Hague, Netherlands - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has cautioned that universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene must be a post-2015 development priority. “Without greater progress, children will continue to miss school; health costs will continue to be a drag on national economies; adults will continue to miss work; and women and girls – almost always women and girls – will continue to spend countless hours every day fetching water, typically from dirty sources,” the Liberian leader said.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was speaking when she delivered the Keynote Address at the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Water in the Post-2015 Agenda in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, March 21. The event also included discussion on the results of the Global Thematic Consultation on Water.
The Liberian leader, also Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa, reiterated that addressing the global water and sanitation crisis is not about charity, but about opportunity. She imagined a world – one where people, rich or poor, have access to their most basic needs.
President Sirleaf acknowledged the many challenges facing the global community today simply because of the lack the knowledge or technical ability to address them; but this, she noted cannot be said of water and sanitation. “We know how to provide them. The resources exist. We simply need to decide whether doing so is a priority,” she pointed out, adding, “It should be, both now and beyond 2015.”
Reflecting on a new report released by WaterAid during the program, President Sirleaf said, among other things, it showed that while 61 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water, it is the wealthiest 20 percent who have almost universal access, while one in ten of the poorest people living in rural areas have any access at all. In the ECOWAS region, 35 percent do not have access to safe drinking water.
On sanitation, she said the new report indicates a staggering 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation; whereas, in ECOWAS countries, 74 percent lack access to sanitation.
“We must do better,” she admonished, adding that addressing the global water and sanitation crisis is not about charity, but about opportunity, and WaterAid’s report presents a strong case for making safe water and effective sanitation available to all.
The Liberian President noted that all too often access to adequate sanitation, in particular, is seen as an outcome of development rather than a driver of economic development and poverty reduction, citing South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s where they demonstrated the potential for boosting economic development by addressing sanitation.
Quoting the World Health Organization, President Sirleaf said US$260 billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world which could lift people out of poverty, create jobs and improve healthcare and education.
On activities in the sector in Liberia, President Sirleaf named the hosting of a multi-donor joint mission for Liberia, under the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) initiative, which resulted in the Liberia WASH Compact.
Liberia hosted a thematic consultation on water on the margins of the February Post-2015 High-Level Panel Meeting in Monrovia, in collaboration with partners that included the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) and WaterAid.
As co-Chair of the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, President Sirleaf promised to advocate that access to water and sanitation be included on that agenda. “From here, I go to Bali, for the fourth meeting of the Panel, being hosted by my fellow co-Chair, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia. Today’s meeting will allow me to travel to Bali with my mind filled with important contributions to our work on the Panel,” President Sirleaf said.
The Liberian President thanked the host, the Government of the Netherlands, especially His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange, who is also the Chairperson ofthe UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, for his leadership and passion in bringing the world’s attention to the global water and sanitation issues. He has been a global advocate for clean water and adequate sanitation for years. He relinquishes the position when he ascends to the throne as King of the Netherlands next month.