Public water utilities in Africa got a major confidence boost at the weekend when over 40 senior water utility managers and other delegates from the water sector adopted a declaration of support to the institutions.
At the end of a three day workshop at the UN-HABITAT headquarters in Nairobi, the participants who included representatives from African water associations, regional and international organizations said the water challenge facing Africa was an acute one that needed to be addressed urgently.
According to UN-HABITAT Africa is the world’s most rapidly urbanizing continent, with an annual average urban growth rate of 4 per cent. In the water and sanitation sectors, over 300 million people do not have access to safe water, and over 500 million are without adequate sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these numbers, about 72% of urban inhabitants who live in slums and informal settlements, particularly children and women are the most affected.
In her opening speech, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka also latched on to this theme stressing that it was very important to strengthen capacity and facilitate dialogue on the issues and challenges militating against effective water and sanitation provision.
“By the time we conclude our discussions today, some 1,800 children will probably lose their lives because their water supplies are contaminated, inadequate or non-existent, and they do not have access to basic sanitation facilities”, she said.
Delivering the keynote speech, Ms. Jennipher Namuyangu, Minister of State for Water, Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda, challenged water utility managers to improve their services to consumers and to develop tariff regimes that would take into account the urban poor. She also reminded public utilities to make sure that the public does not get shoddy service, many utilities in Africa are losing upto 40 per cent of treated water and she welcomed the workshop as a forum for discussing ways of preventing further loss of unaccounted for water.
The three day capacity building workshop, co-organized by UN-HABITAT and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs was formulated as a forum for knowledge sharing on the experiences gained in improving governance of public water utilities, especially from the African region perspective. Under discussion were issues and challenges facing water utilities and operators, mechanisms to strengthen institutional governance and accountability, financing needs for expanding water and sanitation services, especially for the poor as well as the role of partnerships in enhancing the efficiency and capacity building needs of water utilities
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, has asked UN-HABITAT to take a central role in the creation of a global centre focused on building and sustaining water operators’ partnerships worldwide. The proposed centre will help improve governance and the capacity of public water utilities towards the achievement of internationally agreed goals and targets on water and sanitation and beyond.