The first West and Central Africa Innovative Financing for Water Sanitation & Hygiene conference recently convened in Dakar, Senegal to discuss efforts to increase access to clean water in rural areas.
For three days, 24 governments in the sub-Saharan region had the opportunity to meet with major investment banks, international organizations, businesses and experts.
Their collective goal is to find new methods to raise an estimated $20 to $30 billion annually for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. Success will bring universal access of those services to West and Central Africa, home to nearly half the global population currently living without access to improved drinking water.
The Joint Monitoring Report Update of 2015 estimates 663 million people globally still lack access to improved drinking water sources. 2.4 billion people have no access to improved sanitation facilities, and of that number, 946 million defecate in the open.
According to UNICEF, no country in West and Central Africa has universal access to improved drinking water and access to sanitation even rarer. In countries with the best coverage of the sub-Saharan area, as many as one in four people still lack adequate sanitation.
Within the last 25 years, the population of the sub-Saharan area has nearly doubled. Growing populations are outpacing government efforts to provide essential services. Access to improved sanitation and clean water has not kept pace with these changes. In fact, improved sanitation only increased by 6 percent and water only 20 percent within the same time period.
The number of people in the region who defecate in the open is higher now than it was in 1990.
Without speedy action, UNICEF warns the situation could drastically worsen within the next 20 years.
The UN estimates global economic losses due to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene amount to $260 billion dollars per year. As the sub-region with the worst access, West and Central Africa carries a significant portion of this burden.
Funding for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector is uneven and insufficient, noted UNICEF. No African country has allocated more than 0.5 percent of its gross domestic product to the sector.
Meanwhile, of the $3.8 billion overseas development aid (ODA) allocated for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in 2012, approximately three-quarters went to water and the remaining quarter to sanitation.
Most ODA funding goes to countries that are already doing well, and while rural access to clean water is far behind urban access, both external and domestic funding go primarily to urban systems.
“While we know what needs to be done, we have to figure out a way to do it faster and better,” UNICEF Regional Director for West & Central Africa Manuel Fontaine said. “There are a lot of options on the table; what is not an option is to continue to allow children to pay for our lack of action.”
– Kara Buckley