Long Read
29 March 2019

Africa-wide state of emergency on sanitation declared at AfricaSan – help needed

At the AfricaSan conference in Capetown (18-22 February -2019), the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) called upon Heads of State of the Africa Union to act; to end open defecation, double investments, and declare an Africa-wide state of emergency on sanitation.

Simavi was represented by Public Affairs officer WASH Jeroom Remmers at AfricaSan. The aim was to support the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW): a regional networking body of African civil society organizations, involved in the field of sustainable water management, water supply and sanitation. ANEW had an important role to represent African CSO’s and to draft messages for the AfricaSan Multi-Stakeholder Declaration towards duty bearers and governments. But ANEW also took responsibility to propose new commitments made by CSO’s.

The state of emergency on sanitation not only focused towards the high and growing numbers of people in Africa still practising open defecation, but also towards eliminating untreated faecal waste, and encouraging its productive re-use. This is essential for safely managed sanitation targets. However, it is currently the worst performing of the Ngor commitments towards sanitation, made earlier by African countries.

More than 1,500 conference visitors from all over the world are deeply concerned about the sanitation crisis in Africa. Access to at least basic sanitation remains below 40 percent in Africa, and more than 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst open defecation is steadily declining in other world regions, it is rising in Africa – from 204 million people practicing it in the year 2000 to more than 250 million people today.

This crisis causes heavy economic and social losses, equivalent to at least 4.3 percent of Africa’s annual Gross Domestic Product. Investments in sanitation and hygiene in Africa however, provide an economic return of at least three times. Often the poorest and most vulnerable people have the least access to sanitation and hygiene, and therefore bear the greatest burden of the health and economic impact. Eight out of ten people  without access to sanitation live in rural areas. Open defecation is predominantly a rural issue. Between today and 2050 the rural population will double. The population of African cities will triple by 2050. Sanitation and hygiene play a central role in achievement of other SDG development goals including health, nutrition, education and gender equality; sanitation and hygiene are drivers for economic and human development.

Some 734 million Africans do not have access to basic sanitation infrastructure, which translates to 62% of the population on the African continent. Sanitation remains one of Africa’s major public health challenges with 47 countries across the continent achieving less than 50 percent coverage for basic sanitation services. Given this situation, AMCOWs calling for an Africa-wide state of emergency, does make sense. Private sector, banks, donors and development partners need to respond to this urgent call for help and double their efforts, as was demanded in the AfricaSan multi-stakeholder declaration.

This year’s AfricaSan was themed, “Transforming Sanitation in Africa: Accelerating progress towards the Ngor Commitments to achieve the Social Development Goals.”  The Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene adopted at the AfricaSan4 conference in 2015, defines clear and achievable commitments intended to deliver dignity, equity in sanitation, and hygiene in Africa by 2030.

During the opening plenary, Kitch Bawa presented highlights from the AMCOW report ‘Is Africa on track to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) on Sanitation?’. It looks like the answer to this question is “no”. Kitch Bawa’s presentation and the underlying report are full of ideas about what we all need to do. The AMCOW report, is based on the monitoring of progress against the Ngor Commitments decided by African countries at AfricaSan4 in 2015.

Simavi was present at AfricaSan as SWA representative for the Netherlands and on behalf of the Watershed Empowering Citizens Programme – working with partners in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Mali. Together with the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW), Simavi organised side events, like the ‘Civil Society Dialogue’, with AMCOW presence and many ANEW members. AMCOW invited African CSOs during this event to work together with national governments to realise the African Ngor commitments and especially work together to develop new Guidelines for the Sanitation Policy for Africa. ANEW is seen again by AMCOW as a voice of African WASH CSOs. This was an important reason for Watershed/Simavi to support ANEW.  ANEW was visible at AfricaSan by having its own stand, where meetings were held. ANEW is giving advice to AMCOW, and was involved in writing the AfricaSan Multi-Stakeholder Statement:

Sareen Malik, coordinator ANEW, ening the CSO Dialogue side event

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Jeroom Remmers (Simavi) presenting the global SDG6 review report for Africa. For Simavi women-centered water and sanitation is crucial, women need to be actively represented in decision making processes.

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Simavi’s PA Officer Jeroom Remmers presented a report about national accountability mechanisms for SDG6 during the ANEW CSO side event. This research was published in 2018 and led by Coalition Eau, End Water Poverty, Watershed, WSSCC and SWA. In this report, for 25 countries – including 12 African countries –  accountability mechanisms were reviewed and made specific recommendations to different stakeholders on how to realise the SDG6 goals. Examples of most commonly used accountability mechanisms are joint sector reviews, monitoring reports, independent committees or national meetings.

During this presentation a representative of WHO/ GLAAS was present. She told to be interested to report about national accountability mechanisms for SDG6 and influence of NGO’s  in the next GLAAS report (2021). Another potentially important result of AfricaSan was the meeting between AMCOW and an EU Commission representatives who informed AMCOW about the EU elections in May 2019 and the future Development budget which may see reduced financial resources addressing SDG6 related topics for water and sanitation. Advocacy by African Ministers, AMCOW and others is important towards the EU Commission, EU Parliament and EU Ministers of Development, after EU elections. Giving the state of emergency for sanitation in Africa, higher European budgets for water and sanitation are important. Germany is one of the few EU countries really increasing its development WASH budget, said Claudio Bacigalupi, from the European Commission. Also France, Sweden and the Netherlands are very active in the international WASH sector.


From left to right: Jeroom Remmers (Simavi), Yunia Musaazi Director Uwasnet Uganda, ANEW Board member, Attah Benson, Director NewSan, Nigeria, chair of ANEW, Sareen Malik, coordinator ANEW and Samsom Shivaji, Director Kewasnet Kenya, Board member ANEW.

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The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) made commitments and asked for actions in the Multi-Sector declaration. For instance: “Play an active role in expanding social accountability approaches towards holding duty bearers accountable to Ngor Commitments, advocating for the promotion of pro-poor guidelines and policies in sanitation and hygiene and strengthen their own internal and external credibility and accountability to effectively address and respond to the critical challenges that confront the WASH sector”.

AMCOW expects from CSOs that they work together with governments to realize the Ngor  commitments. AMCOW asked the CSOs present at AfricaSAn to make commitments themselves, also about their own accountability, transparency and governance. The CSO commitments made at AfricaSan will be monitored (by AMCOW). Results will be presented during the next AfricaSan in 2021. The draft commitments made by CSOs were discussed among the ANEW members present at AfricaSan and also sent to other ANEW members who were not present at the conference for them to provide feedback. Many African countries made different commitments on the last day, as was shown in an AMCOW presentation. However, not all AMCOW members made new commitments and most African countries only committed to only several themes agreed in the Ngor Commitments. Commitment 5 and 6 for instance were only made by less than five countries as can be seen in the photos below, but different countries have different challenges.

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