The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), today, warned ahead of a conference in the Africa region on boosting financing for the sector that, some 180,000 children under the age of five die every year – roughly 500 a day – in sub–Saharan Africa due to diarrhea diseases linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
Aiming to help bring universal access to water and sanitation to West and Central Africa, UNICEF has convened, in cooperation with the Government of Senegal and the African Minister’s Council on Water, the first West and Central Africa Innovative Financing for Water Sanitation & Hygiene, which will be held in the Senegalese capital from today through Thursday, 17 December.
“With children dying every single day, with millions stunted, with such a huge economic toll, it cannot be business as usual,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West & Central Africa Manuel Fontaine, adding that the pace of progress has to speed up exponentially – and it will take strong policies, robust financing, and a major shift in priorities among those who have the power to act.
According to UNICEF, nearly half of the global population without access to improved drinking water lives in sub – Saharan Africa currently and some 700 million people in the region lack access to improved sanitation.
With a population which has nearly doubled in the last 25 years, access to sanitation only increased by 6 percentage points and to water by 20 percentage points across the region in the same period, leaving millions behind, UNICEF stated.
The agency went on to emphasize that without speedy action, the situation could drastically worsen within the next 20 years, as rapidly rising populations outstrip the efforts of governments to provide essential services. For example, the number of people in the region who defecate in the open is higher now than it was in 1990. Meanwhile, open defecation has been linked to an increase in stunting among children.
As for the conference, UNICEF has invited 24 governments in the sub-region to meet with major investment banks, international organizations, businesses and experts.
The aim is to find new mechanisms to raise the estimated $20 to $30 billion annually that the water, sanitation and hygiene sector will need to bring universal access to those services to West and Central Africa.