Prince of Orange Calls for Urgent Actions in Africa’s Water and Sanitation Sector

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Prince Willem-Alexander of Orange, Netherlands, early this week called on African leaders to take urgent actions to speed up efforts in the water and sanitation sector on the continent. Speaking on Monday, June 30, 2008, at the Eleventh African Union Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the Prince of Orange  who addressed the august assembly in his capacity as the Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), said that many people lived in poverty and suffered from hunger because they had no access to water and sanitation, adding that "… it is these people, society’s most vulnerable, and children especially, whom the effects of the current food and energy crisis, the impact of climate change, and the negative aspects of biofuel production will hit hardest."

Pointing to latest figures by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, he said that of the "…nearly one billion people in Africa, only around 602 million currently use an improved drinking water source, and no more than 360 million use an improved sanitation facility. To meet the MDG drinking water target for Africa, 33 million people a year will have to gain access to an improved drinking water source. At the current rate of only 15 million new users a year, it is obvious that we are not going to meet this target. We need to more than double our efforts. But to meet the MDG sanitation target, the number of people using improved sanitation will need to rise far more. At the current rate of 10 million new users a year, it will take an enormous effort to bring the number to 45 million people a year – almost a five-fold increase on current levels."

He stressed that "Africa is clearly not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target for drinking water and sanitation. We must not allow Africa to reach the point where it faces a continuous, endemic water and sanitation crisis that debilitates and kills huge numbers of people, threatens the health of the workforce, stands in the way of economic growth, and limits access to education and therefore life opportunities. Every year, an estimated one million Africans die from diseases related to poor sanitation and hygiene, and unsafe drinking water. Health, dignity and development are at stake – for Africa as a whole, and for millions of individual Africans."

He regretted that the issue of sanitation was not drawing as much attention as it should. He urged Africans to break the taboo that surrounds the sanitation issue on the continent, advising that only a frank discussion on this issue could help raise awareness of a challenge that is hurting many vulnerable people on the continent.

"Yet perhaps you, like many others, will find it difficult to go home and speak passionately about sanitation and related subjects like human faeces. I would urge you to personally help break through the deadly taboo that surrounds this subject. That is why UNSGAB advocated declaring 2008 the International Year of Sanitation. We must overcome our discomfort at talking about toilets and personal hygiene. We need the words, the courage and the dedicated resources to do what we must to make a difference. In the light of all of this, it will come as no surprise that I was delighted to note that some distinguished African Heads of State and Government took the initiative to have themselves photographed with a toilet. Their courage symbolised the step forward Africa needs to take. I can only invite you all to follow their lead, and break through the sanitation taboo. Let us call a spade a spade and a toilet a toilet. It worked in many countries for HIV/AIDS, so why shouldn’t it work for sanitation too?," he said.

He called on African leaders to take concrete actions which will help set the water and sanitation agenda for Africa over the next decade, suggesting that by adopting the Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration on Water and Sanitation at the summit, African leaders would underscore the importance of safe drinking water and sanitation and show their commitment to dedicated action. The implementation of the declaration will have a great impact on the economic and social development of African countries and on the people’s health, he said. The declaration, he said, rightly underscored the importance of reviewing water and sanitation policies and programmes, enabling institutions and people at the local level to do the necessary work. It also highlights the need to significantly increase domestic financial investment in the sector.

"With this Declaration, you will be sending a clear message to the G8 heads of state and government who will be meeting in Japan in two weeks’ time, and to the UN High Level Meetings on the MDGs, which will be held in New York in September, that water and sanitation are a top priority in Africa. That African heads of state and government are ready to do whatever is necessary. And that your dedication today will result in active implementation and tangible results tomorrow. For my part, I will do my utmost to ensure that international development partners respond generously to your Sharm El-Sheikh initiative. The dream we share is water and sanitation for all. Let us make it come true," he said.