Africa: A blueprint for action: how new guidelines are paving the way for better sanitation in Africa

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This week’s World Water Forum, taking place in Dakar, Senegal, is a timely reminder of how the world is turning away from its commitment to achieve universal access to safe sanitation by 2030 .

Access to basic sanitation and hygiene services is a major concern globally, with 3.6 billion people without safely managed sanitation and 2.3 billion without basic hygiene in 2020.

At AMCOW, Speak Up Africa, UNICEF and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), we believe there is hope to turn the tide: in the form of the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG ), an initiative launched last year to help improve national and sub-national sanitation and hygiene policies across the continent.

The guidelines provide the continent with essential standards for improving sanitation and hygiene policies, giving national governments a structure that will help them turn the page on the current state of inadequate sanitation and hygiene services. for its people.

But can the political guidelines be implemented and will they be? We have looked closely at the implications of the six areas of the guidelines and are confident that this will help countries prioritize the key interventions that are needed.

The reason we know this is that across the continent, guidelines – which outline six key areas of intervention – have already been or are being implemented. The following examples show how African nations can put systems in place to ensure universal access to safe sanitation.

Sanitation systems and services, South Africa. Since the 2000s, local authorities have addressed sanitation challenges in the Durban region with a decentralized approach, in which stand-alone sewerless systems have been improved and adopted as viable, efficient and cost-effective solutions. The installation of thousands of sanitation blocks and urine-diverting toilets also provided sanitation options for informal settlements, with an approach that sought to maximize both financial capabilities and land and community characteristics. local.

Hygiene and behavior change, Rwanda. Often, behavior change – an important part of vital hygiene improvements – is missing from national WASH policies, which are more focused on service delivery. But in Rwanda, a national handwashing strategy is yielding positive results, even despite the challenges posed by Covid-19. In February 2021, a USAID report stated that “self-reported handwashing levels are high in Rwanda during the pandemic period”.

Institutional arrangements, Senegal. Lack of clarity in institutional mandates and accountability hampers efforts to provide sanitation and hygiene services in Africa and in many developing countries around the world. Senegal has launched a program designed to update sanitation policy and strategy documents and clarify the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. The program helps to increase efficiency and coordination between national bodies and authorities across the sector.

Regulations, Zambia. Effective regulations are essential to ensure a strong sanitation system that can deliver adequate services to all. In Zambia, the creation in 2018 of a regulatory framework for the management of sanitation waste in urban communities was a major step forward. This framework, combined with improved standards for sanitation technologies and a new wastewater quality monitoring program, is spurring action not only by the country’s water and sanitation utilities, but also by the private sector.

Capacity Development, South Africa. In South Africa, the national government has made progress in building the skills of the sanitation workforce. Following the completion of a skills gap analysis in 2015, a series of training programs have been introduced in various public sector institutions including the Water and Sanitation Department, Municipalities, catchment management agencies and water boards. The country’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan includes a chapter dedicated to capacity building, acknowledging that its ambitions will not be achieved “without addressing capacity – the qualified people needed to undertake the work”.

Funding and Funding, Chad. Traditionally, public sector investment in sanitation in Africa has focused on sewers, but this is changing as it is increasingly recognized that sewerless services are much more cost effective and can reach a wider area of ​​the population. Chad, a country which in the early 2000s had virtually no sanitation infrastructure, has made significant progress in the way it invests in sanitation and therefore the proportion of the population with access to improved toilets had reached 16.1% in 2019. External donors, notably the African Development Bank and the European Union, have played an important role.

Each of these examples is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing the sanitation crisis. But it is a start and shows that it is possible to make significant progress on the six elements outlined in the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines. We now need countries to quickly replicate and combine these successes to bring about lasting change.

With the political will to design the right policies towards a common goal, the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines should generate a high level of confidence and certainty among the continent’s authorities.

The model for action is here: it can be done.

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