African ministers argue for priority on sanitation, hygiene at World Water Week Forum

Ministers responsible for water in Ethiopia, Lesotho and Uganda who are attending World Water Week in Stockholm called yesterday for more priority and resources towards sanitation and hygiene, which are often overlooked in the national poverty reduction strategy plans of developing countries...

Aug 26th, 2005

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Aug. 25, 2005 -- Ministers responsible for water in Ethiopia, Lesotho and Uganda who are attending World Water Week in Stockholm called yesterday for more priority and resources towards sanitation and hygiene, which are often overlooked in the national poverty reduction strategy plans of developing countries.

At a press briefing in the Swedish capital city yesterday, African Water Ministers and the Chair of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Roberto L. Lenton, highlighted the need to allocate budgets for the two elements in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) trinity that many developing country governments tend to neglect, more than water, in their planning and budgeting processes.

The Hon. Maria Mutagamba, Ugandan Minister of State for Water and President of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) said that the recently launched "African Ministers Initiative on WASH (AMIWASH)" is owned by Africans, led by Africans, that could boost efforts by their governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on water and sanitation by 2015." AMIWASH receives the support of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC),the Water and Sanitation Program-Africa and other partners. It builds on the WASH campaign started by the Geneva-based WSSCC and its partners in 2001 to raise issues of water, sanitation and hygiene high on the political agenda. WASH was instrumental in getting the sanitation target included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and has grown to include many national WASH campaigns and is engaging a wide variety of stakeholders in over 30 developing countries.

"In Ethiopia, sanitation was previously ignored," but after the integration of the community-based WASH and health care programmes for communities, the coverage vastly improved," according to the Hon. Shiferaw Jarso, Minister of Water Resources of Ethiopia. "Last year alone, the country's access to water supply and sanitation increased by 8% and 10% respectively, through community interventions and scaling-up the involvement of communities, NGOs and donors," he said.

"What is critical is the issue of coordination: several Ministries have responsibility for health, environment, protection of water sources, agriculture, forestry, land reclamation," according to Lesotho's Minister of Natural Resources, the Hon. Mamphone Khaketla. "It is the same at the international level, where there is a multiplicity of agencies dealing with water, which is sometimes confusing," she said. Saying that "sanitation has a social face," she would rather see how many people are provided with safe water and sanitation; that girls are going to school rather than queuing up for water.

According to WHO and UNICEF, less than 400 people in a typical African village of 1,000 have access to a latrine. On a given day, more than 20 of these villages, of whom three quarters are children under five years old, suffer from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. Diarrhoea resulting from poor sanitation and hygiene is responsible for the death of more than two million children each year. The sanitation situation adversely affects children's education and erodes the productive capabilities of adults. Girls and women are the most affected. Another new initiative, "Women Leaders for WASH," was launched at the 13th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in New York. Serving as a co-convenor, the Hon. Maria Mutagamba of Uganda urged other leaders, to "� be at the forefront of this initiative that includes a group of women Ministers who serve as WASH champions and raise key issues of gender, the role of women in decision-making, capacity building and educating children about sanitation and hygiene." The other co-convenors are the Hon. Hilde F. Johnson, Minister for International Development of Norway, representing the North and the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, representing international organizations.

"People and communities are often less aware of the relationship between sanitation and health than that between clean water and health," according to WSSCC Chair Roberto L. Lenton: "Sanitation tends to fall between the cracks. But although everyone understands that water is life, sanitation is dignity," he said. Lenton will moderate a seminar on Thursday, 25 August, from 9:00 hrs� 12:30 hrs, at the Conference Centre Room A, entitled: "AMIWASH: African Ministers coming together to achieve the MDGs." In addition to the Ministers of Ethiopia, Lesotho and Uganda, the seminar will also include presentations Hon. Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Beth Karanja, Programme Manager for Training of NETWAS, a Kenyan NGO, and Piers Cross, Regional Team Leader for the Water and Sanitation Program-Africa.

For more information on the above-mentioned events, please consult www.wsscc.org or www.worldwaterweek.org.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (www.siwi.org) is a policy institute that contributes to international efforts to find solutions to the world's escalating water crisis. SIWI advocates future-oriented, knowledge-integrated water views in decision making, nationally and internationally, that lead to sustainable use of the world's water resources and sustainable development of societies.

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