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Africa and the plan to WASH up

By Editorial Board
19 May 2017   |   3:55 am
It is quite encouraging that African leaders have woken up to the realities and some progress has been made in the area of people’s right to safe drinking water as well as sanitation...

PHOTO: GlobalCosmeticsNews

It is quite encouraging that African leaders have woken up to the realities and some progress has been made in the area of people’s right to safe drinking water as well as sanitation and they are changing the growing exposure to the embarrassing situation of poor hygiene on the continent.

In Nigeria, for instance, the 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), states that 61 per cent of households have access to an improved source of drinking water, while 31 per cent have an improved toilet facility that is not shared with other households. This is despite the eThekwini commitments and ‘Ngor Declaration to affirm and reaffirm improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) by millions of people in Africa. In marking the formal launch of the International Year of Sanitation in Africa, ministers signed the eThekwini Declaration during the three-day event, which held in Durban, South Africa in February 2008. Among other undertakings, they pledged to create separate budget lines for sanitation and hygiene in their countries and to commit at least 0.5 per cent of GDP to it. They also agreed on an Action Plan that articulates the critical actions to be further developed, funded and monitored by 2010 in order to put Africa ‘back on track’ to meet the sanitation Millennium Development Goal Number 7 with one of its targets aimed at reducing by half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Similarly, between May 25-27, 2015, the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), the body responsible for sanitation and hygiene in Africa during the fourth African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene convened by the government of Senegal, reaffirmed the human right of access to safe drinking water and sanitation by all.

The little progress made on WASH is a manifestation that the road from eThekwini in South Africa, to Ngor, in Senegal, has been a very rough and bumpy one as far as improving access to WASH by billions of people in Africa is concerned. Poor access to WASH has implications, especially on females and children. Poor water and sanitation services disproportionately affect women and girls. Apart from mortality and morbidity, poor access to WASH also negatively impacts on other aspects of the lives of children as they lead to increased absenteeism from schools, high drop-out rate in schools, especially among girls and the non-attainment of high level of developmental potentials. They also retard the physical, cognitive and psycho-social development of young children. Furthermore, doing house work and treating WASH-related illnesses consumes a significant share of poor family resources.

In this regard, ministers and senior officials gathered again for the World Water Day celebration and launch of the UN Water Development Report 2017 at Durban the other day. They emerged with a five-point action plan upon which hopes of sustainable use and management of water resources could be built. The ministers agreed to increase budgetary allocation to match the central role of water security and sanitation in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) otherwise known as 2030 Agenda. The document adopted contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets aimed at eradicating poverty and shifting the world onto a sustainable and resilient development pathway while ensuring that ‘no one is left behind.’ It was built on the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The adoption of the SDGs by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), underscores the desire of humanity to promote a liveable world where equity, justice, peace and progress reign supreme and poverty is eradicated. Specifically, SDG N0 6 is focused on access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and an end to open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

Lofty as the goals may be, the problem is how to achieve them. Even if Nigeria commits at least 0.5 per cent of GDP to WASH, throwing money at an issue does not equate solution. The money must be released on time and must be effectively and efficiently used. Also, beyond attending international meetings and signing international documents, relevant MDAs should collaborate and rise up to the occasion in a well-coordinated manner. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) as the lead ministry in the sector should ensure sector policy development, coordination, monitoring and evaluation. While the National Water Resources Institute (NWRI), a parastatal under the FMWR, should train relevant personnel, research and manage information on WASH the Ministry of the Environment with sector-related mandates, especially in the areas of environmental sanitation and water pollution should live up to its billings. Also, the Ministry of Health should formulate and regulate standards of drinking water quality, as well as policy development, control and prevention programmes for water- and sanitation-related diseases through its Public Health Department. Other ministries, agencies and parastatals with some involvement in the sectors such as Education, Women’s Affairs, Youth Development, Special Duties, Information, and National Planning Commission should work together to meet the target in 2030 relevant state and local government apparatuses should.

The private sector’s supportive role is also critical in WASH service delivery. Civil society organisation (CSOs) should advocate sector reform processes such as decentralisation and devolution, promotion of accountability and good practices while playing active roles in community mobilisation and sensitisation.

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