Children in Mwanza at one of the water taps
Children in Mwanza at one of the water taps
This is Africa Water Week. Government and development agency representatives and others are meeting in Cairo to mark the occasion. One of the main topics is improving water and sanitation services on the continent.

The International development organization WaterAid is one of the main organizers of the Cairo meeting.

“This is, we can say, the highest level event on water and sanitation. And it brings together decision makers on the continent, particularly coming from the water sector from various countries in Africa,” said Nelson Gomonda, the group’s pan-Africa program manager.

Many more need services

WaterAid proposes that African governments commit to bringing water and sanitation services to 100-million more people by 2015.

“In Africa we can say that most of the countries are not making good progress to meet the Millennium Development Goal targets. The goals are, let’s say, expiring in 2015. We have only some three years to get to the target. And we would like to encourage African governments to make some more effort at least to reach more people in the time that is remaining,” he said.

He said only seven countries are on target to meet the sanitation targets – three in sub-Saharan Africa and four in North Africa.

But reaching an additional 100 million people would only solve part of the problem. WaterAid said in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 600 million people lack access to adequate sanitation, and 335 million lack access to clean water.

“The consequences or impact of this basically undermine the governments’ effort to meet other MDG targets, particularly in the health and also education sector. If we do not have access to safe and sanitation even in schools or even in their homes, it’s very difficult for children, particularly the girl child, to take advantage of education facilities, and that creates even more problems for Africa in the future,” said Gomonda.

And then there’s disease. WaterAid estimates three-quarters of a million African children die every year from diarrheal diseases due to a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.

Running in circles

Gomonda said the “credibility of African governments is at stake” if they “do not seize this opportunity” to solve the problems.

“We will continue running in circles, particularly in the circles of poverty. That is very risky in the sense that when you have rampant poverty, you will always have problems with crime, problems with some discontentment in the people, and in some cases you are likely to see some social unrest. And this is what we don’t want to see in Africa,” he said.

The Africa Water Week meeting in Cairo ends May 19th.