The international development agency WaterAid has welcomed pledges from South Asian ministers that, if delivered, would provide 48.5 million people with access to essential lifesaving services across the region.
The pledges were made by ministers of developing country participating in the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High-Level Meeting (HLM) in Washington DC.
If these commitments are realised, the governments would need to strive over the next two years to increase access to water by 5 percent and sanitation by 7 percent in their countries.
The figures for increased access to water for 20.2 million people and sanitation for 28.3 million people have been calculated by WaterAid, a partner of the SWA initiative.
These figures have been released at the conclusion of the HLM that brought together a hundred developing and donor countries’ ministers and officials from over 50 countries.
WaterAid’s discussion document ‘Saving Lives’ shows that by meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on sanitation by 2015, the lives of over 84,000 children under the age of five would be saved in South Asia.
At current rates of progress, the continent is not expected to reach the sanitation MDG until the year 2030.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, WaterAid Chief Executive Barbara Frost said that lack of safe sanitation and water and the diarrhoea it causes is the second biggest killer of children in South Asia.
She said that ministers in the region are committed to do more to reach people with water and sanitation services.
Their pledges to strive for increased access for nearly 50 million people are welcomed, but the key challenge now would be putting in place and delivering the national plans in a timely fashion to make these commitments a reality, she added.
WaterAid has also welcomed the announcement from The Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom (UK) State for International Development Secretary and the Member of Parliament for Sutton Coldfield.
According to Mitchell, the UK is doubling the number of people they intend to reach with water, improved hygiene and sanitation by 2015 from 30 million to at least 60 million people.
WaterAid South Asia Regional Advocacy Manager Mustafa Talpur urged all the governments in South Asia to avail the regional and global opportunities coming up to end the undignified conditions of their citizens by proactively planning, investing and targeting national resources for sanitation and putting a better monitoring plan to measure the results.
Alongside the baseline pledges to strive towards increasing access to water by 5 percent and sanitation by 7 percent made by all the developing countries’ governments participating in the HLM, these governments have also tabled their own country commitments as part of this meeting.
For instance, the Pakistani government has committed to reach 20 million people by 2015 with access to sanitation to achieve its MDGs and 14.4 million people to reach 100 percent coverage for improved drinking water.
The Bangladeshi government has also committed to increase the allocation for sanitation and water supply in the development budget by 50 percent.
Talpur said that these commitments re-enforce the promises made earlier at regional platforms like the South Asian Conference on Sanitation-IV in Colombo and the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit.
He said that the challenge is translating political aspirations into reality; hence, the test would be prioritising sanitation in the next budgets, promoting institutional accountability through information sharing and citizens’ participation, and focussing on excluded groups.
He urged upon the key regional donors such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank to prioritise basic sanitation in their sectoral plans.
Currently, banks support big water resources development programmes and the urban waste water treatment system, which are also essential, but nearly 700 million people in the region do not have a basic toilet.
For this reason, proportionate investment that reaches the poor and marginalised people is only possible by investing in community-based sanitation systems.
Pakistan’s goal: reach 34.4 million by 2015
The Pakistani government has pledged to provide 20 million people with access to adequate sanitation and 14.4 million with access to an improved water source by 2015.
These pledges were made in Pakistan’s Country Commitment tabled at the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) High-Level Meeting (HLM) in Washington DC.
Muhammad Javed Malik attended the meeting as the representative of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
WaterAid Pakistan Representative Siddique Ahmad Khan said, “These are crucial commitments made by the Pakistani government. They put the country on the course to universal access to water and meeting the sanitation Millennium Development Goal.”
WaterAid, along with other stakeholders, would actively engage with the government to support and monitor the commitments made during the HLM, he added.
WaterAid Pakistan Policy and Advocacy Manager Abdul Hafeez said, “The upcoming budget at the federal and provincial levels will be a great opportunity for the Pakistani government to honour its commitment by putting a dedicated water and sanitation budget line and increasing financial allocation for the sector.”
Pakistan was one of over 50 governments represented at the SWA Sector Ministers Meeting. The Pakistan Statement of Commitments tabled at the HLM includes 10 specific action points.
These include prioritising sanitation and drinking water within a sector wide approach; developing a national sector action plan by December 2013; increasing funding from the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers to water supply and sanitation by 1 percent by 2015; mobilising external assistance for an additional $200 million (Rs 18.17 billion) annually for water and sanitation; conducting a sector capacity development needs assessment by December 2012; and establishing a national monitoring framework for sanitation and drinking water by 2013.