UN-sponsored conference seeks ways to ensure safe water in sub-Saharan Africa

With over 300 million people lacking access to safe water in sub-Saharan Africa and 500 million without adequate sanitation, a United Nations-sponsored workshop of water utility managers on the continent calls for increased financing and oversight, including innovative ways to raise funds. UN-HABITAT, which seeks to achieve sustainable development of human settlements, organized the conference at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)...

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 11, 2006 ¿ With over 300 million people lacking access to safe water in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 500 million without adequate sanitation, a United Nations-sponsored workshop of water utility managers across the continent has called for increased financing and oversight, including innovative ways to raise funds.

"By the time we conclude our discussions today, some 1,800 children will probably lose their lives because their water supplies are contaminated, inadequate or non-existent, and they do not have access to basic sanitation facilities," UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka told the three-day workshop that wound up on Friday.

UN-HABITAT, the UN agency that seeks to achieve sustainable development of human settlements, organized the conference at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, together with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

Over 40 senior managers and other delegates from the water sector, including regional and international organizations, acknowledged that the challenge facing Africa was an acute one that needed to be addressed urgently.

According to UN-HABITAT Africa is the world's most rapidly urbanizing continent, with an annual average urban growth rate of 4%. In the water and sanitation sectors, about 72% of urban inhabitants who live in slums and informal settlements, particularly children and women, are the most affected.

In a nine-point declaration adopted at the workshop's conclusion, participants called for increased financing to improve and extend safe and adequate access to water and sanitation to all. For this purpose, all potential sources should be explored and tapped, the declaration said.

"The need to look beyond traditional revenue generation mechanisms (such as tariffs and subsidies) was emphasized, and utilities were encouraged to explore innovative solutions to mobilize local resources. The government at both the local and national level should take a greater effort in financing water and sanitation," it added.

It noted that many countries have utilities that carry out the dual functions of regulatory and operational activities. "This could lead to a conflict of interest, and may give rise to lack of transparency, accountability and poor delivery of services," it warned. "Therefore, separation of these functions was recommended to be a pre-requisite to improve the performance of public utilities in delivering water and sanitation services."

It called on UN-HABITAT to take further necessary steps in collaboration with its partners to help in promoting the exchange of experiences and facilitating contact among utilities at a global level.

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