26 February 2013

Liberia's WASH Sector Receives Big Int'l Boost - As Govt, WSA Sign Partnership Deal

Photo: Liberia Government
President Sirleaf quenches the thirst of a child shortly after dedicating a water pump.

The Liberian Government Friday (Feb 22) took another giant step towards making its citizens gain access to safe drinking water and sanitation, when it signed an agreement with Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA).

The agreement will allow WSA to implement research-oriented real sector development impact of water and sanitation and will facilitate the mobilization of financial resources and coordinating the implementation of large projects and programs.

WSA CEO Idrissa Doucoure said through the hosting agreement, WSA aims to further develop its cooperation with the Government of Liberia so that more Liberians gain access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

He signed the deal for WSA while Liberia's Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafual--flanked by Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods whose Ministry oversees the WASH sector--signed for Liberia.

"The signing comes at the time the new WSA reforms are put in place to improve the of the agency's intervention in its member countries," Doucore continued. "Indeed, the Hosting Agreement between the Government of Liberia and WSA brings another dimension to our presence here in this country which became member in December 2011," he said.

He pledged the WSA's full support for all actions that contribute to the revitalization of the water and sanitation of Liberia.

WSA is a Pan-African Intergovernmental Agency devoted to increasing accelerated access to water and sanitation for vulnerable populations in Africa with a vision of: 'Water and Sanitation for all, forever in a prosperous Africa".

The interstate not-for-profit organization was established 22 years ago and currently operates in 23 West and Central African countries with its headquarters located in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

It is a uniquely African organization that is devoted to seeking homegrown solutions to the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) challenges on the continent with a mandate to support member states in developing and implementing their respective national agendas for sanitation, hygiene and water supply.

Public Works Minister Woods said he was overwhelmed by the signing of the agreement and noted that it means that Liberia was moving to ensuring safer WASH sector for the people.

The signing comes just few weeks after Liberia and its international partners completed the investment plan of the WASH sector that requires more than half a billion to ensure that water flows in towns and villages across the country.

"Liberians have been waiting for long and now this is an opportunity for them to see action," he stated.

By being a member a of WSA and signing the agreement in addition to several other measures that have been taken locally, Woods said Liberia has demonstrated its commitment to Africa and the rest of the world that it is serious, and that this sector will expand to improve the lives of the people.

"...Water is life and sanitation is dignity, and unless we can ensure that our people, that our women in the villages have access to water to reduce child mortality and water borne diseases, to ensure that our young kids in the villages can be able to have access to water and imbue the difficulties and prohibition on access to education and health, we will not make progress in terms of our agenda for transformation," the Infrastructure Minister noted.

Woods noted that Government is working hard to ensure that water begins to flow because the people of Liberia have suffered too much for safe drinking water, "and very soon they will begin to enjoy the benefits and dividend of this agreement."

Foreign Minister Ngafuan who signed the agreement for Liberia said he was pleased that WSA has legalized its operations in Liberia. The WASH statistics for Liberia, he observed, was very appalling and scarring, noting that Liberia was very far away, with 1.2 million people lacking safe drinking water. "Only 17% of the Liberians have access to sanitation; about 12,000 Liberians die every year due to poor water and sanitation, and it goes on."

He said government needs to take measures, adding that the sector ministries of government led by Public Works have been taking measures in the face of funding and capacity gaps. "We really need support from the international system, the support that you (WSA) bring."

Liberia's economy loses US$17.5 million (2.0 percent of GDP) each year due to poor sanitation, according to a report released last April by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).

The desk study, Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa - Liberia, found that the majority (48 percent) of these costs come from the annual premature death of 3,000 Liberians from diarrheal disease, including 1,800 children under the age of 5, nearly 90 percent of which is directly attributable to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Health-related costs, stated the report, accounted for about 40.6 percent of the total economic costs, while access time and productivity losses accounted for about 11.3 percent.

"We've known for some time about the impact of poor sanitation on health, but this is one of the first studies to quantify the annual costs incurred because of poor sanitation," said Yolande Coombes, senior water and sanitation specialist with WSP. "Liberia will not be able to grow sustainably without addressing these costs."

The study also found that 1.2 million Liberians use unsanitary or shared latrines, 1.7 million have no latrine at all and defecate in the open, and that the poorest quintile is 7 times more likely to practice open defection than the richest.

Liberia early this month unveiled a five-year investment plan which outlines priorities for rebuilding the country's water supply, sanitation and hygiene (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.

"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," said World Bank Liberia Country Manager, IngunaDobraja.

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).

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.

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