Getting countries off-track to meet MDG-7: WaterAid shows the way

Dr. Afia Zakiya

Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene by governments and donor partners the world over, especially in Africa, still remains a big challenge, the reason why many countries have not only gone off-track but are now derailing.

According to UNICEF, all but six countries are off track in Africa, as far as meeting the sanitation MDG is concerned, while no country in West and Central Africa is on track.

In its overview of the situation in Africa, UNICEF states “Despite the efforts made by some countries, approximately 155 million people in West and Central Africa – that is 39% of the population – are without access to safe drinking water and, current trends indicate that only seven countries will reach the MDG water target.”

“The situation of sanitation is even more worrying as 291 million people do not have access to improved sanitation, of which 101 million [over four times the population of Ghana] have access to no sanitation facilities at all, and, no country is on track to achieve the MDG target for sanitation,” the United Nations agency states further.

Ghana, for her part, is not only off-track, but has the unenviable position of  being the second country from the bottom on the list of countries which have severely gone off-track as far as sanitation coverage and meeting Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 is concerned and according to the Joint Monitoring Platform (JMP) figures, has been marking time at 13% since 2008.

It is to help arrest this situation and salvage what is left of humanity’s dignity, that WaterAid, an international charity organisation, has published and indeed launched a 64-page policy report titled “Off-track, Off-target, why investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is not reaching those who need it most.”

Launched globally Friday, November 18, 2011 to coincide with World Toilet Day, which was commemorated worldwide on Saturday, November 19, 2011, the report recommends actions for national governments, civil society organisations (CSOs), the private sector, donors and international agencies to arrest the dire situation of sanitation, water and hygiene education.

Off-track, Off-target, also reveals that political priorities lead governments to favour other sectors such as education and health and concentrate on communities (mainly rich people) already served, while excluding poor and marginalised communities and groups.

Labeling progress made in the provision of resources to the poor and those mostly in need as uneven and unjust, Dr. Afia Zakiya, Country Representative of WaterAid in Ghana (WAG), in a statement delivered during the report’s launch, said “In most parts of Africa, including Ghana, it is a common sight to find poor rural and urban women and physically challenged persons commuting long distances in search of potable drinking water – including in urban areas in Accra: Nima, Mamobi, Chorkor and Old Fadama.”

“This is mainly due to poor planning, inadequate resource allocation by both central and local governments and poor aid targeting,” she submitted further.

Dr, Zakiya lamented that despite Ghana’s laudable SWA compact in which government committed to allocate US$ 200 million to the water, sanitation and hygiene sector from 2011 to 2015, Ghana did not reach its first target and the sanitation situation remains dire, with serious consequences on health, education and livelihoods.

Recounting the recent cholera outbreak which claimed some lives in the Ghanaian cities of Accra, Cape Coast and Takoradi and stating that it is a manifestation of poor sanitation, she said, “This tragic loss of lives and indeed the daily loss of life and health, especially amongst our children, is something we cannot ignore any longer.”

According to the WaterAid Country Representative, the report, which covers over one year of intensive research in six countries – Ghana, Ethiopia, India, Madagascar, Nepal and Tanzania, is designed to get off-track countries back on track to meet the MDGs, especially MDG 7, particularly because all of those countries with WaterAid programmes are signatories to the Millennium Declaration.

In an overview of the entire report, Mr. Ibrahim Musah, Head of Policy and Partnership, WaterAid in Ghana, said “It shows that there are more people in the world today lacking adequate sanitation services than in 1990. Unless urgent action is taken, nearly all governments in Sub-Saharan Africa will fail to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) pledge they made to halve the proportion of people without sanitation by 2015.”

“It states that to get the sanitation and MDGs back on track, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa need to spend at least 3.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product on sanitation and water,” he added.

Recommendations made to get off-track countries back on track, he intimated, include strengthening sector leadership, establishing equity as a core indicator in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programming, increasing and improving national government spending on WASH, increasing aid and targeting it more effectively among others.

Officially launching the report, Mr. Lenason Naa Demedeme, Director, Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate, said after going through the 64 pager, he found it very interesting, especially its title.

“The fact that we get very minimal funding from government for sanitation and water, where the money doesn’t go to the right group, I think that is why they are saying that even though we are off-track in meeting the MDGs, we are off-target in terms of the benefits from the little funding that we get.”

He said he saw the document as a Christmas present for all WASH sector players and urged all present to take time off to read it and examine the issues raised in the report.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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