Ghana’s former President, John Agyekum Kufuor, will be chairing the second Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High Level Meeting at the World Bank in Washington, DC, USA, scheduled for Friday, April 20, 2012.
Ex-President Kufuor is leading the august meeting, by virtue of the fact that he is the current Chair of the SWA Partnership which is at the forefront of the meeting.
Commenting on Friday’s meeting, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, said “The dream of universal access to sanitation and water is within our reach, but it will require a tremendous increase in political will, adequate resources and coordinated efforts to get us there.”
The biennial meeting, which is geared towards tackling the world’s sanitation and water headaches at the highest governmental level, was first held on April 23, 2010 in Washington DC.
The ministers meeting in Washington DC and the SWA partners are thus hoping that the 2012 meeting will build upon the success of the first High Level Meeting in 2010, which was a catalyst for increasing resources and efforts in water and sanitation at the national and international levels.
Indications are that, since then, nine countries have confirmed they are meeting their commitments of increased budget allocations, while seven donors have met or exceeded the targets they set for funding.
Also, an increasing number of innovative solutions are being developed to overcome institutional barriers and provide aid to the poorest countries.
This year’s meeting is expected to attract not less than 60 government ministers responsible for finance, sanitation and hygiene as well as water portfolios from over 30 developing countries, including Ghana.
The top decision makers will participate with the view of agreeing on urgent action towards ensuring that access to sanitation and safe drinking water becomes a reality for the billions of people who still live without them.
The SWA meeting, convened by Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), comes against the backdrop of an announcement in March by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in a report that the world had met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) overall target for access to safe drinking water in 2010, but that 783 million people were still missing out.
The UN report also said that the target for access to improved sanitation, calling for 75 per cent of the world to be covered, will not be met by 2015, and that at current rates of progress, it will not be until 2026 that 75 per cent of the global population would have access, and even then would leave a quarter of the world without improved sanitation.
According to the SWA Partnership, even though the drinking water MDG target has been met, the remaining 783 million people still without access are the hardest to reach, and are mostly poor people living in rural areas or urban slums.
Access to improved drinking water sources masks huge inequities, with regional disparities, and with coverage within countries varying according to geography, wealth and individual status, with women, children, the disabled and other marginalised persons being particularly affected.
The SWA Partnership says the picture for sanitation is particularly bleak and that of all the targets in the eight MDGs that relate to improved health, sanitation is the most off-track, stressing that at current rates of progress it would take sub-Saharan Africa, for example, another 200 years to achieve the coverage for sanitation aimed at in the MDGs.
Stating that poor sanitation has a significant negative impact on the financial coffers of many developing countries, the group cites a 2011 World Bank study, which shows that India alone loses US$ 53.8 billion annually due to poor sanitation and hygiene.
The economic cost from poor sanitation can be up to seven per cent of GDP in some countries, including costs related to premature deaths as well as losses in industry, tourism and health-related productivity, it adds.
In view of this, the Partnership emphasises that the efforts of the governments, donors and agencies must address both water and sanitation with equal vigour, and should target funds for sanitation and water; so that the poorest countries receive greater support, and their institutional and technical capacities are strengthened.
On the whole, the April 20 SWA meeting is expected to get commitments from individual governments, and the partnership as a whole, to target of funds for water and sanitation to where they are most needed, and ensure that national plans are developed to reach the un-served populations in each country.
By Edmund Smith-Asante