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ImpactWater & Sanitation

Persistence Pays: How 17 Months of Global Citizens Actions Led to a $300M Commitment

"A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence," so the saying goes. No truer statement could be made of how Global Citizens’ tireless actions led to the announcement by the Netherlands at the most recent Global Citizen Festival on Sept. 24.  

Since April 2015 until September 2016, Global Citizens have tweeted, emailed, and petitioned the Dutch government, calling upon them to fulfil their pledge announced at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day to provide 50 million more people with access to clean toilets, and 30 million more people with clean drinking water by 2030. At the Festival, the impact of over a year’s worth of over 140,000 actions was truly felt.   

On Sept. 22, at the Global Citizen The World on Stage, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced via video message his government’s donation of $50 million for the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC).  Two days later, in Central Park, in front of a crowd of 60,000 Global Citizens, and speaking live in person, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders pledged $100 million per year for at least three years to fulfill on their commitment at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day to ensure 50 million more people will have access to clean toilets, and 30 million more people will have clean drinking water by 2030.

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Currently 2.4 billion people — that’s 35% of the global population — go without proper sanitation, 1 billion still defecate in the open, and 663 million lack an adequate drinking water source. This leads to devastating consequences. One of which is diarrheal disease, which claims nearly 600,000 lives of children aged under 5 every year. It also disproportionately affects the lives of women and girls whose personal safety and dignity is denied through poor menstrual hygiene. Additionally, lack of proper waste management in some of the world’s fastest growing cities means that tons of fecal matter seeps back into water supplies, risking disease and death for the 2.7 billion people who are currently underserved.

“90% of all disasters worldwide are water related,” said Netherlands Prime Minister Rutte. “Yet water also means prosperity, safety and peace. It brings food, energy and independence.”

But even with such a clear and urgent case for funding, the sector remained neglected.  

Of all the Millennium Development Goals, the sixth goal, which seeks to address access to water and sanitation, was the most off track. Which is why, when Prime Minister Rutte joined the High-Level Panel on Water last year, an influential body set up to monitor the progress of Goal 6, Global Citizen knew they had to seize the opportunity.

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The work began in earnest in April 2015 with 70,000 actions. Through a constant stream of emails and petitions, Global Citizens put the pressure on the Dutch government in advance of Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day to make a commitment towards improved sanitation and access to clean water for the world’s poorest people.

This worked. At Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day in Washington DC, attended by a quarter of a million Global Citizens, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, announced, “My new pledge is that we will provide for 50 million people clean toilets, and for 30 million people we will provide them with clean drinking water.”  It looked like exciting progress.

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Yet, after the commitment, things seemed to stall. The Global Citizen team had reached out to their contacts at the Dutch Ministry multiple times and had received only vague responses. Not discouraged, they did what they always do to drive change forward: called on their fellow Global Citizens to help.

So, on World Water Day, on March 22, 1,368 Global Citizens tweeted at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking them to remember and abide by Minister Ploumen’s commitment.

Within hours of Global Citizens sending tweets, the ministry tweeted back:

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This response was then followed up by high-level meetings between Global Citizen staff and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in April 2016 to discuss the developing implementation plans. On June 7 2016, Global Citizen received a letter from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs setting out an update on their progress toward this commitment to date. It stated that concrete plans would be presented before the summer, and these plans would be aligned to the Global Goals and explain how they would reach their targets.

This looked promising. Yet from experience, it was clear it was by no means a done deal.  To keep up momentum, we called on our collective strength again in June 2016. Over 1,000 Global Citizen petition signatures were gathered at a Coldplay concert in Amsterdam, calling on the Dutch Government to follow through on their 2015 commitment.

From here the signature list continued to grow. By August, it had reached over 42,000.  On Aug. 29, at the Global Citizen-hosted event in Stockholm for World Water Week in partnership with the Sanitation and Water for all Global Partnership, Stockholm International Water Institute, and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. At this event, Global Citizen staff, alongside their partners at Simavi — an organization leading the charge on providing water and sanitation across Africa and Asia — handed over the petition to the Dutch Sherpa and Senior Advisor for The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dick van Ginhoven.

The statement was clear: Global Citizens were going to hold the Netherlands to their promise.

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Global Citizen staff with water, sanitation and hygiene non profit Simavi, handing over the petition of 42,242 signatures to the Dutch Sherpa and Senior Advisor for The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dick van Ginhoven

This Festival, the Netherlands certainly delivered on that promise.  Prime Minister Rutte’s commitment of $50 million and the subsequent commitment from his Foreign Minister Bert Koenders in the Action Hub backstage at Global Citizen Festival 2016 of $300 million over three years will have a significant impact on the lives of 14.9 million people.

The $50 million to the WSSCC is expected to enable five million people to end the practice of open defecation. Meanwhile the $100 million per year for three years will reach an estimated 2 million people with clean water and 3.3 million people with improved sanitation facilities per year.

Prime Minister Rutte announcing $50 million from the Dutch government going towards WSSCC. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us this video was one of their most popular posts of all time.

We expect the number of lives reached will only rise now that Prime Minister Rutte has demonstrated his attitude towards delivering commitments on sanitation.  Global Citizens targeted Prime Minister Rutte for his potential to wield influence as a member of the High Level Panel of Water.  A body comprised of 10 other Heads of Government and co-convened by the United Nations and World Bank Group. Prime Minister Rutte’s voice and behavior therefore, suggests securing global access to water and sanitation is on a promising path.

This is more than just an example of Global Citizens’ persistence affecting the agenda of world leaders, it demonstrates our collective power when we hold world leaders to account.  Which is why we must continue to keep the pressure on to ensure commitments are acted upon to improve and save the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.