Invest in water and sanitation, Calle urges
The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the need for Africa to address investment in bulk water supply and urgent needs in the sanitation sector for safety and hygiene protocols.
This is according to agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein, who opened the Africa Water and Sanitation Conference held virtually this week.
He is also the president of the African Ministers' Council on Water.
The minister said the council is convening for a week-long dialogue to focus their efforts on accelerated action to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water and sanitation in Africa.
The conference will respectively focus on water security for public health and human development and accelerating access to safe sanitation and hygiene in Africa, five years into the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said available information from the African Water and Sanitation Sector Monitoring system indicates that 63% of the urban population in Africa still faces challenges accessing water, while about 340 million people in Africa lack access to potable water.
Furthermore, about 550 million people in Africa lack access to basic sanitation and less than 50% of the African population have handwashing facilities with soap at home.
Open defaecation an issue
According to Schlettwein, the prevalence of open defaecation was on the rise in the period 2000 to 2017 and the underdevelopment of water infrastructure accounts for up to 2% of Africa’s lost annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
“This usual state of affairs is unacceptable and calls for concerted efforts to avert a scenario where our failures in service delivery in the water and sanitation sector become the limiting factor to Africa’s development agenda.”
The minister said Africa’s response for investment in secure water generation and distribution infrastructure is contained in the Continental Africa Investment Programme, a flagship project supported by the Africa Water Facility and the Global Water Partnership.
“However, the mobilisation of resources, public, private and developmental, to finance the required investment outlay remains a difficult proposition.
Schlettwein noted that Africa is still challenged to translate the political commitments into action on the ground.
“Twenty-one years of pursuing the Africa Water Vision 2025; eight years since the launch of Agenda 2063 and five years into the implementation of the SDGs, the continent still faces enormous developmental challenges, not least to mention teething challenges in the water and sanitation sectors.
“We believe that integrated water, weather and climate solutions bring direct benefit for people and businesses.”
Schlettwein added that investment in integrated water management systems is therefore crucial at country, regional and continental level, including investment in data and information management systems to support evidence-based resource management and public availability of information.
He said universal access to clean water and sanitation cannot be achieved without addressing the vast infrastructure gap that perpetuates undignified, unhealthy living conditions in many poverty-stricken areas.
The minister called upon Africa’s political leadership and the water and sanitation community to prioritise commensurate investment in water and sanitation.
“Strengthening water security and sustainable sanitation is a prerequisite for inclusive socio-economic development.”