While seventeen countries comprising a quarter of the world’s population are already subject to extremely high water stress, half of the world’s population will live in areas of water scarcity by 2025. Despite this, the challenges that represents sanitation are, at best, discussed in isolation. In many places on the planet, the subject is even considered taboo.
However, water and sanitation are two subjects that go and must go hand in hand. If water is an essential public good, securing our drainage systems appears to be a necessity for health, dignity and gender equality.
Today, nearly 3.6 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, live without safely managed sanitation facilities and services. When human waste is not properly managed, it escapes into the environment, contaminating soils, food and water. This contamination is a source of disease, and prevents people from working and going to school, to the detriment of the human and economic potential of entire communities. In cities and urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa, only 23% of people living in these areas have access to safely managed sanitation services.
Threat to women and children
Sanitation issues also disproportionately impact women and girls. In some communities, simply finding a safe sanitation facility can be a significant challenge and a threat to women’s safety. Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products leads some young women to stay home during their periods or to drop out of school altogether. In addition, the points of view of women leaders are too rarely taken into account in national and local decision-making bodies, especially in this area.
More than 315,000 annual child deaths from diarrheal diseases are recorded in Africa
The most tragic impact of unsafe sanitation and contaminated water is the loss of human life. More than 315,000 annual infant deaths due to diarrheal diseases are recorded in Africa.
Growing challenges such as rapid urbanization and climate change across the globe mean that, without intervention, this impact will only get worse. According to the United Nations, by 2050 almost 70% of the world’s population will live in dense urban areas, which will put a strain on already inadequate city-level systems and infrastructure. A significant part of this growth will take place in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent’s population is projected to double by 2050, with two-thirds of this increase concentrated in urban areas. Making significant changes to ensure that communities can have resilient services in the face of climate change will become more difficult, even as these changes become more critical. This is yet another reason to start this conversation urgently.
A strong national policy
Water and sanitation ministries, city leaders and utilities must act now, using all the tools at their disposal. A strong national policy is the very basis of safe sanitation for all. Currently, the poorest urban dwellers, who primarily use pit latrines and septic systems, fall outside the mandate of many water and sanitation utilities, national policies and laws. In many cases, determining which national and international agencies have a mandate to serve these populations remains ambiguous. As a result, their needs are neglected. It is important that governments adopt comprehensive national policies.
Today, the guidelines for these policies in Africa, developed last year by the African Ministers Council on Water (Amcow), are poised to transform the state of sanitation for millions of people. For the first time a plan sets out how utilities, governments and private sector partners can work together to deliver services that are both inclusive and sustainable – and, crucially, how to integrate sanitation as a central part of national utilities .
However, political reforms alone will not be enough. They must be combined with new implementation approaches that give cities and public agencies the data systems, funding logics, accountability mechanisms and service models they need to truly achieve sanitation. inclusive, as needed in modern cities.
Senegal is an excellent example in terms of clarifying the policy framework needed to support the improvement of distribution services
On the continent, Senegal is an excellent example in terms of clarifying the political and institutional framework necessary to support the improvement of distribution services. The foundation worked in partnership with the government to implement its national sanitation strategy. Thus, the Faecal sludge market structuring program (PSMBV) for the benefit of disadvantaged households in Dakar has been set up. This transformation is very important — not only because it will serve as a model for other cities in Senegal, but also for other countries in Africa and around the world.
New innovative practices
Innovative city leaders, including in Ethiopia and Nigeria, are beginning to call it ‘inclusive city-wide sanitation’. Far from being a prescriptive formula, this approach encourages city leaders and local utilities to redouble their efforts on solutions that are already working well for communities, ranging from pit latrines and septic tanks to sewage systems, when these solutions are appropriate and practical. This approach also fosters innovation, creating exciting opportunities for new financing and business models, public-private partnerships and technologies that will be the next generation in utility management.
The task is challenging, yet exciting, due to the opportunities to innovate, collaborate and improve countless lives
Adopting new practices often involves the need to challenge industry norms and expectations. A difficult task, but incredibly exciting, due to the opportunities generated to innovate, collaborate and, ultimately, improve countless lives. We must invest in the necessary infrastructure to ensure that all Africans have access to clean, affordable and safe water and sanitation that will help us achieve SDG 6. Safe drinking water and good hygiene are essential for the future of the continent, and people in crisis must be able to benefit from skills services to prevent loss of life and epidemics.
We all have a role to play in bringing vision, solutions and resources to this critical challenge. Together we can create the opportunity for a healthier and more prosperous future in Africa.