PLANET EARTH: Poor Sanitation is a Costly Menace to Africa

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Nairobi SlumBy J C Suresh

TORONTO - Poor sanitation is not only a menace to public health, but also a roadblock to sustainable development and a huge strain on financial resources, according to a new World Bank study.

A report by the Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) finds that poor sanitation is causing a loss of US$5.5 billion every year to 18 African countries. That estimated loss in turn adds up to annual economic damages between 1 percent and 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) .

WSP is a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank to support poor people in obtaining affordable, safe and sustainable access to water and sanitation services.

WSP's donors include Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and the World Bank.

"The 18 African countries represented in this study account for 554 million people – that's more than half of Africa's population," says WSP Manager Jaehyang So. "This is powerful evidence for Ministers that their countries will not be able to grow sustainably without addressing these costs," adds So.

The study surveyed Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia

Titled Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa, the report found that a lion's share of the costs to production comes from annual premature deaths, including children under the age of five, due to diarrheal disease. Nearly 90 percent of these deaths are directly attributable to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Other significant costs were productivity losses from poor sanitation, and time lost through the practice of open defecation.

The significance of the report lies in the fact that traditionally, sanitation has not received the priority it deserves. It has not been widely recognized how good sanitation policies and practices can underpin socio-economic development and environmental protection.

This study provides an estimation of economic impacts on populations without access to improved sanitation in order to provide information on the losses to society of the current sanitation situation. While not all these economic impacts can be immediately recovered from improved sanitation practices, the report provides a perspective on the short- and longer-term economic gains that are available to countries through a range of policies to mitigate these impacts.

"Adverse impacts of inadequate sanitation that are likely to be significant, but difficult and expensive to estimate, include the costs of epidemic outbreaks; losses in trade and tourism revenue; impact of unsafe excreta disposal on water resources; and the long-term effects of poor sanitation on early childhood development," said the World Bank in a press release on April 16, 2012.

The Africa country reports, part of the Economics of Sanitation Initiative (ESI) launched initially in East Asia in 2007, also found that open defecation alone accounts for almost US$2 billion in annual losses in the 18 countries. Lacking alternatives, more than 114 million people still defecate in the open in the 18 countries surveyed; this is about half the number of people on the continent who have no latrine at all and almost 24 percent of the total population in the countries surveyed.

Eliminating the practice of open defecation in these countries would require about 23 million toilets to be built and used, according to the report. Open defecation costs more per person than any other type of unimproved sanitation. Time lost to finding a discrete location to use the toilet accounted for almost US$500 million in economic losses. Women shoulder a huge proportion of this cost as they spend additional time accompanying young children or sick or elderly relatives.

Human dignity

"Water and sanitation go hand-in-hand with human dignity. Our study finds that the heaviest burden of poor sanitation falls on poor people," says Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region. "These findings make an irresistible case for greater investment in sanitation while removing the barriers to better sanitation services. Now is the time to tackle this urgent development priority once and for all."

In most countries, current investments in sanitation are less than 0.1 percent of GDP. Only five of the 18 African countries surveyed invest between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent of GDP in sanitation. Although African countries committed to increase their budgetary allocations for sanitation to at least 0.5 percent of GDP (eThekwini Declaration, 2008), none of the 18 countries surveyed has reached that target yet.

The study follows release of a separate WSP report on April 15 that said Pakistan loses US$5.7 billion annually from poor sanitation; and of a WHO/UN-Water report that says while access to water, sanitation and hygiene has considerably improved globally, services coverage could slip behind if adequate resources are not secured to sustain routine operations.

It also comes ahead of the biannual high-level meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership at the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank, where Finance and Water Sector Ministers aim to identify steps to improve the use of existing funds and mobilize new resources for water and sanitation.

The World Bank Group is the largest external financier (US$7.5 billion in fiscal year 2011) in water supply and sanitation, irrigation and drainage, water resources management, and other water-related sectors, and provides strong advisory and analytical support to client countries.

Results of Economics of Sanitation Initiative

Following are key findings country-wise.

Benin:
Poor sanitation costs Benin US$ 104 million per year. This amount is equivalent to US$ 12 per person per year in Benin, or 1.5% of GDP. Each person practicing open defecation spends almost 2.5 days a year to find a secluded spot to defecate, leading to significant economic losses of US$21 million

Burkina Faso:
Burkina Faso loses US$ 171 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 11 per person in Burkina Faso per year or 2% of GDP.

Central African Republic:
The Central African Republic loses US$ 26 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 5.5 per person per year in Central African Republic, or 1.2% of GDP.

Chad:
Chad loses US$ 156 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 15 per person in Chad, or 2.1% of national GDP.

Democratic Republic of Congo:
The Democratic Republic of Congo loses US$ 208 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 3 per person per year in the DRC, or 1.6% of GDP.

The Republic of Congo:
The Republic of Congo loses US$ 144 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 35.8 per person per year in the Republic of Congo, or 1.1% of national GDP.

Ghana:
Poor sanitation costs Ghana US$ 290 million. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 12 per person in Ghana per year or 1.6% of the national GDP.

Kenya:
Poor sanitation costs Kenya US$ 324 million per year. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 8 per person in Kenya per year or 0.9% of the national GDP.

Liberia:
Liberia loses US$ 17.5 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 4.9 per person per year in Liberia per year or 2.0% of the national GDP.

Madagascar:
Madagascar loses US$ 103 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 5 per person per year in Madagascar, or 1% of GDP.

Mauritania:
Mauritania loses US$ 41 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to 13.1 USD per person per year in Mauritania, or 1.2% of GDP.

Mozambique:
Poor sanitation costs Mozambique US$ 124 million per year. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 6 per person in Mozambique per year or 1.2% of the national GDP.

Niger:
The Niger loses US$ 148 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is equivalent to US$ 10 per person per year in Niger, or 2.4% of GDP.

Nigeria:
Poor sanitation costs Nigeria US$ 3 billion per year. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 20 per person in Nigeria per year or 1.3% of the national GDP.

Rwanda:
Poor sanitation costs Rwanda US$ 54 million per year. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 5 per person in Rwanda per year or 0.9% of the national GDP.

Tanzania:
Poor sanitation costs Tanzania US$ 206 million each year. This sum is the equivalent of US$ 5 per person in Tanzania per year or 1% of the national GDP.

Uganda:
Uganda loses US$ 177 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is the equivalent of US$5.5 per person in Uganda per year or 1.1% of the national GDP.

Zambia:
Zambia loses US$ 194 million per year due to poor sanitation. This amount is the equivalent of US$16.4 per person in Zambia per year or 1.3% of the national GDP.

Photo: Nairobi Slum. Credit: WSP

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