London — Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued a stark warning in Monrovia on Wednesday to the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel that is meeting this week to address the future of international poverty reduction efforts, noting that economic losses due to poor water and sanitation access globally are costing $260 billion (US) every year.
The President, one of three co-Chairs of the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, stated on Wednesday (30 January 2013) that:
"$260 billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world. 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. South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore in the 1960's and 1970's demonstrated the potential for boosting economic development by addressing sanitation."
The President's comments came during the High-level Panel meeting in Monrovia which was broadly focused on the theme of "economic transformation".
The Panel, which includes 27 leaders from government, the private sector and civil society, is co-chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Sirleaf.
The group is tasked with producing a report in May to the Secretary-General containing recommendations for a development agenda for the world.
The current Millennium Development Goal targets on water and sanitation have had starkly differing levels of progress and political and financial support. While the drinking water target - to halve the proportion of people worldwide without access to safe drinking water - was met five years early in 2010, the sanitation goal is decades off track. Progress in Africa specifically is even worse with sub-Saharan Africa expected to meet this goal a century and a half late.
Girish Menon, Director of International Programmes for the international water and sanitation charity WaterAid, said:
"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 realised there must be a central focus on achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene."
"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."
Liberia is in many ways typical of sub-Saharan African countries, with access to safe drinking water at 73% of the population, far exceeding levels of access to decent sanitation, at only 18%. The average across sub-Saharan Africa to these services sits at 61% for water but just 30% for sanitation.
President Sirleaf, who is also Goodwill Ambassador for water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa, also stated:
"Without more progress in providing access to safe water and effective sanitation, children will continue to miss school, health costs will continue to be a drag on national economies, adults will continue to miss work, and women and girls, and it's almost always women and girls, will continue to spend hours every day fetching water, typically from dirty sources."
According to a 2012 WaterAid report, the lives of 2.5 million people around the world would be saved every year if everybody had access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
The international charity has also highlighted that if governments meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to halve the proportion of their population without sanitation by 2015 the lives of 400,000 children under the age of five will be saved around the world - over 100,000 in Nigeria, and 66,000 in India alone.