By Muyatwa Sitali, Advocacy Coordinator Essential Services, West Africa
As I write this blog, news coming from the second High Level Meeting on Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is that most African leaders are united in their resolve to deal with the scandal of bad sanitation –hopefully once and for all. Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is said to have just re-echoed that ‘Water is life and sanitation is dignity’. Other developed country representatives such as the US have just firmly announced that they are joining this great initiative and are encouraging others to do so asap. This can’t be more exciting and timely given the challenge facing the world discussed here. Well over 2.5 billion people have no proper place to call a toilet and the MDG on sanitation is only likely to be met in the next decade –possibly one of the few to be met well over the deadline. Even though the water target is on track, still over 600million people are not likely to have safe and clean water in 2015. The inequality haunting the sector is astounding but so has been the inertia and failure by both developing and developed countries to invest in the most critical areas. This initiative and commitments currently happening at the SWA High level meeting are therefore significant for at least three reasons.
Firstly, the commitment from countries that are off track (by their own country and international standards) are critical to ensure political will and commitment is marshalled and channelled in the right direction. A recent UN GLAAS report indicates that 83% and 70% of countries are reportedly falling significantly behind the trends required to meet their defined national access targets for sanitation and drinking-water, respectively. This national push and commitment therefore coming from leaders such as the Liberian President is much more than a political stance, it is a key ingredient in solving a national problem. In an earlier paper, challenges facing Liberia’s water sector including institutional overlaps, poor financing, inadequate human resources etc where highlighted and seeing this move by the government to heighten action to deal with sanitation and water is key. This is not only happening in Liberia but other West African countries too. While in Sierra Leone last week, I had a chance to meet with some of the Ministers that I believe are now at the SWA meeting and was glad to see them jointly thinking of how they will ensure that water and sanitation is a reality for all. Firm commitments where being made on both institutional reforms and financial support to ensure key infrastructure and services are delivered.
Secondly, it will be important that both domestic and external resources are channelled to the right sector and to the countries that need it most. The UN GLAAS report highlights that in a number of countries, funding for water services surpasses sanitation funding–this goes a long way to explain the haunting inequality between water and sanitation coverage. Both developing and developed countries should therefore redefine their priorities and ensure that while they maintain focus on upholding the success of the water target, resources to sanitation should receive a significant boost.
Thirdly, such a global process as the SWA will need to ensure that country and local level success is assured. The meeting should do more than just bringing key decision makers together. It should guarantee more and better services for the 2.5 billion that will wake up tomorrow still without a toilet and for the over 700million that risk their lives every day by drinking dirty water.
The momentum now brought by the SWA should end up with clean and safe water in people’s homes and clean and safe toilets for all. Even the Statue of Liberty agrees!