Access to sanitation is a human right, essential for preserving human dignity and attaining a high quality of life. It is also a social service with important contributions to human health, poverty eradication, gender equity and economic development. Diarrheal diseases, linked to poor access to safe water and inadequate sanitation, is the third leading cause of death in Africa. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a return of 3-5 dollars in savings from medical and funeral expenses, care for the sick and increased productivity of the workforce, among others.
Despite the obvious benefits from sanitation, a large proportion of the African population has no access to basic sanitation, and many countries did not meet their sanitation MDG target. The Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) report for 2019 indicates that in 2017 about 750 million people in Africa (i.e., close to 70% of the population) did not have access to basic sanitation while over 200 million people (i.e., 20% of the population) practiced open defecation.
Many factors are responsible for the dire situation in Africa. These include low levels of prioritization and investment in the sanitation sector; high capital investment cost of urban sanitation systems; poor policy and regulatory frameworks; weak water and sanitation utilities; low levels of awareness on sanitation and hygiene, and poor cultural practices and beliefs. An equally important contributing factor is the lack of accurate information to support evidence-based policy and decision making on sanitation management.
The latter situation – on a weak information base – changed with the publication of the first-ever Sanitation and Wastewater Management Atlas for Africa. This report provides a comprehensive overview of the sanitation situation on the continent. Sanitation in the report is viewed, not in the narrow sense of the management of human faeces, but extended to include the management of different wastewater streams comprising municipal, industrial, urban stormwater runoff, agricultural and medical wastewater streams as well as the management of solid waste. The report has a graphically appealing look and is rich in statistical facts and insightful graphical illustrations.
The report amplifies the huge deficit in sanitation access in Africa and is a call to intensify efforts for improving sanitation access
The report has a broad scope, which extends to water, sanitation and hygiene coverage on the African continent; urban versus rural disparities in service coverage levels; demographic trends and impacts on sustainable development; surface and groundwater availability and water stress situation; approaches for sustainable management of wastewater streams including types of technologies used in wastewater treatment; wastewater re-use and circular economy approaches on the continent; international, continental and national policy and regulatory frameworks for the management of water and sanitation; and country profiles on water and sanitation.
The report amplifies the huge deficit in sanitation access in Africa and is a rallying call on African governments, development partners, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, businesses, universities and research institutions, and private individuals to intensify efforts for improving sanitation access on the continent. Potential interventions include updating and increasing the depth of data on water and sanitation; channelling financial resources to support the preparation and implementation of urban and rural sanitation programmes, supporting efforts to document lessons and best practices; supporting advocacy, information dissemination and awareness raising; improving the enabling environment for sanitation investments and promoting innovative approaches and technologies; and promoting greater involvement of the private sector in financing the sanitation value chain.