Meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on Water

Remarks by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund
At the Meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on Water
World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, 29 August 2002 

What a privilege it is to be talking about the need for all people and communities to have access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Johannesburg, a city that has a truly remarkable achievement in this area. It is one of apparently only 12 cities in the world that has a completely safe water supply for its people.

Yet this standard is far beyond the dreams of the vast majority of Africa’s, if not the world’s population.
It can be estimated that at any one time, half of sub-Saharan Africa’s people suffer from diseases associated with lack of water, sanitation and hygiene-ranging from diarrhoea to malaria, trachoma to bilharzia, and the dreaded guinea worm disease.

Forty per cent of Africa’s families do not have adequate access to safe drinking water. At the current rate of expansion of water supply systems, the Millennium Development goal of reducing by half the proportion of people without adequate access to safe water will not be achieved until the 2050s.

Lack of sanitation is also a major public health problem throughout the region. It is not just households but most primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa lack adequate sanitation facilities. This results in schools being filthy places where diseases are transmitted and learning achievement is hampered due to the poor health status of students.

Millions of school age children in Africa are infected by worms and parasites which leads to malnutrition, anemia and retards their physical development and learning capacity.

Although the lack of facilities and poor hygiene affect both girls and boys, poor sanitary conditions at schools have a greater negative impact on girls. Indeed about one in ten school-age African girls drop out at puberty because of lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools.
In order to reach the Millennium goal by 2015, an additional 400 million Africans will need to be provided with safe water supply.  This implies roughly a tripling of the pace of progress observed during the 1990s.  Roughly similar numbers of additional people will need to gain access to sanitation to meet the 2015 goals.  That represents a rate of progress about four times higher than in the last decade.

One area where countries in Africa have made good progress is in the campaign to eliminate guinea worm disease.  There was a 90 per cent reduction in the number of guinea worm cases in the course of the last decade.  Most of the 14 countries where there are still cases of guinea worm are in a position to completely eliminate this disease with concerted efforts.
In the light of these realities, I would like to recommend three specific goals in the area of water and sanitation in Africa:

1. That in the course of this decade every primary school in Africa should be equipped with separate sanitary latrines for boys and girls – and that every school, without exception, should have a source of clean and safe drinking water.

2. Second, let us resolve to reach the Millennium Goal of reducing, by half, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water – thereby contributing to further reduction of child deaths, illnesses and malnutrition by 2015.

3. And third, I propose that we redouble our efforts to completely eliminate guinea worm disease, using the same determination and commitment to partnership with which UNICEF, WHO and our other partners have worked so hard to drive polio to the brink of eradication.

We believe that the achievement of these goals ought to be the minimum that African countries and their development partners can do to ensure a healthy environment for our children.

We would commend that these goals feature prominently in the future elaboration of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  We at UNICEF look forward to working with you to achieve these goals to contribute to building an Africa fit for children.

Thank you.