The Inquirer (Monrovia)

Liberia: At High Level Forum in Monrovia - Ellen Wants Action Against Poverty

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as one of the three co-chairs of the United Nations (UN) Secretary -General's high-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda issued a stark warning in Monrovia yesterday that the future of international poverty, reduction efforts, noting the economic losses due to poor water and sanitation access globally are costing $US260 every year.

Delivering her keynote address at the Post 2015 HLP outreach meeting on Water Thematic consultations which was broadly focused on the theme: "Economic Transformation", President Sirleaf said $US260 billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world and as such the world must take this issue more seriously.

All too often, President Sirleaf who also served as Africa's Goodwill Ambassador on Water and Sanitation said access to adequate sanitation in particular is seen as an outcome of development, rather than a driver of economic development and poverty reduction. She is quoted as saying that South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore in the 1960's and 1970's demonstrated the potential for boosting economic development by addressing sanitation.

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 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.

Water Aid in Liberia is quoted as saying that in 2012, the lives of 2.5 million people around the world would be saved every year if everybody had access to safe and adequate sanitation. The international charity has also highlighted that if government meets 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 with over 100,000 in Nigeria and 66,000 in India alone.

For his part, Public Works Minister, Samuel Kofi Woods said participants reflected on the "World We Want" after 2015 taking into account the yesterday, today and tomorrow but with a determination to ensure that the voice of Africa is integrated in the framework of action which he noted the panel will conclude over the next few months.

Minister Woods commended the decision of the panel of eminent persons to engage in broad consultations across the globe and he encouraged a bottom-up approach which he intends to maximize.

He told the audience that the world needs to acknowledge that health, agriculture, education, infrastructure, gender issues, energy and other essential services for human survival are inextricably linked to the use and management of water.

The Public Works Minister indicated that they are all fundamental to human dignity, critical to economic development and underline human commitment to human rights. Already, Minister Woods said the case has been made for water to stand alone as a key thematic issue and the Africa Water Vision 2025 remains the primary framework for generating thoughts and actions.

He later added his voice to the words of President Sirleaf that it is time for action and this is a call to action. "What could be referred to as the Monrovia mandate will show that the issue of water must stand alone. We urge the members of the panel, our partners and friends to hear the Voice of Africa have and join us to act and act now," Minister Woods said.

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