Alternative World Water Forum

At current rates, it will take sub-Saharan Africa 15 years to reach its water goals and 150 years to reach its sanitation targets. A group of experts explain what needs to change.

On March 22, groups across the globe marked World Water Day, an occasion for highlighting the importance of water and sanitation as well as the many shortfalls in its provision.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are well understood to be critical to eradicating poverty, improving health, nutrition, education and gender equality, and enabling economic growth. Some 2,000 children die every day from diseases linked to water and sanitation; it is estimated that women in the Global South spend a cumulative 200 million hours a day collecting water, walking an average of 6 km a day, and carrying weights of up to 20 kg; lack of safe water and sanitation is estimated to cost sub-Saharan African around 5% of its annual GDP; and women are at far greater risk of sexual assault when searching for places to defecate at night time.

Water and sanitation targets are both captured within the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with target 7c aiming to “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” Debate remains around how access figures are calculated, but the UN estimates that while 783 million people still live without access to clean water, at a global level the water target has been met five years ahead of schedule.

By contrast, however, sanitation is the most off-target of all the MDGs, so much so that UN Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, refers to the sanitation shortfall as a “scandal.” Currently, 40% of the world’s population – 2.5 billion people − lacks access to a toilet. In fact, more people around the world have mobile phones than access to toilets.

In terms of both water and sanitation, Africa is far behind other areas of the world: across the continent, 327 million people lack access to safe drinking water while 565 million lack access to sanitation – 210 million more than in 1990. It is estimated that at current rates of progress, it will take until at least 2030 for sub-Saharan Africa to meet the MDG water target, and more than 150 years to reach the sanitation target.

Think Africa Press asked a selection of experts on water and sanitation to evaluate why the situation in African countries is such, and what can be done to change it – whether in a national or pan-African context.

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