Women worst hit by water shortage

One of the emotionally charged moments of the summit that took place from 16th to 22nd March was the presentation by the children from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Togo, who offered a message to the world in which they recounted how they either die or are forced out of school due to lack of basic human needs such as sanitation and safe-drinking water. “Are you ready to listen to our message and respond to our cry? Many girls are forced to leave school due to lack of access to sanitation services; more children are now dying from lack of access to sanitation services; schools lack water and sanitation . . . Are you ready to work with us?” lamented the children in their message to the Forum. At the same annual Forum which was being held for the fourth time, it emerged that at least seven out every ten people lacking safe water in Africa are women. “Seven out of every ten people lacking water and opportunities are women, especially true in Africa,” said Anna Tibaijuka executive director for UN-Habitat (a United Nations Human Settlement Programme). She said the current water and sanitation crisis is increasingly perceived as a governance crisis and not one of water shortage. “This urgently calls for a partnership among all those committed to development,” said Tibaijuka. Tibaijuka announced during a keynote speech that subsidies and loans in the amount of US$579 million were agreed on last Sunday within the framework of the 4th World Water Forum, through a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Development Bank. During the conference, Tibaijuka announced that the bank approved US$217 million in subsidies and over $362 million in loans for investment in water and sanitation for the coming five years. “The purpose is to bring benefits to the poorest of the poor in African cities and communities over the coming five years,” she said. She regretted that at this time the sub-Saharan Africa region is “dangerously far” from attaining the Millennium Development Goals. She reported that 70% of the poorest people in the world are women -the last stumbling block to counter dire poverty, especially in Africa. According to the UN, one million people live in squalor, lacking privacy, security, sanitation and dignity. Tibaijuka estimated that by the year 2030, 75% of the world population will be living in cities, a factor which many of those responsible for policy making, particularly in areas of development are yet to put into account. She charged that frequently official statistics “conceal the real problems of the poor”. As an example of this, she mentioned that in Kenya official statistics indicate that 96% of urban residents are registered as having access to “improved sanitation”, when upon double-checking the information the outcome “might be very different”. To illustrate the gravity of dire poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, she recommended that the 4th World Water Forum participants visit Kibera, in Nairobi, an area said to be the largest marginalised settlement in Africa, where some 750 thousand people “are condemned to live on 420 hectares”. She mentioned that an African mother is determined not to “give her daughter in marriage” to a man who lacks a private toilet. According to a recent UN-Habitat assessment, in many marginalised neighbourhoods 150 or more inhabitants queue up daily to use a public toilet. Additionally, an inhabitant of a marginalised neighbourhood in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam depends on private water vendors to whom they pay up to seven times more for every litre of water than does the average citizen of North America. She urged decision makers to urgently address the sanitation problems facing women and children in Africa.

April 2006
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