Poor sanitation and bad hygiene cause the deaths of one in five Liberians, according to the World Health Organization, but despite NGO lobbying efforts to put clean water and sanitation high on donors’ and the government’s agenda, the sector still faces a "deadly financing gap" says NGO Oxfam.
Three out of four Liberians have no access to safe drinking water and six out of seven cannot access sanitation facilities, such as toilets, according to Oxfam in a recently-launched report, Life and Dignity at risk: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Liberia.
A further US$93.5 million is needed to boost clean water access to 50 percent of all Liberians; and to improve access to toilets to 33 percent - goals set out in the government’s 2008-2011 poverty reduction strategy.
Diarrhoea kills 20 percent of children who die aged five or under in Liberia according to the report, which was released on behalf of the WASH consortium - a group of five international NGOs which advocate the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in the country.
Why so slow?
Weak capacity, lack of coordination between different ministries and between different donors, and a lack of financing for water and sanitation are the major obstacles to attaining water and sanitation goals, said the consortium.
With no central WASH authority, the ministries involved in water and sanitation supply include the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Liberia Water and Sewage Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Mines, among others.
Donor coordination is also weak: only two donors regularly attended government WASH coordination meetings last year, and the donor coordination group is led by the African Development Bank, which as yet has no presence in the country and cannot attend meetings.
The ADB is providing $35 million to support WASH in the government’s 2008-2011 poverty reduction strategy (PRS). Staff could not be contacted for an interview.
A policy, at last
A water resource and sanitation board, which will coordinate all activities in the sector, is finally being set up, after the much-delayed launch of the government’s water and sanitation policy in December 2009.
“That is the instrument to use to force leadership in the sector,” the consortium’s advocacy manager, Muyatwa Sitali, told IRIN. “Only with a water and sanitation policy can the government coordinate donors, UN agencies and NGOs involved in water provision to come up with a critically needed, sector-wide approach.”
Until that is fully functioning, it will remain unclear who is doing what in the sector, where the money is going, and what the priorities are, says Sitali.
But getting it to function will be difficult unless donors and the government commit more money to the sector. They agreed on a US$143.5 million Poverty Reduction Strategy to improve clean water and toilets across the country by 2011, but with 18 months left to achieve its goals, it is still only one-third funded.
Neither the government, nor donors are channelling enough to WASH, Public Works Assistant Minister George Yarngo told IRIN. “Given the low level of funding from both donors and the government, the PRS goals will not be achieved.”
To fast-track results, the government must fund 10 percent of the PRS, says Oxfam. Since 2006, it has allocated less than one percent of its annual budget to WASH - or from $200,000-$1 million each year. Exact figures are hard to establish because so many different ministries are involved.
It pays to pay
Upping WASH investments will pay off in the long term, say Sitali and Yarngo: Governments that do invest in water and sanitation stand to gain economically, said the Wash Consortium report: it estimated each dollar invested in the sector brought economic gains of $8-11.
But, to date, donors have favoured funding middle rather than low-income countries’ water sectors, said NGO WaterAid.
Water and sanitation receives less funding than health, education, transport, energy and agriculture, according to the global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS).
Donors that are usually strong WASH supporters - such as the Netherlands and Germany - are not funding the sector in Liberia.
“If we adequately responded to WASH, we would see a significant reduction of the diseases caused by dirty water and bad sanitation, which would drastically reduce the cost of medical services,” said Sitali. “And providing water and sanitation facilities in schools would enable thousands of people to maintain their education. Good water and sanitation is not just a matter of life, it’s a matter of dignity.”
Assistant minister Yarngo is confident the situation is about to improve, now that a policy is in place. “We just need to fast-track these changes.”
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