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$260 Billion Lost Annually From Poor Water, Sanitation: Liberian President


Liberian President Ellen Johson Sirleaf this week warned the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel that worldwide economic losses due to lack of proper water and sanitation total some $260 billion USD every year.

Sirleaf is one of three co-chairs of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which met in Monrovia on January 30.

 “Two hundred-sixty billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world,” international water and sanitation NGO WaterAid qupted Sirleaf as saying.  “We must take this issue more seriously.”

“All too often access to adequate sanitation in particular is seen as an outcome of development, rather than a driver of economic development and poverty reduction,” she said, noting that “South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrated the potential for boosting economic development by addressing sanitation.”

The 27-member panel is tasked with producing a report for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by May that outlines a plan for moving forward after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

Sirleaf’s co-chairs include UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

WaterAid believes the MDGs related to water and sanitation have had “starkly differing levels of progress and political and financial support.”

During World Water Day 2012 it was announced that the target of halving the global proportion of people without access to safe drinking water had been met early. However, the target of halving the global proportion of people who lack access to sanitation is decades off track.

The African continent is the furthest from obtaining these goals. In November, seven civil society organizations operating in Liberia said the nation was facing serious sanitation challenges that require strong political will.

They called on Sirleaf to sign an Executive Ordinance to support the National Water Resources and Sanitation Board, which was established by the Liberian government some years ago in order to solve some of these problems.

Sirleaf has spoken out about the human and economic losses resulting from lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation before. Last March, she said the losses were unacceptable and must be brought to a manageable level immediately.

“The High-Level Panel must grasp this unique opportunity to put together an ambitious vision for eradicating poverty in our time.  For this aspiration to be realized there must be a central focus on achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Girish Menon, director of International Programs for WaterAid.

“International efforts on the existing Millennium Development Goals have shown us that to succeed in areas like education, child health and gender equality progress on access to water, sanitation and hygiene is crucial.  Integrating these approaches will be the key to success.”