Godwin Haruna.

The African Union has officially launched the Kigali Action Plan, which translates into a 50-million euro agreement to bring drinking water, basic toilets and hygiene promotion to 10 million Africans in 10 countries. The action plan has come as the United Nations enters final negotiations on the next 15-year blueprint for development within the framework of Sustainable Development Goals. The present draft includes a dedicated goal on water and sanitation.

 The programme, agreed with the African Development Bank and led by the government of Rwanda, is designed to make water and sanitation programmes higher priority in national spending across the continent. Ten nations are targeted in this action plan and these include; Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Lesotho and Mauritania. The ten states are all on the list of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and all but two of the targeted countries — Lesotho and Mauritania — are considered fragile states for one reason or another (ranging from conflict to the Ebola epidemic). Poor and deteriorating water and sanitation services in Sierra Leone and Liberia are believed to be contributing factors to the Ebola crisis.

The 24th African Union Summit, which closed on 31 January, comes as the United Nations works on final negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals, which will serve as a blueprint for development agenda in emerging economies over the next 15 years. These short-run remedies to essential infrastructure needs in Africa are encouraging, but they should be recognized as solutions for immediate and urgent needs with no long-run implications. For, in the final analysis, individual countries remain responsible for implementing policies that conduce to long-term infrastructure needs. As international NGOs, such as WaterAid, call for stronger dedication on water and sanitation, such efforts do not change the nature of short-run remedies or the relationship between durable social infrastructure and sustained development.

The common African position on these new goals includes recommendations for people-centered development, environmental sustainability, natural resource and disaster risk management. However, achieving sustained access to clean water, and efficient sanitation programs remains a critical component of the effort for sustained development. Commenting on the Kigali Action Plan, the Chief Executive of WaterAid, Barbara Frost, said: “Africa’s hospitals, communities and economies are struggling under the enormous burden of disease created when 324 million people in the continent have no choice but to drink dirty water, and another 644 million are without decent, hygienic toilets. It’s time to stop talking and take action on sanitation. The Kigali Action Plan is focused on delivering services and transforming lives, and we look to the Sustainable Development Goals to continue this momentum.”

The Kigali initiative is being spear-headed by Mr. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, reflecting the country’s rapid progress in delivering water and sanitation. In 1990, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) measures, only 30% of Rwanda’s population had basic toilets and 60% had clean water. In 2013, that number had risen to 64% with basic toilets and nearly 71% with access to clean water. Rwanda is also one of few African nations to have met the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of its people without access to sanitation. As a whole, sub-Saharan Africa is so far behind on providing sanitation that at present rates of progress, it would not meet this goal for more than 150 years. Key to Rwanda’s success have been empowering communities, strong political will and accountability of service providers and governments, which have been held up as examples for other sub-Saharan African nations as they confront their own challenges in water and sanitation.

In the Dakar Declaration of May 2014, African nations called for a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation as key to ending this crisis. This launch of the Kigali Action Plan is expected to accelerate this process. Country Representative, WaterAid Nigeria, Dr. Michael Ojo, said: “The Kigali Action Plan is a great move for Africa and it will contribute significantly to changing the face of water, sanitation and hygiene on the continent. As the continent’s biggest economy however, Nigeria also has a huge role to play in contributing to sustained development in Africa. It defies logic that as influential as Nigeria is on the continent, we remain one of only a handful of countries around the world where access to basic sanitation is actually falling rather than rising. We call on our own leaders here to embrace the spirit of the Kigali Action Plan and invest the resources needed to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene for its people.” We couldn’t agree more.