ASPG: For an all-inclusive WASH policymaking framework in Africa

The African Ministers` Council on Water (AMCOW), last week, hosted water and sanitation experts from across the Nigerian federation to a one-day country consultation meeting on the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG); as part of the process of developing an inclusive sanitation policy framework for the continent.


WASH stakeholders from across Nigeria at the one-day country consultation meeting on the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG) in Abuja, Nigeria   


Water, they say, is ‘life’ while sanitation is ‘dignity’. This reflects the centrality of access to clean drinking water, alongside safely managed sanitation, in the lives of every human being. Yet, these basic necessities of life – which have long been identified by the UN as part of fundamental human rights – continue to remain elusive to billions of people around the world. Around 2.5 billion people across developing countries do not have access to basic sanitation, says the UN; with 7 in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa having no access to improved sanitation facilities such as toilets.

Consequently, 1.1 billion people (15 per cent of the global population) practice open defecation – an act which contaminates drinking water, resulting in severe health consequences including water-borne illnesses such as diarrhea which continues to kill millions of under-five children in Africa. In Nigeria, Africa`s most populous nation, 1 in 4 persons – around 50 million people – defecate in open spaces while 2 in 3 Nigerians do not have access to decent sanitation; rely on unsanitary or shared latrines.

The lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services adversely affects the health of thousands of Nigerians – poor sanitation contributes to diarrheal diseases and malnutrition through fecal contamination of food and water. Research shows that one gram of feces could contain as many as one hundred parasite eggs, 1 million bacteria, and 10 million viruses. Consequently, diarrheal diseases kill close to 122, 000 Nigerians, including 87, 000 under-five children, every year.

In recognition of its criticality in fostering sustainable development, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs), 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.

Moreover, on the occasion of the AfricaSan4 Conference for Sanitation and Hygiene held at Dakar, Senegal, in May 2015, African ministers and heads of delegations responsible for sanitation and hygiene had made a succinct and impactful ministerial declaration for water and sanitation in Africa, dubbed: ‘The Ngor Declaration.’ In the Declaration, African nations committed to achieving universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services as well as eliminating open defecation by 2030. However, many African countries are yet to develop and implement effective sanitation policies that are inclusive of global commitments such as the SDGs and institutional responsibilities, service levels, financing and cost recovery, as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

It was on this premise, and as part of efforts to develop the new Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG) – as a continental guiding framework on sanitation and hygiene service delivery policymaking – that stakeholders in Nigeria`s WASH sector convened in Abuja, last week Tuesday, where they deliberated on the ASPG. ASPG will provide African countries with guidance for updating and developing inclusive sanitation policies, and legal frameworks necessary for the formulation and implementation of sanitation and hygiene policies.

The one-day meeting which was hosted by AMCOW, had as participants, representatives of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR); heads of state-level water and sanitation agencies, UNICEF Nigeria, USAID Nigeria, private sector, as well as WASH focused civil society and non-governmental organisations such as the ‘Clean Nigeria Use the Toilet Campaign,’ and WaterAid Nigeria. The ASPG initiative and its development process is being led by AMCOW in partnership with WHO, the Center for Water Security and Cooperation (CWSC), and Speak Up Africa, with the technical and financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

While addressing the meeting, Dr Carnisius Kanangire, executive secretary of AMCOW, said they were seeking to develop a guideline that will provide policy direction to all African countries towards achieving the goals of Africa Water Vision 2025, UN’s Agenda 2030 and its twin sister, AU’s Agenda 2063. AMCOW is an inter-governmental, non-budgetary institution working under the AU’s Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment; it provides political oversight on water resources and sanitation in Africa.

“When you look at the sanitation landscape in Africa, you will observe that most countries are still working on policies which are guided by the objectives and targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ended in 2015; targeted at halving the number of people lacking basic sanitation. Now, the world is racing towards achieving the ambitious the SDGs, to leave no one behind,” says Kanangire. “So, the policies that we are promoting should be aligned to the new era – the era of the SDGs. Hence, we need to know what is lacking in our existing policies and understand how to correct them. The ASPG will specify all the core elements that an ideal policy on sanitation should have for our countries to achieve the SDG 6 targets by 2030.”

