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Published on: 27/10/2022

All systems go Africa participants discussing water, sanitation and hygiene systems strengthening

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Accra, Ghana — Delegates at the first All Systems Go Africa symposium concluded that sub-Saharan African countries need greater political commitment and stronger investments in governance, management and operating systems to get back on track to achieving the goal of water, sanitation and hygiene services for all.

The three-day symposium was convened by IRC, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of the Republic of Ghana who also hosted the event. Between 19 and 21 October 2022, the event brought together over 250 participants, with delegations from 25 African countries, at the Kempinski Hotel. Participants comprised political leaders, professionals, government officials, academia, NGOs, private sector, donors and regional institutions – including the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Water Association (AfWA), and the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW). The symposium examined the lessons learned from the review of progress and the critical changes needed to achieve the water, sanitation and hygiene targets in Africa.

Referring to the Africa Water Vision adopted by the continent's leaders in 2000, the Republic of Ghana's Vice-President, His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, reminded participants that Africa had committed to a bold vision – that "everyone on the continent will have access to safe water and sanitation by 2025." Yet, about 30% of Africa's population still lack basic drinking water services and 57% remain without access to basic sanitation.

All African countries endorsed the SDGs in 2015, aiming to deliver universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030. Yet, in 2022, only one of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana) is on track to achieving the basic water target, according to UN report. All 48 are off track to meeting the basic sanitation target. Ambitions for safely managed services are obviously further off track than basic services. Dr. Tanko Yussif Azzika, Director of programmes of AMCOW noted that "we are obliged by this slow progress to deeply reflect on the necessary actions that we need to take in our governance and management systems at the local level, district, national and regional levels to facilitate further action on the achievement of the water and sanitation goals of the continent."

Six urgent takeaways identified by the symposium for accelerating progress across the African continent are:

1. Prioritising area-wide planning to promote harmonious and collective action. 

Invest in district-wide plans to galvanise collective action towards universal access to services. Area-wide planning will inspire joint visioning, foster creative partnerships, climate-resilience, and increase districts' access to technical support and to innovative approaches of service delivery and financial resources with which to implement plans.

2. Improving national financing is key to achieving the WASH targets.

Design and implementation of national financing strategies is vital for enhancing the durability of WASH services in the face of environmental and economic shocks. The Africa Water Vision, Ngor commitments and SDGs cannot be fulfilled in the absence of sustainable financing. Such strategies will address the fundamental issues that impede financial flows, including institutional and budget absorption capacities and concrete strategies to mobilise more resources. For a start, African countries need to prioritise domestic resource mobilisation using progressive taxes and tariffs.

3. High-quality data is essential for decision making. 

Evidence-based decision making will require continuous access to high-quality data and effective knowledge management. This calls for institutionalising National Coordination Platforms for implementing sector-wide information systems that include all relevant institutions – national bureaus of statistics, ministries responsible for water, sanitation, health, education, agriculture and the environment, as well as utilities and other components of the system.

4. Utility models have potential to address WASH needs in rural areas and small towns. 

Promote utility models (professional water and sanitation operators regulated by public authorities) to enhance the delivery of safely managed services to households, schools, healthcare facilities and public places in rural areas and small towns. This will include benchmarking for stimulating progress and recognising the strong position of utilities in catalytic and scalable initiatives. It also includes coordinated investment in strengthening and supporting utilities to perform the envisaged role and to ensure that no one is left behind.

5. Prioritising resources and financial investments for the sanitation economy. 

In the words of the AMCOW delegate to the symposium, "the sanitation and hygiene business should be every business's business." In this regard, states should utilise the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPGs) to improve the sanitation policy environment in line with continental and global best practices to improve the investment outlook for the sector.

6. Addressing critical needs for WASH services in fragile contexts requires resilient country systems. 

To that end, the Humanitarian-Development-Peace nexus ought to be operationalised wherever it is relevant to do so on the continent.

"I believe in strong partnerships for activating these solutions that will accelerate progress in water and sanitation across the continent. The Bank will continue efforts for strengthening systems," said Osward Chanda, Director of Water Development and Sanitation at the Africa Development Bank, in the closing plenary.

The Africa Water Vision 2025 is about to come to its end, and a post-2025 vision should be designed in the coming years. As one participant noted, "we cannot simply start planning without first looking back to learn from the past. Failing to plan is planning to fail." With the leadership of AMCOW, the six urgent actions identified by the symposium will therefore inform the design of the post-2025 Africa Water Vision as well as various intermediate opportunities such as Africa's common position and voice at COP27 in November 2022, the African Union Groundwater summit in December 2022, the Africa Water Association Congress in February 2023, the All Systems Connect symposium in May 2023, and the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York.

Participants further agreed that the All Systems Go Africa symposium will be institutionalised, to be hosted on a rotational basis by different African countries. The next event is being planned for 2025. At that symposium, stakeholders shall reflect on these resolutions and assess themselves against the progress made on the six key points above.

Concluding the call to action, Dr. Tanko Yussif Azzika said, "AMCOW believes in the power of systems, and I believe we all believe in the power of systems. Together we can effect the needed change and get Africa on good track towards achieving the Africa Water Vision and the SDGs."

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