Simple questions reveal the challenges of meeting the 2030 SDGs

By Mike Muller

What is it about the thought processes of the architects who specify plumbing fittings for upmarket hotels and airport lounges? It seems that they just cannot resist the offerings of the high-end fittings manufacturers.

Staying in London recently, it took me almost five minutes to work out just which of the five knobs in the shower did what. There was one knob for the hand nozzle and one for temperature control, but the other three knobs controlled the flow of the rain shower more or less independently (and apparently randomly).

Now if you have something like this at home, you work it out in a day or two. But if you only encounter it once a year, it can be quite a challenge. So a plea to the manufacturers: if you are selling into markets where your fittings will most often be used by people who have never seen them before (like in hotel bathrooms or airport lounges), please make sure that they work in ways that are simple and obvious.

You can do this quite easily with some practical field tests. Or just do a survey — you know the kind: “Did you find this shower easy to use? Answer a few questions and enter our lucky draw for a free weekend’s stay.”

‘Safely managed’ means that the services should be reliable and of assured good quality.

That kind of simple question can be incredibly powerful. And I was thinking about simple questions, because they are going to become more common in the water business once countries realise what they are going to have to do to meet the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. Implementation of the SDGs, which were approved by the world’s leaders at the United Nations in 2015, was supposed to begin a year ago. But most countries are just getting to grips with what the challenge entails.

In water supply and sanitation, the goal is simple: by 2030, everyone should be using safely managed drinking water services. ‘Safely managed’ means that the services should be reliable and of assured good quality. And people will only be able to use them if they are nearby — preferably in the household — and affordable.

So countries will now have to demonstrate not just that there are pipes in the ground, but that supplies are reliable, that their quality meets standards, and that people are using them (which they won’t if they are too expensive). The first question will be, “Was water coming out of your tap this morning?” It will all be downhill from there.

Under the previous millennium development goals, countries like South Africa could boast that they had achieved 95% coverage, because all that was measured was whether there were pipes and taps, rather than whether they worked or not. So they are in for an unpleasant surprise. We will be lucky if 50% of our people meet the new standards — expect some fast-talking from the politicians. More next month.


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