04 April 2019
By Yaye Sophietou Diop, Senior Program Officer – Speak Up Africa
In 2010 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising that access to adequate water and sanitation is a fundamental human right. Despite this, 2.5 billion people worldwide still live without these fundamental privileges, perpetuating severe global health problems as well as economic inequality. This must change.
In order to influence this change, today ministerial participants representing over 60 countries worldwide are gathering in Costa Rica at this year’s Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Sector Minister’s Meeting (SMM) to support the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. With the same theme as this year’s World Water Day – ‘Leave No One Behind’ – this year’s SMM has a single objective: to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges that we face in achieving our ambitions.
This meeting offers an opportunity for ministers to learn from experts in the WASH sector and join forces to make a commitment to improve sanitation systems. If these ministers adopt new financial mechanisms and support integrated water management systems in tandem, their collective actions will ensure citizens across the world have access to suitable sanitation systems. We therefore urge all ministers and leaders to join this movement and uphold their commitments to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation for all.
Today, the tragic reality is that 1 in 3 people still live without adequate sanitation facilities in Africa, with this number rising to 75% of the population in West Africa. Without a doubt, this puts a considerable burden on health and economic development across the continent. In fact, it is found that the sanitation crisis causes heavy economic and social losses, equivalent to at least 4.3 percent of Africa’s annual GDP. If only we suitably invested in sanitation, we would get an economic return of at least three times the investment.
Whilst Ministers make their commitments today, we must also not forget the commitments made at the Fifth African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene this February. Held in Cape Town, the FSM5 Conference saw local authorities from across Africa gather to reaffirm their commitment to the NGOR Vision of achieving universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services. Seeing these groups come together was inspiring, as collaborative commitments from governments, local authorities and civil society organisations are crucial if we hope to achieve any progress.
However, if we hope to reserve the tide of inequality in sanitation, bolder action from civil society is also needed. There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, let’s go together,” and this rings true today. When civil society organisations take actions into their own hands, and share learnings and knowledge, truly great things can be achieved. So, come on! Let’s work together and leave no one behind.