Angola’s people are the driving force behind the country’s development ambitions and are at the center of every step forward for the country. But their potential and the country’s progress are too often hindered by water, sanitation, and hygiene issues that impact children and adults alike.
Access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services is critical to human capital and economic development. Angola's Human Capital Index score of 0.36, which reflects the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to acquire by age 18, is below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting the country’s high rates of childhood malnutrition and mortality. Of Angolan children under five, half are anemic, more than a third are estimated to be stunted, and nearly one-fifth are underweight. Diarrheal diseases are the main cause of mortality, which is closely related to the weaknesses of WASH services. These numbers are stark, and this evidence is helping to drive the government’s efforts to improve the water sector.
We know that increased access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services (WASH) reduces malnutrition, morbidity, and mortality in children. They then grow up to need fewer health services and be able to study, learn, and grow unencumbered, which translates into important economic benefits throughout their lifetimes. Thus, investments in WASH are some of the smartest we can make to reverse the trend in child mortality and truly tackle diarrheal disease, especially in poor and marginalized communities where access to these services is extremely limited.
As with reforms in any sector in any country, institutional frameworks are key to success. The Government of Angola has explicitly recognized the importance of institutional development in the WASH sector and has committed to establishing the necessary policy and legal frameworks. For example, Angola created 16 provincial water and sanitation utilities between 2013 and 2016 with the specific aim of improving urban water supply through independent service providers.
Together with the World Bank, the Government of Angola recently undertook a WASH Sector Diagnostic to identify service delivery problems and understand why they are happening. The analysis looks at inequalities in access to WASH services and their relationship to childhood health in Angola and identifies key institutional constraints and bottlenecks through a comprehensive governance and public expenditure review of the country’s WASH sector.
This new evidence unearthed five critical gaps and potential opportunities that, if addressed, could help Angola not just catch up with its neighbors, but become a leader on this agenda among its peers. First, significant population growth and net urban migration in recent years have slowed Angola’s progress in the WASH sector and increased disparities. Second, poor and malnourished children in Angola with limited access to WASH services and health care are particularly susceptible to WASH-related diarrheal disease and mortality. Third, there’s an opportunity for Angola to both invest significantly more in the WASH sector and spend more wisely. Fourth, progress in Angola’s WASH sector is constrained by top-down governance, weak institutional capacity, and insufficient financial resources needed to build capacity. And finally, Angola’s WASH sector is hindered by a lack of quality data needed to identify and monitor risks, develop effective mitigation strategies, and build resilience.
These are not small tasks, but the work has already begun. On May 11, 2021, the Ministry of Energy and Water launched a reform program for the sector - creating working groups around each of the key areas outlined above. Each group was given a responsible leader and defined tasks, which are to be monitored over the next 100 days. Realizing this vision will require diligent management, oversight, and monitoring throughout the reform process, in addition to close coordination and communication between key government agencies and implementing partners.
Achieving universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services in Angola by 2030 is a bold endeavor that will require a concerted effort on behalf of the government to both expedite the current reform process and ensure increased investment in sanitation and hygiene.