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ImpactWater & Sanitation

Sweden commits to improve water & sanitation for 60 million people

Ahead of 2015 Global Citizen Festival, global citizens campaigned to secure a commitment from Sweden to improve access to sanitation for 60 million people by 2030.

From July 2015, global citizens sent the Swedish government 40,000 emails asking them to help provide clean water and sanitation. In September 2015, 59,775 global citizens tweeted the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Isabella Lövin, thanking her for signing the ‘Women for WASH’ declaration and calling on Sweden to make a commitment at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival. The Minister tweeted back saying that they heard us loud and clear and assured us that we could count on Sweden.

In addition, global citizens also sent voicemails that were presented to the Swedish International Development Cooperation as a video message during World Water Week. Finally, Global Citizen Festival Curator Chris Martin personally wrote to Prime Minister Löfven, highlighting the link between gender equality and access to water and sanitation, and to thank him for pledging to establish the world’s first feminist government.

Global Citizens took these actions to stand up for the 2.4 billion people who do not have access to clean toilets, and almost 1 billion people who defecate in the open. They targeted Sweden as the world’s first feminist government because poor water and sanitation affects children, and girls and women the most, globally spending 200 million hours a day obtaining water. Therefore, a commitment on water and sanitation resonated strongly with the Swedish government.

Behind the scenes, we worked with partners like WSSCC, the World Bank, WaterAid and UNICEF to ensure our campaigning was aligned, as well as securing support from influencers in the corporate world to see a commitment from Sweden at Festival.  

In response to global citizens’ demands, at Global Citizen Festival 2015 the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lövfen said:


"I’m so glad to be here, and I'm very proud to represent Sweden and I'm very proud as a Prime Minister to represent the first feminist government in the world. In a world where the 80 richest people owns as much as half of the global population, we need to be:

  • dedicated to the hard work to end poverty,
  • driven by the idea of international solidarity, and
  • determined to achieve equality for everybody

And access to sanitation, especially, is crucial for global equality, and for the rights and needs of women and girls. So as a feminist, I make this pledge:

Over the next 15 years, Sweden’s almost 10 million inhabitants will support efforts to improve access to sanitation for 60 million people throughout the world.

Our country's climate may be cold – but our people’s hearts are warm. We may be a small country – but we will do our part for the greater good. The greater cause.Let me also thank you very much, thank you all for not being bystanders; thank you for showing that the spirit of citizenship is global, and thank you once again, thank you for taking this fight for human dignity. Together, we will make a difference. Thank you.”


Since Global Citizen Festival, we met with the Swedish Mission to the UN in December, who reassured us that the Prime Minister meant every word of his commitment, and that ending extreme poverty is an issue that is close to his heart.

We also know that Sweden is still committed to quality sanitation as part of the broader health picture, and as part of their response to the global refugee crisis, although they have capped their ODA budget response to refugees to a maximum of 30% to ensure the majority of funds are directed to the world’s poorest people. In a recent speech, (translated) Isabella Lövin reaffirmed Sweden’s commitment to overseas aid, particularly to ensuring conditions for good health, in the light of the refugee crisis, saying:


“Support for health is one of the most important elements of aid, both in acute emergencies and to create the conditions for long-term development.  Every day Swedish assistance finances heroic efforts to save lives through humanitarian assistance and development aid include vaccinations, safe abortions or operations in harsh environments.  But the same thing can also be said of other key areas of assistance: our support to schools and education, to LGBT activists, to clean water, toilets in refugee camps, to specific initiatives for girls and women, food parcels to refugees.  I am glad that there are many in Sweden who raise their voices for us to take even greater responsibility to make the world better.”


We are in close contact with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expect a formal progress update from them by the end of May 2016, including information on the funding and partnerships required to deliver this commitment. This update will also include information on how this commitment may have been affected by Norway’s response to the refugee crisis.