Less than a year from the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), journalists in Africa are casting a critical eye on the progress in water, sanitation and hygiene improvements being achieved by African governments, and the on-going challenges in this priority sector. This week, some 40 journalists and other stakeholders are gathering in a regional media workshop organized by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) in Cotonou, Benin.
At the global level, rates of open defecation have been substantially reduced, but considerable disparities are still apparent between the different regions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) / United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme report of 2013, “Eastern Asia, South-eastern Asia and the Latin America and Caribbean regions have seen a steady decline since the JMP’s earliest measurements describing conditions in 1990. In Southern Asia, the population practising open defecation peaked around 1995, after which it declined. Only in sub-Saharan Africa is the number of people defecating in the open still increasing.”
In terms of water supply, inequalities also persist. “Of the 2.1 billion people who gained access since 1990, almost two thirds, 1.3 billion lived in urban areas. By the end of 2011, 83% of the population without access to an improved drinking water source lived in rural areas.” Women are usually responsible for supplying their households with safe drinking water, but in some cases the water is not safe. Recent studies have lifted the lid on the difficulties for them, particularly rural women. These include, but are not limited to: time wasted fetching water or finding a private place to defecate which has economic and social implications, discrimination, and also health risks associated with poor management of menstrual hygiene.
Speaking to participants at the opening ceremony of the regional meeting, Amanda Marlin, WSSCC Programme Manager for Advocacy and Communications, said that the delay in achieving WASH goals posed huge challenges in both rural and urban areas.
“We know that the lack of sanitation and drinking-water supply presents economic and health-related problems for individuals and communities,” Ms. Marlin said. “The disparity between the rural and urban areas in terms of distribution and service provision is a challenge. The MDGs helped us achieve great outcomes but there is still room for improvement. Unfortunately, we are off track for the sanitation target. Reducing and eliminating inequalities is key.”
In a context of global mobilization for the post-2015 development agenda, WSSCC is putting this unfinished business at the heart of the discussions. In partnership with the Ministry of Health of Benin, and the Partenariat pour le Développement Municipal (Partnership for Municipal Development), this regional workshop takes place from 18 to 20 February 2014 at the Azalai Hôtel de la Plage in Cotonou. It will bring together 40 participants including 30 journalists from the West Africa WASH Journalists Network present in 13 West African countries.