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WATER-AFRICA: Civil Society Demands Action, Not Words

MIDRAND, South Africa, Nov 12 2009 (IPS) - “No more commitments… We have had enough of the promises. Can we please see something happening on the ground? Right now, it is business as usual and that’s why Africa is off-track on the MDG target.”

Jamillah Mwanjisi, executive secretary for the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation attending the Second Africa Water Week in Midrand, South Africa, is not happy with what’s happening in the water and sanitation sector.

“In certain countries, one in eight people have access to safe sanitation. In terms of water supply, (it is) mostly rich people in urban areas who have access, while the rural community still has to walk four to eight kilometres to get water…”

Governments have repeatedly committed to increase support for water and sanitation (most recently in July 2008, at the African Union Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt) but civil society says implementation has failed due to a lack of funds and political will.

“Donor aid is not sufficient for Africa and this goes mostly to middle-income countries (in Asia or Latin America) where maybe the (water and sanitation) gap is not as huge as it is in Africa,” says Mwanjisi.

Podcasting Africa Water Week

Click on the links below to listen to audio reports from the week-long summit on water issues.

Africa Water Week begins in Midrand, South Africa

Studying effects of climate change on rivers

Women and water resources

Calls for less talk, more action

Until recently, she adds, sanitation was not on the political agenda.

Fatima Zohra Zerouati, chairperson of the National Federation for Environment Protection (Algeria) agreed. “Africa is very, very late (in terms of achieving goals on water and sanitation)…  and we need action now,” she told IPS.

She emphasised that leaders should understand that water and sanitation are more important than the army, which received far more resources in almost every country.

So what can be done?

Ada-Oko Williams, the Regional Learning Centre Co-ordinator for Water Aid, an international NGO, says the way forward is prioritisation of water and sanitation issues, the designation of responsible agencies and drawing up clear national plans for sanitation using the millennium development goal targets as benchmarks.

Water Aid has developed a partnership programme with local government in several states in Nigeria which Williams believes can serve as a model elsewhere.

Williams concedes that some governments are putting money into the water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, but they are doing so in a very unsustainable manner.

A typical scenario, she says, is for a government official to walk into a village, put a borehole in the ground and go away without any participation from the community.   “We observe that local government now understands why they should talk to the people and why the voice of the beneficiary is important. It also understands that the community can play a critical role, particularly in terms of operations and maintenance of the facilities provided,” Williams told IPS.

Switzerland-based NGO International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IHRA), is also working on sustainable solutions to water and sanitation problems in West Africa. One project, at a school in the village of Luwasa in the southern Nigerian state of Lagos, replaced four poorly-maintained pit latrines with new toilets and a rainwater harvesting system.

The schools nearly 2,000 pupils had stopped using the overflowing pit latrines, instead defecating in the bushes near the school compound. The school had a borehole, but it had dried up. The lack of water and private toilet facilities at the school had been linked to absenteeism among girls in particular.

IHRA set up a system to trap and store rainwater, and built a new toilet block in collaboration with a local NGO. The programme actively involved students, parents and teachers who will maintain the new facilities; alongside the refurbished toilets, school garden and tree-planting projects were set up.

Rose Kaggwa, manager of external services for the National Water and Sewerage Corporation of Uganda, said that to move from talk to action, it is important to bring partners together to focus in one direction; otherwise, there would be too many people doing too many things in different directions.

Members of the Civil Society met at the Africa Water Week and identified some immediate calls for action.

Civil society appealed to governments and donors to meet existing commitments for financing water and sanitation, in particular allocating half a percent of national GDP for sanitation, increasing the political profile of sanitation, building climate resilience by investing in infrastructure to mitigate against floods, droughts and other threats; and involving citizens in the monitoring and management of rivers and lake basins.

 
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