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Africa's river run to 2030: making universal access to water and sanitation a reality

Posted 21 Jul 2016 by Apollos Nwafor

This week, governments at Africa Water Week are expected to agree a roadmap to ensure the continent achieves Global Goal 6 on water and sanitation by 2030. Apollos Nwafor, WaterAid’s Regional Advocacy Manager for West Africa, looks at why it is important that these ambitious targets are first met in Africa, and how the roadmap must be shaped to make this a reality.

We are ten months into the new, ambitious Global Goals on Sustainable Development, as agreed by member states of the United Nations – political commitments that every member state will be held accountable for by their citizens and by the UN itself.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, their aspirational predecessors, these new Goals are an ambitious and unprecedented push to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and address the need for political and economic development that leaves no one behind, allowing everyone everywhere to access essential services including water, sanitation, health and education.

It also addresses the challenges of protecting the future and managing the world’s resources in a sustainable manner.

If these ambitious new Goals are going to succeed, then they must first succeed in Africa, where the challenges are greatest.

Africa's water and sanitation challenge

Goal 6 of the Global Goals – to achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2030 – presents a particular challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Of the 1.2 billion people in Africa, 695 million, which is more than half the population, are without basic sanitation and 395 million are without clean water. This is even more horrifying given that Africa’s population is growing by 30 million every year – by 2030, Africa’s population will be 2.2 billion.

The number of people practising open defecation has actually increased in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the region now accounts for a greater share of the global total than in 1990. At current rates of progress, only 32% of Sub-Saharan Africans will have access to sanitation by 2030. Furthermore, six out of ten schools lack basic water and sanitation facilities putting our children – Africa’s future – at risk and 42% of health facilities do not have access to an improved water source. The consequences are better imagined than experienced.

10-year-old Mukatora collects water for her family in Nzangwa, Rwanda.10-year-old Mukatora collects water for her family in Nzangwa, Rwanda.

Today our women and girls walk an average of 6 kilometres to find clean water for their families, journeys which put them at risk of injury or violence. This also takes away from their time for caring for family or generating income, entrenches them in poverty and widens the inequality gap. What a world for our women and girls!

This is why we must get it right in Africa.

Africa's hope in achieving universal access to water and sanitation

The 6th Africa Water Week (AWW6) will be convened from 18-22 July 2016 under the auspices of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) in conjunction with the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission and supported by WaterAid and other partners. The conference will be hosted by the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania, represented by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

AWW6, the first under the new Global Goals era, has as its theme ‘Achieving the SDGs on water security and sanitation’. This is driven by the recognition of the importance of achieving Global Goal 6 in Africa, as well as other interlinking goals connected with water resources management and improved delivery of sanitation services.

Africa Water Week will reflect the continent’s quest to emphasise the matching of commitments and plans with concrete actions that have impact on the ground. It will highlight Africa’s undaunted focus to achieving the Agenda 2063, the continent’s global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the overall benefit of all. Governments are expected to agree on a roadmap for Africa towards 2030. WaterAid’s engagement will focus on three key issues.

First, the roadmap must address the underlying causes of inequality in access to water and sanitation to ensure economic benefits for the poorest and most marginalised. It is estimated that every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates $4 in increased economic opportunity. In Africa alone, universal access to water and sanitation would bring an estimated annual economic benefit of $22 billion, and African women would particularly benefit from such increased access. It must ensure that citizens’ voices are heard and shape decisions as well as close the gap between the rich and poor. The plan must also ensure that women and girls are empowered to participate in economic activities as well as guarantee that our children stay in school and graduate. Investments must be inclusive, targeted and accounted for.

Women walk home from collecting water in Aperochoit village, Uganda. Women and children walk home from collecting water in Aperochoit, Uganda.

Second, it must address the challenge of sustainability. While there was minimal progress under the Millennium Development Goals, much of it was negated by services which were not sustainable, which only heightened the water insecurity in Africa. The plan must have concrete measures to strengthen institutions, remove bureaucratic bottlenecks especially at the local level, and promote home-grown appropriate technologies and models that work as well as improve management and coordination mechanisms at national and sub-national level.

Third, the roadmap should be integrated. The SDGs are 17 in number but a failure in one is a failure in most if not all of them. An integrated approach will ensure water and sanitation also improve the outcomes for health, education, child protection, women’s empowerment, climate change and economic development.

Following the signing of the new Global Goals, global organisations like the World Bank and IMF as well as regional political blocs like the African Union, European Union and others have been working on an integrated approach to achieving them that leaves no one behind. Member states will be held accountable under the auspices of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). This year six African countries (Sierra Leone, Egypt, Madagascar, Togo, Morocco and Uganda) have agreed to participate in voluntary national reviews under this Forum.

While there are criticisms about the Forum for being less than an obligation for member states, it is a shift that indicates that it is not going to be business as usual.

The journey to 2030 has begun, and we know the road will not be easy. But we owe it to Africa’s future to fulfil these promises and end the extreme poverty, which has been the daily reality for too many for too long.

Apollos Nwafor is WaterAid’s Regional Advocacy Manager for West Africa and is leading WaterAid’s engagement at the Africa Water Week. He can be reached at apollosnwafor@wateraid.org

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