8 February 2013

Liberia Moves to Tackle 'Wahala' in Wash Sector - As Boakai Launches Sector Investment Plan

With at least 3,000 people dying annually in Liberia as a result of poor Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) conditions, the government and stakeholders Thursday (Feb 7) launched the WASH sector investment plan as part of concerted efforts to salvage the 'wahala' (problem) in the West African state.

Liberia is not better than most countries lagging behind very far from improved WASH sector and is thousands of miles away in meeting any of the international goals on waste and sanitation.

The five-year investment plan outlines priorities for rebuilding the country's WASH sector that had been ravaged by decades of civil conflict. Access to water and sanitation services in Liberia is still low and many facilities are no longer functioning as Liberia recovers from years of war that ended in 2003.

Four out of every ten people still lack access to water, and only a third of the population have access to sanitation services. An estimated 35 percent of existing clinics and schools do not have adequate water and sanitation facilities. Solid waste management services are only available in Monrovia City, covering an estimated 55 percent of the solid waste in the capital.

Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai launched the sector invest plan at the climax of a three-day national WASH stakeholder's conference attended by the country's major development and multilateral partners, only few days following the hosting of the UN High Level Panel meeting in Monrovia on the Post-2015 development agenda in which the WASH sector was greatly considered.

The WASH Sector Investment Plan developed with support from the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) outlines funding requirements of US$600 million to achieve the targets set for 2017.

Despite development partners' existing support to the sector, this leaves a US$450 million funding gap to achieve the targets set in the Agenda for Transformation (Liberia's second Poverty Reduction Strategy).

Representatives of the World and African Development Banks, the US Government and UNICEF, among others, pledged total support to the government's initiative, and encouraged policy makers to work tirelessly at implementing what has been documented as a way of terminating WASH related deaths and bolstering the country's development.

Boakai described the plan as "a very important national development plan", while Deputy Public Works Minister Victor Smith described the initiative as being expensive to achieve "but very necessary to do".

The issue surrounding WASH is as urgent as it is dire said Boakai, adding that 13 years ago the World endorsed a package of eight essential goals (the Millennium Development Goals) targeted for attainment by 2015. The hugely critical nature of water and sanitation question is expressed in about six goals of the MDG, Boakai noted, naming eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1), reducing child mortality (Goal 4), improving maternal health (Goal 5), combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases (Goal 6) as well as Goal 7, ensuring environmental sustainability.

The Vice President noted that one cardinal area that has brought much acknowledgment of the significance of Liberia's role is found in the effective and sustained articulation of the water and sanitation development agenda.

"True," Boakai furthered, "it is disappointing that, with a less than three years to the delineated finish line of 2015, we now reckon with the all-too clear evidence that the dream to meet the set targets has eluded us."

However, he said, with the global community remaining upbeat--not allowing itself to be daunted by such imminent default--a new conversation is already set in motion to find a path beyond 2015. "It is in lieu of this challenging scenario that you have assembled here in the last two days, scrupulously reviewing and analyzing progress made against targets set in the Sector Strategic Plan set for 2012."

The support from the World Bank, UNICEF, key government partners and stakeholders in conceptualizing and finalizing the Sector Investment and Capacity Development Plans could not have been better timed and better placed, he said.

The "Plans" do factor in, and delve in detail to enumerate, costs for those challenges that have posed and could continue to pose challenges now and in the future. Most importantly, the total funding need, along with potential, available, and anticipated sources as well as gaps, have been squarely identified.

"The Sector Investment Plan being launched today is a guide to all potential investors in the Liberian WASH sector; and it breaks down the high-level targets set in the Agenda for Transformation into the key WASH investment projects, associated costs and time scales required to improve coverage across urban and rural Liberia. These investments will thereby assist Liberia in making progress across a range of Millennium Development Goals," World Bank Liberia Country Manager, Inguna Dobraja, stated.

The investment plan was largely informed by a digital map and inventory of more than 10,000 water points across Liberia developed through comprehensive national mapping exercise led by the Ministry of Public Works, with support from WSP. The water point atlas revealed glaring inadequacies on the state of functional water points, which helped to formulate policy recommendations.

More than half of the funding priorities focus on improving water, sanitation and solid waste management in urban areas, including rehabilitation of Monrovia's sewage system. The investment plan also emphasizes a shift from shallow wells towards piped water systems in urban areas.

Other funding priorities are for WASH services in rural areas; for water and sanitation services in schools, clinics and public areas; and for building capacity within the sector.However, funding is yet to be fully mobilized and only a fraction of the investment requirements will be met by committed public resources or donor funding. According to the investment plan, a large part of the funding gap will need to be covered from user payments for urban services.

The launch preceded the 'First Annual WASH Joint Sector Review' during which stakeholders presented and discussed the progress made against the sector goals as set forth in the WASH Sector Strategic Plan 2012-2017.

Participants and stakeholders analyzed the sector in detail -considering achievements, challenges, lessons learnt, and current gaps - in order to prioritize activities for 2013 and beyond.

The Ministry of Public Works leads key government ministries including Lands, Mines & Energy, Health & Social Welfare and the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation and other relevant agencies on the implementation front.

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