About thirty leaders of local authorities from across Africa as well as civil society and sanitation and hygiene experts, last week gathered at Cape Town, South Africa on the occasion of the 5th African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene (AfricaSan5). The meeting was convened by Speak Up Africa in partnership with Africa Water Association (AfWA) and the African Minister`s Council on Water (AMCOW) and deliberated upon effective strategies for achieving sustainable and equitable sanitation and hygiene on the continent.
Although access to good sanitation, clean water and hygiene are considered as basic human rights; yet, they remain elusive to millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of Africans who do not have access to basic sanitation are forced to engage in unsanitary activities such as open defecation and irregular approach to solid waste and wastewater disposal.
This is a cause for serious concern because of its associated enormous negative consequences on public health, since open defecation, for example, is the primary cause of faecal oral transmission of diseases such as diarrhea, with children being the most vulnerable. Consequently, sanitation remains one of Africa’s major public health challenges with 47 countries across the continent achieving less than 50 percent coverage for basic sanitation services.
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 4.5 billion people – which represents 60% of the world`s population – lack access to clean toilet or latrine with 892 million people across the world practicing open defecation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 23% of people don’t have access to toilets while 31% use toilets that are unconnected to a safe sanitation system.
The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, has a dedicated goal for clean water and sanitation – Sustainable Development Goal 6 – which is inclusive of targets for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to adequate and equitable sanitary services for all, by 2030.
It was on this premise, and as part of efforts toward improving local sanitation systems and ending open defecation on the continent, that stakeholders in Africa’s water, sanitation and hygiene convened at the 5th African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene (AfricaSan5) – part of the 5th Faecal Sludge Management Conference (FSM5) – in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss the pressing sanitation challenges bedeviling the continent including the role of local authorities in solving sanitation problems.
At the meeting which was hosted by the sustainable development action tank Speak Up Africa, in partnership with the Africa Water Association (AfWA) and the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW); leaders of African local authorities pledged to ensure adequate sanitation and hygiene for all their citizens. Participants at the event included heads of local authorities from across Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Others were representatives of government agencies, private sector companies as well as civil society organizations.
The 5th African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene dubbed “AfricaSan5” was aimed at generating political momentum for sanitation and hygiene as well as providing a Pan-African platform to showcase best practices and support problem solving. AfricaSan5 leveraged the 5th International Fecal Sludge Management Conference (FSM5) to provide a platform for political dialogues between agencies and governments that would shape strategies for action on sanitation crises in Africa.
“Today, one in three people [in Africa] still live without adequate sanitation facilities, a number which rises to 75% in West Africa. AfricaSan5 presents a fantastic platform to engage local authorities around this issue, keeping them accountable to contributing to the development of cities and urban areas with good sanitation systems. By improving sanitation and management services, we will also improve health, economic productivity and equality across the continent,” says Yacine Djibo, founder and executive director of Speak Up Africa while speaking at the AfricaSan5 conference 2019.
AfricaSan5 featured country and multi-sector dialogues, interactive technical sessions, exhibition fairs, and the AMCOW AfricaSan Awards. AfricaSan5’s outcome will provide the necessary impetus towards achieving commitments of the previous AfricaSan conferences – in line with the 2015 Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene – in which African countries and development partners committed to accelerate access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation in Africa by 2030.
While also speaking at the event, His Worship Lord Erias Lukwago, Mayor of Kampala said it was sad the fact that open-air defecation was still a major issue on the continent. “We need to work to build a strong institutional framework for cities and municipalities to tackle sanitation problems,” he said.
In line with the 2015 Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene which was made at the 4th African Sanitation and Hygiene conference tagged “AfricaSan4” and held in Dakar, Senegal, as well as the UN`s Sustainable Development Goals; the local leaders committed to a range of actions aimed at working progressively towards achieving universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation, safe hygiene services and eliminate open-air defecation in Africa, by 2030.
Amongst others, the commitments made by the various leaders of local authorities at the conference were to do with incorporating gender inclusion and equitable sanitation strategies into their respective municipalities’ strategic plans and developing an overall vision that is aligned to all the Sustainable Development Goals at the local level.
It further emphasized the need for a smooth working relationship with sanitation experts at the city level to ensure customer satisfaction for sanitation and hygiene products and services; as well as establishing and maintaining dialogues between mayors and local representatives around urban sanitation challenges.
“For our part, the AfWA cannot but rejoice because from now on it can count on the involvement of these powerful actors – the mayors and local elected representatives – to better ensure their mandate. The problems related to access to water and sanitation services are first and foremost local; the best diagnosis can only be made locally, and appropriate solutions are to take into account local specificities,” said Sylvain Usher, executive director of the African Water Association (AfWA).