Photo: Garbage dumped in a field in the Eastland’s Suburbs of Kenya's capital Nairobi. - Photo: 2016

People Key to Sub-Saharan Africa’s Sanitation Challenges

By Justus Wanzala

STOCKHOLM (IDN) – Rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is leading to increased urbanisation resulting in high volumes of both solid and water waste, and making compliance with sanitation regulations and standards a major issue.

To face up to the challenge, participants in a session on sustainable urban sanitation during the World Water Week conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, from August 28 – September 2 called for a multi-pronged approach involving all stakeholders to achieve the goal of sustainable urban sanitation.

In an interview with IDN, Najib Lukooya, a sanitation expert from Uganda’s Kampala City Council Authority, highlighted various sanitation challenges facing all African cities, including the lack of development of adequate infrastructure due to inadequate financing and the absence of minimum standards, which could form a benchmark for regulation and enforcement.

According to Lukooya, political interference, inadequate institutional and technical capacity and disparities in terms of access and service provision based on income, gender, location, social status are further obstacles to attainment of acceptable sanitation in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

These are compounded by other challenges such as lack of political will to recognise sanitation as a key development priority, inadequate public engagement and participation in planning and decision-making, and the unavailability of robust physical development plans to ensure inclusive service provision and access.

His views are in line with the findings of WaterAid, an international organisation with the mission of improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene among poor communities. WaterAid cites high population densities, transient populations, and differing laws and legal status of slum dwellers as challenges facing cities in poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

A study commissioned by WaterAid and released in late August 2016 – entitled A tale of clean cities: insights for planning urban sanitation from Ghana, India and the Philippines – showed substantial but uneven progress along segments of the sanitation chain and reported that the urban poor and those who live in challenging areas are being left behind in access to sanitation facilities.

WaterAid highlighted poor infrastructure such as water pipes, electricity and sewer facilities and poor-quality housing built on the land that no one wants, such as steep slopes, as obstacles to the achievement of high levels of sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa.

In terms of public engagement in planning and decision-making around sanitation, Lukooya told IDN that communities should be allowed to “take a lead or be part of the regulatory and enforcement framework through putting in place opportunities for setting local standards and by-laws which work for them”.

“Let sanitation be everyone’s responsibility and a key agenda at household level,” he stressed, calling on the authorities to create avenues for input into and feedback from the sanitation agenda.”

A 2015 WaterAid report on capacity to use available funds for water, sanitation and hygiene in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda – called for elimination of barriers to financial absorption in the water sector.

It noted that national development plans should include steps to achieve high financial absorption as a core part of strengthening the performance of the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and recommended that national governments should invest in building their core capabilities, including public financial, human resource, statistics and contract management.

Guy Norman, Head of Evaluation & Research at Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) told the World Water Week conference that political interference is a key challenge for sanitation. He said, for example, that “public toilets are often owned by municipal politicians, and this affects enforcement of sanitation by law because the system has an opportunity for corruption”. Participants agreed that citizen monitoring was effective in fighting corruption but noted that this was usually undermined by lack of political will.

Meliata Grant from the Institute of Sustainable Futures said that inspection, use of technology for monitoring and citizen monitoring are necessary for good sanitation all through.

Referring to how various parts of the world handle sanitation issues, she said that CCTV cameras are being used in Australia, for example, to identify those involved in waste dumping. Other innovative ways being used by some local authorities include giving incentives such as cash tokens to persuade residents to dispose of refuse in the right places.

“A smart approach draws on the various regulatory approaches and combines different instruments to support compliance in the most cost-effective way,” said Grant.

Private sector led service delivery was also recognised as fundamental for the realisation of sanitation goals in sub-Saharan Africa. “Entrepreneurship and business opportunities around sanitation at a local level should be created,” said Lukooya. “This calls for innovative self-financing mechanisms for sanitation,” said Lukooya.

Conference participants also called for embracing the “reduce, reuse, recycle” strategy for combatting pollution. A 2014 UN Habitat report on ‘The State of African Cities 2014: Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions’ indicated that sub-Saharan Africa is in the midst of a dramatic urban transition that will persist well into the 21st century. Between 2010 and 2035, the urban population is expected to more than double from approximately 298 million to 697 million and this will lead to the challenge of improving waste management services.

Already in 2010, the World Bank had indicated that waste generation in sub-Saharan Africa stood at approximately 62 million tonnes per year. It noted that per capita waste generation was generally low but spanned a wide range, from 0.09 to 3.0 kg per person per day, with an average of 0.65 kg/capita/day. Island nations were noted to have the highest per capita rates linked to waste generated by the tourism industry, and a more complete accounting of all wastes generated.

In relation to the role of technology in improving sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa, Lukooya argued that technology is not an impediment to achieving sanitation goals, but that authorities should develop some basic minimum standards customised to the local context to drive inclusive and equitable service delivery.

“They should, for example, take advantage of the rapid developments in ICT to track progress, monitor performance and aid planning and timely decision-making.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 September 2016]

Photo: Garbage dumped in a field in the Eastland’s Suburbs of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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