By Julia Day

An opportunity to break out of conventional thinking and forge new alliances has enticed more than 40 water and sanitation development experts gather in Brighton today for the STEPS Centre’s Water Symposium.

As part of our on-going research in the water and sanitation, Lyla Mehta and Synne Movik have convened this meeting to bring together people with different perspectives in a bid to bridge the divides that are evident in many of the global forums.

During the recent World Water Forum in Istanbul, water and sanitation debates continue to be framed in rather technocratic terms, disconnected from the everyday needs of poor and marginalised women and men. Discussions often tend to be polarised and charged, e.g. revolving around whether water should be considered as an economic good or a human right, whether to adopt private versus public service provision, etc.

How can we break free of such conventional framings and polarisations, and start thinking more creatively around issues of access, complexity, uncertainty and governance in water and sanitation, bearing in mind health and agriculture linkages?

We believe there is a need for more interdisciplinary engagement on current hot topics such as water/sanitation and climate change and the water and sanitation ‘crisis’. We also need to encourage ‘blue sky’ thinking in terms of research, analysis and action as well as to explore avenues for future research areas and collaborative efforts.

By critically examining uncertain dynamics, governance and learning/appraisal challenges in key policy areas such as climate change, urbanisation and water and sanitation governance, we hope to collectively start to address how alternative pathways can be found that meet the needs of the marginalised in a sustainable and just way.