Meeting the MDG targets on Watsan: The role of the SWA compact

Meeting the MDG targets on Watsan: The role of the SWA compact

Year 2010 is the tenth year since world leaders, gathering under the banner of the United Nations, adopted the millennium declarations at the turn of the century. The declarations were hinged on eight major commitments tagged as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were to serve as the fulcrum for development interventions that would lift the world’s poorest out of their misery.

Year 2010 is the tenth year since world leaders, gathering under the banner of the United Nations, adopted the millennium declarations at the turn of the century. The declarations were hinged on eight major commitments tagged as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were to serve as the fulcrum for development interventions that would lift the world’s poorest out of their misery.

The MDGs touch on various aspects of human development; from human rights to corruption to climate change. With five more years to the 2015 deadline, the power brokers of the world are assessing progress towards the attainment of the goals, focusing particularly on actions, policies and strategies to support those developing countries that are lagging most behind and those goals that are most off track, thus improving the lives of the poorest people.

MDG Target 7c calls on countries to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and sets the proportion of people in 1990 without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation as the baseline to be halved by 2015.

The 2010 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report on sanitation and drinking water says the global community is seriously off-track on sanitation and if current rates continue, the goal will be met 30 years too late – that’s a billion people too late. Presently, 2.6 billion people are still without access to a safe place to go to the toilet.

Ghana is one of the developing countries that are lagging behind. And, of course, the water and sanitation (Watsan) sector is about the most off track goal area. Indeed, progress towards the sanitation MDG leaves much to be desired.

In response, a new global partnership for working together to achieve universal access to sanitation and water has emerged. It is referred to as Sanitation and Water for All (SWA). What the new framework does is to place more emphasis on sanitation by switching the positions of the key words in the popular sector terminology “water and sanitation” to “sanitation and water”. The partnership is made up of developing countries, donors, multi-lateral agencies, civil society and other development partners.

SWA was at the centre of discussions at the first ever high level meeting on water and sanitation which was hosted by UNICEF last April in Washington DC. Ghana was in attendance with a strong delegation led by the ministers of Finance, Local Government and Rural Development, and Water Resources, Works and Housing. 

The situation today

A look at current trends will enable one to better understand the importance of the SWA compact. The 2010 JMP report, which was launched in March, provides detailed estimates of progress towards the MDG and breaks down figures for access to sanitation and water by country, region and rural/urban.

Presently, 82% of the Ghanaian population has access to improved drinking water supply, meaning that Ghana is on-track to achieve the MDG drinking water target. However, Ghana is said to be seriously off-track on sanitation and will miss the MDG on sanitation by more than 200 years while the whole of sub-Saharan Africa will miss the target by an average 198 years if current trend of progress continues.

The report estimates that only 13 out of every 100 Ghanaians (13%) have access to improved sanitation; while on average, 31 out of every hundred people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to improved sanitation.

For Ghana, the JMP reports that coverage has improved from 7% in 1990 when the population was approximately 15 million to 13% in 2008 when the population was about 23 million. Urban access to improved sanitation has risen from 11-18% while rural access to improved sanitation went up from 4-7% over the same period.

The global objective is to secure access to improved sanitation (defined as decent household toilets) for 64 out of every hundred people (64%) by 2015. Coverage in sub-Saharan Africa is currently 31%, representing a three percent improvement over 1990 levels of 28%. The majority of the regions people – 567 million – still do not have access to improved sanitation.

The increase, according to analysts, represents an annual average improvement of 0.17% since 1990. Granted that the trend continues, the earliest time the sub-Saharan African region will reach the MDG target will be the year 2206.

Solutions SWA offers

The SWA framework is informed by the estimation that if universal coverage for sanitation and drinking water is achieved, the economic benefits would rise to $171 billion yearly. Following from the global SWA framework, Ghana has developed its own SWA compact. Highlights of this compact were presented at Mole XXI in July by Naa Demedeme, Director, Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate (EHSD) of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD).

In the simplest language, Naa Demedeme explains that the SWA Compact is addressing basic sanitation needs. That is, how to safely dispose human waste. 

The compact assesses that the following key gaps in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector are hindering progress: low political prioritization, leading to insufficient resource allocation; lack of cohesive national planning frameworks for addressing sanitation and drinking water; and poor targeting and unpredictability of financing, resulting in resources failing to reach those most in need. The other hindrances are lack of evidence, data and analysis to inform decision-makers, and lack of mutual accountability and sector-specific monitoring mechanisms.

According to Naa Demedeme, “meeting the MDG targets with just four years to go is impossible but we know that we can make some progress.”  Therefore, the SWA framework aims, among other things, to “Increase political prioritisation for sanitation and water through high level discussion and public focus” as well as “generate advocacy for strong international, regional and national commitments to sanitation and water goals.”

Another aim of SWA is to provide technical support and capacity building for developing countries to create strong national sanitation and water planning frameworks including detailed planning, budgeting, and monitoring procedures.

Furthermore, SWA aims at the mobilisation of resources and prioritisation of support for sanitation and water by linking existing aid mechanisms to national sanitation and water plans; channelling funding to where it is most needed, and monitoring results.

Against this backdrop, the themes for the Ghana SWA Compact are Enhancing Political Prioritization and Commitment; linking policies to plans, programmes and projects; improving investments to meet priority challenges; strengthening ownership and leadership and achieving gGood governance and accountability.

New financial commitments

Government estimates that investments required for meeting the MDGs on sanitation and water are between US$ 200 and 300 million annually. “Based on initial calculations, GoG [Government of Ghana] commits to increase allocations in budget statements for sanitation and water, and work with Development Partners and the private sector to ensure that allocations reach US$200m annually towards sanitation and water improvements to meet MDG targets and sustain improvements” beyond the MDG period.

Also, the Ghana Compact reveals that the GoG commits to “make additional allocations of US$150m annually towards hygienic treatment and disposal of septage and faecal sludge as well as sullage and storm-water management.” This particular commitment is aimed at addressing the ‘crisis’ situation of indiscriminate discharging of sullage, septage and faecal sludge that mostly affects residents of poor neighbourhoods, and water courses, rivers and beaches. It is also meant for the mainstreaming of environmental sanitation measures.

Philip Amanor of the Community Water and Sanitation Agency is of the view that some policies pursued over the years have been inconsistent with actions and have been inimical to progress. For instance, pan latrines are still in use because these were encouraged over the years. Today, there are efforts at banning the use of pan latrines when the number of pan latrines in use in Accra alone, according to him, is estimated at 5,000.

In a communiqué adopted at the end of Mole XXI, participants said Government should engage in consultation and encourage active participation of stakeholders at all levels in the WASH sector on the SWA Compact to get the maximum benefits and impacts and also ensure that commitments reflected in it include efforts at minimizing the negative impacts of climate change.