May 04, 2012
Making water and sanitation a reality for all AfricansBack
Africa|Health|PROJECT|Project Management|Resources|Sustainable|Systems|Water|Africa|Benin|Mozambique|Tanzania|USD|Gross Domestic Product|Maintenance|Sanitation Services|Services|Systems|Water Systems|Environmental|Infrastructure|Jamal Saghir|Water|Sub-Saharan Africa
© Reuse this
Dirty water and poor sanitation sicken and kill tens of thousands of people each year in sub-Saharan Africa and imposes a heavy economic cost on countries that is equivalent to 1.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of some countries.
Since access to potable water and sanitation was first recognised as a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in 2000, budgets for water and sanitation have grown in much of Africa. But bigger budgets and more spending have not significantly expanded access to services in most countries. This is because the continent’s population continues to grow at a fast rate, the extra public financing is not being effec- tively spent, too little is being done to maintain existing water facilities and infrastructure and water systems in countries embroiled in conflict have been destroyed or damaged.
Recently, the World Bank and the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, cohosted a high-level Ministerial dialogue on sanitation and water, which took stock of the water and sanitation situation around the world. This provided a vital opportunity for governments, donors, civil society, the private sector and other key partners to confront the stark truth that safe water and sanitation in Africa remain out of reach of many, especially poor people.
In a recent World Bank study of water and sanitation services in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, it found that public spending still falls considerably short of government commitments and of inter- national and national policy goals. On average, governments spent $1.71 per person on water supply and sanitation, which equates to less than 0.5% of GDP and is five times lower than what is estimated to be needed each year to meet sub-Saharan Africa’s MDG targets.
It was also found that actual patterns of spending stand in stark contrast to the economic and social rationales behind such spending. Too small a share of available funds is spent to expand poor people’s access to essential services and to address the health and environmental problems created by unsafe water. Too little is spent on maintaining water supply infrastructure. Too little is spent on sanitation. Too great a share of public funding goes to subsidising water for richer citizens who can afford to pay unsubsidised prices. Too great a share is wasted by inefficient utility practices, such as overstaffing and underbilling, for example.
Targeting public spending on the poor will call for well-off citizens to pay for the water they use. Water and sanitation cannot develop sustainably until the wealthy begin paying for their services so that public financing can be directed to where it is needed most – to improve the lives of poor people.
Low utility tariffs are a major issue. However, before making changes to the tariffs, utilities should improve their effi- ciency by addressing their low billing and collection ratios. Promoting better maintenance of existing assets can cut spending on costly rehabilitation, thus increasing the budget available for expanding access.
While many African governments have updated their water policies, they have been less effective in terms of putting them into practice, with national and local governments unsure about their respective duties. Tanzania, a notable exception, has embraced a decentralised approach to water and sanitation, where national government transfers to Tanzanian local governments reached nearly 40% of the water budget in 2008, up from zero in 2005.
Only two-thirds of water and sanitation budgets are actually spent. To improve budget execution, government capacities in project management, especially at local level, will need to be strengthened to make well- intentioned plans succeed. More detailed planning and speedier pro- curement will decrease the number of abandoned works and reduce delays.
Fortunately, there are some positive examples. For example, Benin has combined reforms of public expendi- ture management, while developing new investment programmes. Donors helped government to improve its management and implementation capacity so that the allocated funds could be spent within a budget cycle. Between 2001 and 2008, the number of new water points built each surged more than fourfold. Meanwhile, better budgeting and greater transparency in public financing persuaded several donors to increase their funding to Benin.
Finally, it was found that donor funds were often badly targeted and unpredict- able, resulting in execution rates that are lower than those of internal resources. Donors need to work together more closely and organise themselves behind a country’s water and development plans. Donor funding is critical, as internal spending is not enough to fund improved water and sanitation. But donor funds are often fragmented.
One water utility in Mozambique, for example, had 19 separate donors in 2008. Donor funding commitments for the coming years are a good start. But greater harmonisation and pooling of their aid money are vital to avoid overwhelming a country’s ability to plan, budget, implement and report back to the donors on how their aid is being used. As a first step, development partners should consider forming a donor group for the sector to jump-start the necessary pooling, harmonisation and joint evaluation.
The World Bank review revealed a lack of efficient public spending and showed how better-off citizens end up capturing the benefits of public spending on water and sanitation at the expense of poorer people. The emotional argument for more expendi- ture on clean water and better sanitation will be greatly strengthened by improving the targeting and execution of public spending so that clean drinking water and healthy sanitation services become a reality for all Africans.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
Other News This Week News
Recent Research Reports
Steel 2015: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2015 report provides an overview of the key developments in the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon...
Projects in Progress 2015 - First Edition (PDF Report)
In fact, this edition of Creamer Media’s Projects in Progress 2015 supplement tracks developments taking place under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which has had four bidding rounds. It appears to remain a shining light on the...
Electricity 2015: A review of South Africa's electricity sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2015 report provides an overview of State-owned power utility Eskom and independent power producers, as well as electricity planning, transmission, distribution and the theft thereof, besides other issues.
Construction 2015: A review of South Africa’s construction sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Construction 2015 Report examines South Africa’s construction industry over the past 12 months. The report provides insight into the business environment; the key participants in the sector; local construction demand; geographic diversification;...
Liquid Fuels 2014 - A review of South Africa's Liquid Fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2014 Report examines these issues, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing, competition in the sector, the...
Water 2014: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2014 report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context, but also in the African and global context, and examines the issues of water and sanitation, water quality and the demand for water, among others.
This Week's Magazine
While strongly welcoming the promulgation of the new Part 101 of South Africa’s civil aviation regulations, governing the commercial operation of civil remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) in South Africa, the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of Southern Africa...
LSM Distributors has contracted engineering consultancy WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Africa to undertake the R100-million restoration of the 54-year-old Kyalami racetrack, situated in Midrand. The restoration will assist in re-establishing it as a venue for...
South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has expressed the hope that the defence budget will be significantly increased over the next five years. She did so while addressing the media in her recent budget vote media briefing. The 2015/2016 defence...
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has been an implementing agency for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) since 2008. The relatively young portfolio has 28 projects over 30 countries on the continent according to the 2014 AfDB and GEF annual report released...
Investment in South African youth through apprenticeships and learnerships will not only create direct benefits for businesses but will also contribute significantly to job creation and socioeconomic transformation in the country.