Thursday, 17 May 2012

Africa Water Week: "Now is the time to walk the talk"

Olivier Germain is End Water Poverty's Campaigns Advisor. He's currently at Africa Water Week in Cairo. Here he tells us about what's been happening so far:

The 4th Africa Water Week is taking place this year in Cairo, as the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW) celebrates its 10 year anniversary.   The first two days were marked by significant pomp, with both the AMCOW Executive Committee General Assembly and opening sessions attended by over 20 African Ministers!  In front of a packed room of around 1000 people, including government officials, donor agencies and civil society representatives, AMCOW reflected on its 10 year existence.   Although most of the speeches from high officials were congratulatory and focused on successes such as the establishment of the Africa Water Facility, there was also a recognition that much was yet to be done to ensure every African citizen gains access to safe water and sanitation.

Water is the centre of economic growth.   What has been missing in Africa is commitment.  Now we have strong commitments to move forward” stated Mr. Bai-Mass Taal, the AMCOW Executive Secretary, who was re-elected in the role for another 4 years.   “As we are marching towards 2015, more is needed from all of us, especially African leaders” cautioned the 1st AMCOW President, while the newly elected AMCOW President, Dr Hesham Kandil, echoed what many now want to see when he said “Now is the time to walk the talk […] turning AMCOW’s vision into action.”    


Bold and ambitious statements such as those of Mr. Bash Kamara, the Sierra Leone Deputy Minister of Energy and Water Resources, urging all African Ministers to pledge 6% of their GDP to the WASH sector, were a step in the right direction.  

And the Minister of Public Works in Liberia, Mr Woods, representing the Goodwill Ambassador for Water in Africa, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, proposed 4 key points: 
1) the need for greater decentralisation and regionalisation in the WASH sector 
2) sustained political commitments with prioritization on water and sanitation as the key to economic growth 3) the need to promote South-South exchanges
4) Water is life and therefore universal access must now be the goal going forwards

While these first two days were characterised by a series of high level speeches, the attention now turns to the more practical, interactive and detailed sessions of the week, tackling the issue of how to make all this happen.   

Yesterday saw a series of meetings on the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership, starting with a review of the High Level Meeting (HLM) commitments made by African Ministers in Washington under a month ago.   During the CSO Forum, End Water Poverty (EWP) talked in more detail of the role CSOs can play in the establishment of proper and effective monitoring systems at national level to ensure the HLM commitments are implemented.   This was then followed by an interactive session led by WSSCC on how to communicate SWA messages to diverse groups.   It was refreshing to see that all through the conference, the Sanitation and Water for All partnership was being talked about and referenced, and African Ministers were re-stating that they would honour the commitments they made in Washington.

It is planned for key messages and action points to emerge from each of the sub-themes of the Africa Water Week  to be presented at the closing ceremony.   Let us hope some concrete steps are outlined and agreed upon to take forward, for as mentioned in the opening ceremony “No will is good without action” and “We all need to act now and collectively”.

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