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New sanitation think tank to bridge gap between policy and practice in Africa

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waste-3Although several sanitation technologies and financing options are available to Africa, credible business models to take advantage of these are non-existent.

Further, even though demand-led approach to sanitation looks very promising, it is plagued by limitations and lack of knowledge in terms of context, scale and sustainability, while too little attention has been given to on-site sanitation, despite the fact that about 80 per cent of Africa’s population relies on this.

These and more, have led to the formation of the first ever Think Tank for Sanitation in Africa, which is an initiative of Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA), a Pan-African Inter-Governmental organisation consisting of 32 governments.

It has the main objectives of stimulating intellectual debates, identifying policy and practice gaps, raising the profile of innovations and best practices in sanitation and triggering policy change.

The Africa Sanitation Think Tank (ASTT) hopes to accomplish all these through a cycle of research, policy review and stakeholder engagements, through partnership with existing think tanks and institutions, for cross learning and technical support in research, policy analyses and advocacy.

Speaking in an exclusive interview at the side of the ongoing Mole XXIV Conference at Fumesua near Kumasi, Director of the ASTT, Mr. Patrick Apoya, intimated that with support from the Melinda Gates Foundation, the think tank, which was launched Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at the conference by Senior Advisor to President John Dramani Mahama, Mr. P. V. Obeng, will begin with an 18-month pilot phase.

During the trial stage, the Think Tank, which for now comprises four countries – Ghana, Cameroon, Benin and Senegal, will draw from existing studies and ongoing research from Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) and results from the studies organised into three main thematic areas.

The areas – sanitation as a business, demand-led sanitation approaches and on-site sanitation, are considered problematic zones through which efforts have been directed lately towards promoting easy, adequate and sustainable access to sanitation for the urban and rural poor.

According to Mr. Patrick Apoya, the ASTT is aimed at galvanizing the energies of African governments “who have recognised that they have made a lot of progress in these areas, but sanitation is one single thing that is a constraining factor in all the 32 countries that are part of Water and Sanitation for Africa.”

He intimated that the need for a think tank for Africa came up during a high level forum in Cannes, France in November 2012 that was attended by the council of ministers of the 32 member countries as well as other stakeholders like international organisations and NGOs.

“So it emerged from that forum, that we need a special power of reflection to re-look at our path of approaches to sanitation and see if there are pieces of success that we can put together to make the progress. Once they mooted the idea, a group was constituted to reflect and develop the concept on how an African sanitation learning and coordination platform will be like,” Patrick Apoya intimated.

Further divulging it was that group that gave the name Africa Sanitation Think Tank, and worked out modalities for its formation, he disclosed that presently the think tank has two core staff members being housed by the WSA Burkina Faso office who are working with four policy managers from the four countries engaged in the pilot with occasional technical support from WSA staff.

The ASTT is also working in close collaboration with the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) towards interfacing and up-scaling of their policy work.

Incidentally, the second phase of the ASTT implementation process will involve scaling up of the lessons and experiences obtained from the pilot phase to benefit the rest of the African continent.

Patrick Apoya believes that “There are successful lessons that are good somewhere, but because of the historical colonial legacy bequeathed to Africa especially that has almost put us in enclaves – Francophone, Anglophone” for instance “anything happening in Togo will always be locked up in Togo – there is no way that can be fused into anything.”

From Edmund Smith-Asante, Fumesua, Ashanti Region

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