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Africans must demand right to a healthy environment

More than 900 delegates from 41 African countries who converged in Kigali for the 3rd Conference on Water and Sanitation in Kigali (AfricaSan3) which took place July 19-21, 2011, recognize that a healthy environment is a right and not a gift for the continent’s people, according to Prime Minister Bernard Makuza.

"Each country should by 2015 be able to enjoy the right to water and sanitation," said the Premier, in his address while luanching the proceedings of AfricaSan3 Day One.

He added that the Kigali Conference invites policy makers to take leading role in adopting a policy framework capable of putting in place policies and special budgets for sanitation.

He indicated that Rwanda has made significant progress which positions it as an example that can be emulated at the Conference.

"Participants will learn from each other in order to adopt appropriate policies to enable Africa achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015," he noted. 

The Prime Minister also urged Development Partners to continue supporting infrustructure development such as the construction of schools, roads, as well as sanitation projects – which are necessary for sustainable development and economic growth on the continent. 

In her remarks before the Prime Minister, the Minister of State for Energy and Water, Eng. Colette Ruhamya, divulged the motivating factors behind the choice of Rwanda to host the AfricaSan3. She pointed out that the first two Conferences were held in South Africa, making AfricaSan3 the first to held in a different country.

Good governance, transparency as well as the culture of accountability and performance contracts, are some of the aspects that motivated the nomination of Rwanda to host the Conference.

"Among the four countries that are on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Rwanda is the only country that has excellent achievements in sanitation, despite its modest means," she said.

The other countries: Angola, South Africa and Botswana, have invested heavily because they acrue significant resources from oil and minerals such as diamonds.

The Zimbabwean Minister in Charge of Water, Hon. Samuel Nkomo, as Chairman of AMCOW (African Council of Ministers on Water) said that AfricaSan3 needs to strengthen the implementation of the commitments of AMCOW.

"The conference will make new commitments, policies and strategies for the five-year aimed at sustainable sanitation," he said.

The integration of the gender dimension is an important part of the program. Hon. Nkomo lamented that 558 million Africans lack adequate access to sanitation. 231 million Africans use open spaces as toilets as a result of poverty, said the Minister.

"Only 20% of Africans who are the rich access flush toilets, while 20% who are the poorest use open space as their toilet," he noted.

The situation calls for a strategic plan to esnure that by 2015, this gap is no longer in place. Hon. Nkomo recommended that the capacity of institutions charged with sanitation be strengthened.
"It is absolutely necessary to have strong and focussed leadership to stimulate policies and investment," he added.

According to the Zimbabwean Minister, the development of the sanitation sector requires not only collective efforts, but also financial and technical resources as well as an effective partnership between public and private sectors.

AMCOM has allocated 28% of the budget to disemination of best practices. "The next conference should focus on the successful examples," he noted.

For Dr. Uschi Eid, the Vice-President of the Advisory Board of the UN Secretary General on Sanitation, clean drinking water and sanitation are the backbone of development. Without both, there cannot be equitable development.

"There is need to formulate sanitation objectives. I applaud Rwanda whose Members of Government have been exemplary. As a result, by 2012 Rwanda will have overcome the challenges of access to water and sanitation," she said.

Dr. Eid added that countries have to strengthen efforts in sanitation. The idea here is to ensure that there is nobody defecating in natural habitats. Dr. Eid would like to see all people having access to a latrine. In 2015, we will assess progress that has been made, she pointed out.

Ms. Sylvia Matthews Burwell, President of Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recommended that AfricaSan3 participants take advantage of Rwanda's success in sanitation.

She called for increased innovations in sanitation - mainly on toilets, to save lives. A wide range of diseases are said to result from poor hygiene and sanitation. As a consequence, 1million children die from diarrhoea. At least 1/3 of the African population suffers from diseases related to inadequate sanitation, said Matthews.

According to her, sanitation is the most ignore problem globally. Billions of dollars have been spent to improve the situation but she cautions that much remains to be done. The long term solution is to continue to finance social services, said Matthews.

"We need new approaches, reinvent the toilet and recycle human waste. There may be isolated waste, "she said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to Matthews, has committed to finance 18 projects related to the transformation of human waste. Toronto University (Canada) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are collaborating on bio-energy research geared on waste management at Stanford University. In Nairobi (Kenya), bio-digesters have been established for the same purpose.

A total of USD 40 million will fund these innovations, courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ms. Matthews said estimates suggest that 2.6 billion people worldwide still lack access to adequate sanitation.

"We are in favour of an approach based on involvement of entire communities to completely eliminate defecation in open spaces. This affects millions of people. We will be partners of AMCOW over the next five years to help reinvent the toilet," she announced.

The Australian High Commissioner to Rwanda, Mr. Geoff Tooth, emphasized the link between diarrhoea and sanitation.

"We would like to support a decentralised approach. Institutions such as the health sector will continue to play their role in changing attitudes and create new habits such as washing hands," he noted.

Hygiene and sanitation should be, according to the Australian High Commissioner, a right.

"We must ensure that this right provided and respected in urban and rural areas. It is important that each one builds their own waste system because sanitation is a problem for everyone," he continued.

"Each country has to increase spending on sanitation which is currently at about 2%," High Commissioner Tooth further said.

The Kigali Conference on Water and Sanitation (AfricaSan3) is the third after the first was held in Johannesburg in 2002 and the second in 2008 in Durban, South Africa.



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