Need for Action on Water and Sanitation Agenda Pressed
29 January When an outbreak of cholera hit East Africa in 1997, thousands
of people died, fisheries collapsed, exports had no markets, and tourists
"A modest investment could have avoided this tragedy," according to
Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human
Tibaijuka was one of several experts speaking at a panel discussion aimed at
making water and sanitation issues a higher priority on the political agenda.
The discussion was held as a side event to the Preparatory Committee meeting
for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
There are about 2.5 billion people living without proper sanitation, and
according to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, about 6,000
people a day die from water-borne diseases that are easily prevented.
More than a third of these deaths, Sir Richard Jolly, Chairman of the WSSCC,
told a press conference, could be prevented by the simple act of washing hands
with soap. "And it doesn't even have to be soap," he said, adding
that ash, or even dirt, would help.
WASH-Water, Sanitation & Hygiene for All-is the new campaign launched by
the WSSCC to promote and achieve goals for better sanitation and clean water.
Jolly said the aim is to establish 2015 as the goal for halving the proportion
of people without access to proper sanitation and to set 2025 as the target for
universal access, similar to the targets for water supply agreed in the UN
With the slogan "Water is life, sanitation is health," Ugandan Water
Minister Maria Lubega said her country has set even tighter targets to bring
freshwater and sanitation to all people. According to Ugandan law, she said,
the government has an obligation to provide water and sanitation for all, and
the country hopes to serve 65 per cent of the people by 2006 and 100 per cent
"Water is totally essential for development," according to Margaret
Catley-Carlson, Chair of the Global Water Partnership. "If we don't get
the management of water right, we won't get the other elements of sustainable
"As Mark Twain said, 'Water moves uphill'-it goes towards power,"
Catley-Carlson added, to make the point that providing water for the poor will
need special attention. If people are stricken by water-borne diseases, she
said, lost time and productivity at work leaves a very visible economic impact.
The lack of proper toilets creates an especially difficult situation for many
poor women, Catley-Carlson noted, and causes great loss of dignity. "The
status and situation of women is different." Where schools lack facilities
for girls, she said, and "where the modesty of girls is not
respected," many parents keep their daughters home.
More resources will be needed, all participants in the discussion agreed.
Although the present target is to halve the proportion of people without clean
drinking water by 2015, Catley-Carlson cautioned that in that same period, the
world's population will grow by 2.5 billion, mostly in areas that are presently
Tibaijuka said that attempts to bring water to everyone do not mean that water
should be a free good. "Taking care of the poor is not the same as free
water." She noted that right now, women spend considerable time fetching
water. "The poor are willing to pay and they do pay. We have to map out
who is getting subsidized."
She recalled that in colonial times, her village in Tanzania had an automatic
water pump that cost one cent for twenty litres. However, after independence
the government, with good intentions, decided to provide the water free of
charge. The result was that the machine broke within two years, because the
small fee had previously gone for maintenance and upkeep.
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006