Three Times as Many Mobile Phones as Toilets in Africa

Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) – Though key to good health and economic wellbeing, water and sanitation remain less of a development priority in Africa, where high costs and poor policy implementation constrain getting clean water and flush toilets to millions.

A signatory to several agreements committing to water security, Africa simply cannot afford the infrastructure to bring water to everyone, argues water expert Mike Muller.

Sub-Saharan Africa uses less than five percent of its water resources, but making water available to all can be prohibitively expensive, Muller, of the Wits University School of Governance in South Africa and a former director general of the South African Department of Water, told IPS.

“Domestic water supply is a political priority in Africa and sanitation has grown in importance,” he said, “but the services cost money.”

According to the World Water Council, a global body with over 300 members founded in 1996 to advocate for world water security, the world needs to spend an estimated 650 billion dollars annually from now to 2030 to build necessary infrastructure to ensure universal water security.

Water woes still running

Africa is still far from enjoying the returns from investments in the water sector; for example, it has more citizens with mobile phones than access to clean water and toilets. A 2016 report published by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, which explored access to basic services and infrastructure in 35 African countries, found that only 30 percent of Africans had access to toilets and only 63 percent to piped water – yet 93 percent had mobile phone service.

Governments need to invest in water projects that will avail clean water to all in a world where over 800 million people currently do not have access to safe drinking water, and where water-related diseases account for 3.5 million deaths each year, said the World Water Council in a statement ahead of the World Water Day. The WWC warned that water insecurity costs the global economy an estimated 500 billion dollars annually.

“World leaders realize that sanitation is fundamental to public health, but we need to act now in order to achieve the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 – to deliver safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030,” World Water Council President Benedito Braga said in a statement. “We need commitment at the highest levels, so every town and city in the world can ensure that safe, clean water resources are available.”

Noting the key impact of water access, Braga warned that lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

“Water is an essential ingredient for social and economic development across nearly all sectors. It secures enough food for all, provides sufficient and stable energy supplies, and ensures market and industrial stability amongst others benefits,” he said, adding that the world has missed the sanitation target, leaving 2.4 billion people without access to improved sanitation facilities, necessitating the investment in water and sanitation which the World Water Council said brought an estimated 4.3 dollars in return for every dollar invested through reduced health care costs.

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By Busani Bafana