In 2007, when I started to work on rural sanitation in Tanzania, I was intrigued to see the plethora of reports highlighting the ‘sanitation crisis’ in Africa. Of all the Millennium Development Goals, Africa was performing worst in meeting the sanitation target. This message was repeated during the International Year of Sanitation and through the eThekwini Declaration and Commitments in 2008, at AfricaSan3 in 2011, and in the WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme report on progress toward MDGs released last month. But progress is slow. It’s time for us to engage with other groups and sectors that are affected by inadequate sanitation – health, education, environment, and finance.It’s not that we don’t know the problems--we’ve identified them through rigorous studies, country diagnostics, and client requests. Our mantra is Capacity Building, Policy, Strategy, Monitoring and Evaluation, Institutional Arrangements, Financing…yet we remain off-track. And worse, we’re slipping back as Africa’s population increases.
Sanitation is intrinsically linked to poverty reduction. It doesn’t take great analytical skills to work out that lack of sanitation affects the poor by an order of magnitude so great that it’s shameful. As Ban Ki-moon noted “Access to sanitation is deeply connected to virtually all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those involving the environment, education, gender equality, the reduction of child mortality and poverty.” African countries lose more money per annum from the economic impacts of poor sanitation (see latest research) then it would cost to eliminate open defecation. Nigeria alone loses US$1 billion per year to the impacts from open defecation – yet eliminating the practice would require less than 6.5 million latrines to be built and used!
Those of us who work in sanitation and have somewhere private, clean, and safe to defecate should feel the shame of open defecation. We look to you, our partners and potential partners from other sectors, to innovate with us and move towards a more rapid scaling up of access to basic sanitation on this continent.
Image: Improved sanitation in rural Mozambique (c) Luis Macario