennium Development Goals conclude in 2015 – are moving ahead quickly. The reality of water challenges in rural African villages and watersheds is that they rarely fit into neat, distinct boxes labeled only “WASH” or “ecosystem”, and their solutions will be much more long-lasting and successful if they reflect this overlap, too. If that reality is reflected in the next round of development goals, which will shape government priorities and development funding for years to come, the world will be a better place for people and nature.

The guidelines and launch event recording are available at: http://frameweb.org/CommunityBrowser.aspx?id=11003&lang=en-US.

Sarah Davidson is Water Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy’s Securing Water strategy.

photo by flickr user: UGA College of Ag. Used with creative common license.

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