Region in sanitation, water doldrums


Gaborone – A report released recently by international NGO, Water Aid, states that the majority of southern Africans are living in an “unrelenting struggle against sanitation and water poverty”.  Falling short of accusing governments in the region of failing to prioritise the plight of ordinary people in the rural areas, the report states that regional leaders have fallen behind on their promises to boost public spending on basic services, with the poorest and most vulnerable people hardest hit.

The report is in sharp contrast to southern Africa's economic prospects, with the region's lagging progress on clean water and sanitation targets.

The report, which is based on case studies from Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zambia, says increased revenue from natural resources should make it easier to fund basic services. But governments do not always benefit enough from their natural resources and there is little transparency over how that money is spent, it says.

Water Aid says governments and aid donors should prioritise how they spend their money on water and sanitation and commit to ambitious new goals for 2030. Senior policy analyst at Water Aid, John Garrett, observed that there is a lot of economic growth in the region, but this is bypassing much of the population. Garrett said sanitation and hygiene have been particularly neglected, with some governments casting these as private issues best left for households and families to address.

Where money is available, it often appears to be directed primarily to urban centres at the expense of rural areas.

Water Aid says progress in increasing access to services in southern Africa has been “stubbornly slow” since 1990. In some cases, levels of access are “stalling or even falling”. A major increase in resources is needed, particularly in rural areas, it says.

The report indicates that in 2008, African governments signed the eThekwini Declaration committing to spend at least 0.5 percent of their GDP on sanitation and hygiene, and to put in place separate budget lines to improve accountability and help track progress.

But Water Aid says no government in southern Africa has met the spending target, further questioning how donors allocate their aid to water and sanitation.

It states that the Seychelles, for example, which has near universal access to water and sanitation, received 50 times as much aid per person as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is off-track for both targets and has almost 47 million people without basic sanitation.

The report says as part of the agreement for what succeeds the millennium development goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015, countries should sign up to achieving universal access to basic drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene by 2030.

It also calls for a “major drive on affordable housing” across southern Africa and for governments to adopt comprehensive housing plans.

March 2014
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