George Washington University Study Highlights Limited Progress in Water and Sanitation Access Among Major Sub-Saharan African Cities | Source: George Washington University, School of Public Health |
Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population is predicted to nearly triple by 2050, increasing from 414 million to over 1.2 billion. This growth challenges municipalities attempting to provide basic access to water supply and sanitation (WS&S). A new analysis published in BMC Public Health by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) looks at how well cities in sub-Saharan Africa are doing when it comes to providing their urban residents with access to basic public health infrastructure.
Mike Hopewell, a recent graduate of the MPH program at SPHHS, and Jay Graham, an SPHHS assistant professor of environmental and occupational health, estimated changes in access to water supply and sanitation in the largest cities across sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2012. They then explored the relationship of city-level and country-level factors to progress or regression in these cities.
The authors found that cities appeared to be making the most progress in gaining access to WS&S along metrics that reflect specified targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global targets for improved wellbeing that countries aim to achieve by 2015. Nearly half of the cities, however, did not make progress in reducing open defecation or the time households spent collecting water. This may reflect a focus on “improved” services that are MDG targets while other measures, potentially more relevant to the extreme poor, are being neglected. This study highlights the need to better characterize access, beyond definitions of improved and unimproved, as well as the need to target resources to cities where changes in WS&S access have stalled, or in some cases regressed.