|the author, Modou S. Joof|
The erstwhile United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Anan once described water as an “essential” aspect of life, when he launched the “Water for Life Decade 2010-2015” in 2006.
This decade was proposed for a more action oriented approach towards the provision of sustainable water supply to billions of people from around the world; hence the international community is charged with doing away with too much talk and resort to action.
It is an open secret that access to clean water is a fundamental and legitimate right to all and sundry, and this has even been admitted by the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Ms Irina Bokova, who stress that its is also for the respect of human dignity.
“The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is wider than ever, at a time when the sharing of resources and access to clean water are not only minimum requirements for community life, but also for the respect of human dignity,” she said in her message to the world on World Day for Water 2011.
The event was observed on March 22 with the theme “Water for Cities: responding to the urban challenge”. With the populations in urban areas rapidly on the increase, water management is projected to become extremely difficult.
The population of African cities is set to triple over the next 40 years, if last year’s United Nations-Habitat Report is anything to be believed. The Report, “The State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequalities and Urban Land Markets” which was launched on 23 November, in Bamako, Mali, said Africa will suffer disproportionately from the negative effects of climate change such as extreme weather events despite contributing less than 5 percent of global green house emissions.
A good example is the extreme heavy rains in The Gambia in 2010 which left thousands of people homeless, and other parts of Africa that have suffered prolonged droughts and subsequent hunger, leading to rural-urban eco-migration, adding even more people to the urban populations at risk.
According to UNESCO, in most developing countries, which account for the bulk of the world’s urban growth, waste water is not adequately treated and flows directly into ground water, further polluting this fragile resource.
In this case, UNESCO noted that Urban Areas, with their high population density, are greatly exposed to diseases transmitted by poor quality water and they are also more vulnerable to natural disasters in the absence measures to manage floods caused by global warming.
And the lack of access to water and sanitation weighs heavily on the economic and social development of poor city dwellers, who sometimes pay up to 50 times more than their rich neighbours for a litter of water.
The issue of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene should be a major concern for The Gambia. According to a Health Specialist at the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in The Gambia, poor sanitation is a poverty trap for low-income households, and recent estimates have shown that national coverage for improved sanitation is only 67 percent and in some regions, it is as low as 31 percent.
Mr. Momodou K. Cham, who was speaking at a day-long Validation on The Gambia National Strategy for Sanitation and Hygiene on March 10, 2011, said: “I find the statistics very disturbing as time is running to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target in 2015.”
It is an open secret that The Gambia is experiencing massive rural-urban migration, due to uneven development across the country. However, it is a pain that there have not been latest reports on the exact figures of populations in our major towns and cites.
The last national census was held in 2003 and it is believed that those figures have increased drastically especially during the height of the world food, fuel and financial crises.
Today, Sanitation and Hygiene in The Gambia should be given its much needed attention in order to avert unforeseen circumstances such as an outbreak of cholera or other waterborne diseases.
The establishment of companies producing portable water sacks, is increasing at a fast pace and this need to be treat with great caution by the Government of The Gambia, particularly the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW).
At a time when earnings and jobs are becoming a great difficulty, anyone can wake up someday and setup a so-called portable-distilled-water-sack company, so it is left to the authorities in their quest to ensure that people have access to clean water, to see which company is fit to operate and which one is not.
Consumers know very well that some of these water sacks sold in almost every nook and cranny of the country are not in their best conditions. Yes! Some “water sacks” smells, and for whatever reasons, I do not know.
What I do know is that the health of consumers (citizens and non-citizens) is at stake, though there is still time to avoid the unthinkable.
Burst water pipes
The National Water Company (NAWEC) cannot say that it is not aware of the huge volumes of water that is being wasted on many streets within the Kanifing Municipality, its staff and top officials are ordinary citizens and residents living and roving within these communities.
In a country where access to clean water is a problem for the larger community, especially rural areas, loosing hundreds of thousands or millions of liters to burst pipes on the streets is rather unacceptable.
The company should have made this issue a top priority, rather than pushing against the will of the people to increase tariffs for electricity. With this situation prevailing, it is probable that however little, the tap water may suffer some infection and in the long run its hygienic conditions will fade.
To this end, Mr. Cham said the challenge is enormous and requires translating the policy (National Strategy for Sanitation and Hygiene) into action, prioritise sanitation on the national development agenda and engage community-base approaches such as Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).
A series of World Bank studies and experimental evidence have shown in recent years that the economic cost of poor sanitation is as high as 1 percent of Gross Domestic Product, GDP (the total value of all goods and services produced in a country in a year) both in middle and low income countries.
And Mr. Cham added that “improved sanitation contributes to socio-economic development through better health, greater household productivity and a clearer environment”.
With all the legitimate and fundamental rights associated with access to clean water, it will be widely accepted if it is made a top priority, hence, health is wealth.