Thursday's proceedings in Washington kicked off for real, with Ministers of Water and Sanitation, Environment and Health from over 30 countries across Africa and Asia gathering for an all day meeting to do two things – work out what they can do better to get sanitation and water to their citizens, and agree how they want donor countries to support them too.
We were there, with the Chairman of the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW), Prof. Edward Kairu, giving an inspiring speech at the start of the day. He urged Ministers to act strongly and speak loudly, representing the issues in our manifesto, the voices from our queues, and the communities lacking basic rights in Africa.
Prof. Kairu added a shock factor with 3 sets of photos:
- Those from the World’s Longest Toilet Queue, demonstrating the breath of demand for action across the world.
- Those from communities in Africa, including a shocking image of people whose livelihood is dependent on cleaning out pit latrines.
- A dramatic mocked up picture of the White House as if it were placed in a festering slum.
There were no lack of calls to action – the World Bank called on water and sanitation to be put centre stage and the Prime Minister of Ghana (via his Water Minister) said “we cannot achieve our vision of a better Ghana without delivering on water & sanitation”. But the star of the show was perhaps the South African Water and Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica who – in response to the civil society presentation – said:
“Action is needed yesterday. We should be ashamed that our people live in such conditions. It’s further evidence of a growing rift between rich and poor. This is a human rights issue.”
She continued later in the meeting when negotiating a common declaration to present to donors and Ministers of Finance tomorrow by supporting all the main tenets of End Water Poverty’s manifesto including:
- More finance from both donors and developing country governments, to fund national sanitation and water plans
- Proper targeting of aid money – ensuring 70% of aid goes to low-income countries (up from just 40% now)
- Ensuring full accountability of commitments – including those of donors.
I wasn’t sure what to expect today, but I’m impressed. Many countries are taking strong steps to tackle poverty in their own countries in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before. The question is whether we in the north will join them.