World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described discussions between health, water and finance ministers as among the most important meetings of the year.
Ghebreyesus, addressing Africa’s finance ministers at a 4 November "Sanitation and Water for All" virtual meeting, told the ministers that “Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is critical to preventing both pandemics and local outbreaks. Its absence leaves us exposed".
“In fact, one of our most fundamental public health measures fails in much of Africa and around the world because hundreds of millions of people cannot wash their hands. That includes health workers in one out of three health care facilities globally.”
Tedros said that, globally, the delivery of commitments for the water and sanitation elements of UN Sustainable Goal 6 are “alarmingly off-track”. To achieve the goal by 2030, Tedros believes that the rate of progress for sanitation needs to quadruple.
“Underinvestment in WASH has left 800 million Africans without safe drinking-water, and more than 700 million without basic sanitation or the means to wash their hands,” he continued.
WHO and UNICEF will shortly launch a State of Sanitation report, which sets out a path for investment in governance, financing, capacity development, data and innovation.
“Investments in WASH are what we call a ‘no-regrets’ investment, which support human rights and save lives,” added Tedros. “ The economic benefits of sanitation are about five times the cost. And improving hand hygiene can generate savings in health expenditure up to fifteen times the cost.”
The finance ministers discussed examples of success in the region where governments were able to use a mix of taxes, tariffs, external transfers and repayable finance to ensure people’s access to water and sanitation, while at the same time generating substantial benefits for the economy, public health, and the environment. Ministers focused discussions on the applicability of these examples to their own contexts and the role of national partners such as the private sector, civil society organisations, development agencies, and donors.
Country experiences discussed included Kenya’s reform programme in the urban water and sanitation, Rwanda’s innovative funding mobilization programme, Senegal’s mechanism that ensures social projects are funded by projects that can easily access financing, Zimbabwe's mobilization of household finance for latrine construction and Egypt’s initiatives to reform the water and sanitation as a vehicle for employment generation and increasing women’s involvement in decision-making.
The Africa Finance Ministers’ Meeting (FMM) is one of three regional convenings organized by the Sanitation and Water for All partnership. The co-conveners are UNICEF, the World Bank Water Global Practice, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW).