President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned the international community of serious economic losses, estimated at US$260 billion annually, if concrete steps are not taken to deal with the problem of poor water and sanitation access globally.
The Liberian President, who is also Africa's Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), said that unless greater progress is made in providing access to safe drinking water and effective sanitation in certain parts of the world, children will continue to miss school and adults to miss work; most women and girls will continue to spend hours every day fetching water from dirty sources; and health costs will continue to shift on national economies.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf, also one of three co-Chairs of the High-level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and host of the Monrovia Meeting of the Panel, was speaking after being presented the "Monrovia 'water' sector Declaration" during the HLP's Consultation and Outreach Day, held at the Monrovia City Hall.
The side event was co-sponsored by the Governments of Liberia and the Netherlands, and the African Union Commission in partnership with WaterAid, UNICEF, and the African Ministerial Council on Water, focusing on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) as a critical driver of economic progress.
President Sirleaf used the forum to express Liberia's commitment to the principles of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), and announced that she has included them in the country's new Agenda for Transformation policy document and is working towards addressing them. "We have made progress on the water and are working to improve on our sanitation targets," she said.
Sanitation, according to the Liberian leader, has been referred to as the "Orphan of the MDGs" because the disposal of human waste is not a topic that people want to discuss, or one that enjoys high-level political support. "All too often access to adequate sanitation is seen as an outcome of development, rather than a driver of economic development and poverty reduction," she said, naming countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore that have demonstrated the potential for boosting economic development by addressing sanitation in the 1960s and 1970s.
At another side event, African Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) presented a list of recommendations to President Sirleaf for onward submission to the HLP Meeting. Comprising the disabled, youth, women, farmers and trade unions, the organizations recommended that they should actively participate in UN efforts to improve mankind's living conditions, in keeping with the MDGs, ranging from access to credit, markets, quality education, women's rights, among others.
Receiving the recommendations also on behalf of her two co-Chairs - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Sirleaf described then as "important and straight to the point."