Water is life and sanitation is dignity and hygiene. This slogan seems to be a meaningless statement in Africa, where over 640 million people – out of a population of 1.1 billion – do not have access to adequate sanitation.
These shocking revelations were made at the Forum for Water and Sanitation in Africa, which took place recently in the Senegalese capital city Dakar. The forum, hosted by EAA, the agency for water and sanitation in Africa, painted a bleak picture of both sanitation and drinking water access on the continent.
Research shows that many Africans have been using pit toilets for decades, while others defecate in the bushes or rivers surrounding their homes in villages and cities. And the same rivers are also used to draw water for cooking, bathing, washing dishes and clothers, and other chores.
A Dakar woman, Fatou Diop (52), told Moon of the South that she has been using a pit toilet for the past 20 years since she moved to Dakar from her home village 20 years ago. “Even in the village, we didn’t have a proper toilet, we mostly did it in the bush, sometimes in the nearby stream,” she said, laughing. “So, I don’t even know when I’m going to have a proper toilet. I’m hoping my children and grand-children will one day have a nice one;”
“It’s not normal that after 50 years of Africa’s independence, millions of Africans still don’t have access to such basic services,” Dr Abdoulaye Kone, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told the forum.
Kone urged countries to form partnerships, mobilise academics and universities, and adopt innovative solutions in the aim to alleviate the sanitation and water problem.
While some countries in Africa, such as Senegal and South Africa are believed to have made great strides in the sanitation sector, 52% and 76%, respectively according to the World Bank, experts believe it is unlikely they will meet the 2015 MDGs on sanitation with less than three years left.
Senegal minister of water and sanitation Oumar Guèye recently admitted that his country will not meet its MDGs on sanitation, saying it will be difficult to achieve such a feat in such a little time left. Senegal, however, is well-positioned to meet the MDGs on drinking water, according to various studies and senior government officials. Its coverage on water supply stands at 98.7% and 80.1% in urban and rural areas, respectively.
Bearing in mind that Africa was lagging behind in most of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which it is likely to miss, Senegal President Macky Sall attributed the problem to financing and investments, which he said were insufficient compared to the enormity of the needs.
The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) says 18 African countries lose around 5.5 billion USD every year due to poor sanitation, with annual economic losses between 1% and 2.5% of their GDP.
The study, whose findings were released in April 2012, covered Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The study, named Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa, found the majority of these costs to production come from annual premature deaths, including children under the age of five, due to diarrheal disease.
Nearly 90% of these deaths are directly attributable to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene, the report says.
*PIC: SUSTAINABLE SANITATION ALLIANCE, via Flickr. A South African woman displays her make-shift toilet near Durban.