Thursday, 12 May 2011

Water and sanitation an issue the poorest countries can’t afford to ignore

This was the message from End Water Poverty, and 350,000 World Walks for Water campaigners, to participants of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) yesterday, as we hosted an interactive side event at the civil society forum.

Doreen Wandera speaks to the press after the side event

With access to water and sanitation heavily impacting on gender equality, economic growth, food security, health and education, the global effort to reach the MDGs will be heavily compromised if the LDCs fail to address the water and sanitation crisis.

With 500 million of the LDC population having no access to sanitation, and 300 million without access to clean and affordable water, and the horrific impact this lack of access has especially on women, girls and marginalized communities, we told participants that they ignore water and sanitation at their peril.

Doreen Wandera, executive Director of the Ugandan Water and Sanitation Network (UWASNET), a key End Water Poverty member and member of the End Water Poverty Steering Committee, as well as a coordinator of the 50,000 who took part in the World Walks for Water in Uganda, gave a brilliantly received presentation setting out the challenges in Uganda, as well as the ways in which civil society is working to address the crisis.

This included leading the successful World Walks for Water campaign in Uganda alongside WaterAid Uganda, which was attended by the Water Minister who received a manifesto from Ugandan civil society.

Questions from the floor during the event covered areas including sustainability, measuring campaign success, African transboundary issues, the challenges of population growth and how the private sector should be involved in the challenge of delivering sanitation and water for all.

One comment from an East African participant was particularly poignant, as she outlined that “the girls from my community are just missing out on so much. They don’t even make it to school as they’re collecting water all day”. Water and sanitation has been shown to be a key gender issue, with millions of women and girls missing out on an education or an opportunity to work due to spending hours a day collecting water or caring for those ill with diarrheal diseases. Attendees of the event were shown our video urging action at the conference. The event also received coverage in the main conference's newsletter - which is distributed to the thousands of attendees.

Challenges remain at the LDC conference - with the draft Istanbul Programme for Action not finalised and at risk of being weak in ambition on water and sanitation, and without strong accountability measures built in. We're working hard - meeting delegations and media to push up the profile of the issue. Check back here for our progress and keep track of us on twitter too.

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