While assessing sanitation policies in Africa, Kich Bawa; the sanitation program manager at AMCOW noted that a rapid analysis of sanitation policies obtained from 26 African countries showed that 69% of the policies were still focused on the MDGs, as well as lacking clarity on financing and cost recovery, with only 58% of the sanitation policies having legal institutional frameworks.

“There are no existing guidelines for an ideal sanitation policy and no guidelines on the process of developing an inclusive sanitation policy. The ASPG will lay down the process for developing inclusive sanitation policy; it is being designed to strengthen the enabling environment for sanitation in Africa,” explained Bawa. “It will trigger and guide the necessary reforms needed to accelerate progress towards achieving SDG 6 and AfricaSan4 ‘Ngor’ commitment, as well as outline the approaches to be adopted by countries in order to achieve safely managed sanitation.”

The newly drafted ASPG outlines the process and principles for developing inclusive national sanitation policies; it highlights the importance of clear and effective sanitation policies as well as the roles they play in creating an enabling environment on which sanitation can be planned and implemented on a large scale. The core elements of the ASPG include sanitation services, hygiene (handwashing and menstrual hygiene management), institutional arrangements and capacity building. Other elements are financing, regulation, monitoring, reporting, and evaluation.

Dr Boluwaji Onabolu, a WASH specialist who participated at the APSG meeting described Nigeria’s existing sanitation policies as ‘quite odd’ and excluding of the targets and objectives of SDG 6. Consequently, she said, there was a huge gap between policy and practice in the sanitation sector. ASPG, Onabolu noted, was a vital initiative that would provide African countries including Nigeria, with guidelines to do with basic minimum requirements for sanitation policies as well as reconfiguring existing policies towards ending open defecation and achieving SDG 6.

“However, it is important that the issues of gender, vulnerable persons, and job opportunities are explicitly stated in the ASPG. To ensure these guidelines are fully implemented by African nations, the ASPG should also highlight incentives for governments. For instance, the national economic development plan in Nigeria is focused on poverty reduction and job creation. So, ASPG should be inclusive of a section about the economic benefits of sanitation and existing job opportunities in the sector. This will encourage policymakers and politicians to key into the ASPG. There is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs for youths in the sanitation sector, through circular economy, which could motivate governments to implement the final content of the ASPG,” said Dr Onabolu.

Dr. Joachim Ezeji, WASH manager at USAID Nigeria, believes the ASPG country stakeholders consultation was timely; considering the fact that the Nigerian government had in 2018 declared a state of emergency in the country`s WASH sector, as well as launching a National Action Plan on WASH, which he said, demonstrates a renewed political commitment by the government to end open defecation and improve sanitation in the country.

“There has been so much disorderliness within the sanitation sphere [in Nigeria]. Some people have programmed sanitation based on a very weak knowledge but now with the ASPG the whole sanitation landscape will have a [guiding] template; hence, every country will adapt its sanitation policy based on the ASPG and we can have common indicators for monitoring results and progress made towards achieving safely managed sanitation on the continent,” said Ezeji.

Sanitation remains a major public health challenge in sub-Saharan Africa with huge consequences on socioeconomic development. Yet, majority of African countries still lack well defined and inclusive sanitation policies that integrate regional and global commitments, such as Agenda 2030. All-inclusive and effective policy and legal frameworks such as the ASPG are desired in tackling these multiple challenges and improving access to safely managed sanitation. If leveraged, ASPG could help African countries revitalize their WASH policy formulation and implementation, necessary for achieving the goals of Africa Water Vision 2025 and Agenda 2030.


Abdullahi Tsanni is a 2020 fellow of the Communications, Advocacy, and Policy Opportunities and Outreach for Poop (CAPOOP) Sanitation Media Fellowship; focused on building the capacities of African journalists to increase reporting on water and sanitation issues on the continent.