Why we’ve put Liberia’s government on the spot over WASH

27 Mar 2015

 

By Prince Kreplah

Beyond the uplifting coming together that is World Water Day 2015, here at Liberia CSOs WASH Network we wanted to try and create a lasting legacy. As such, we have called on Liberia’s government to get serious about water and sanitation; giving them 90 days to set up a WASH Commission in the country, or else face legal and other actions.

It’s about time this essential step was taken. A commission should have been established three years ago under the terms of the Liberia WASH Compact agreed in 2011 and duly signed by President Ellen Johnson, but so far this hasn’t been achieved. There is no doubt that there has been a lot of noise and lip service towards improving access to, and the quality of, WASH facilities from our government – but provision is still a long way from where it needs to be, and this is particularly a problem in rural communities.

The statistics make unpleasant reading. A million people in Liberia still lack access to safe water, and double that don’t have access to adequate sanitation.

Our President is a WASH Good Will Ambassador for Africa. It’s about time she started acting more like one here on her own doorstep. While it is true that work is ongoing to secure funding for investment in facilities, the effects are yet to be seen on the ground. This is why we and other advocacy organisations in Liberia see this is a time when we need to put the pressure on.

This is a country that should know only too well the impact of poor sanitation and hygiene. Over 1,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation – and the Ebola outbreak has heightened awareness of the links between WASH and health.

The news last week that nine communities made Open Defecation Free (ODF) up to 2014 experienced no Ebola cases at all is very telling indeed. A commitment to WASH facilities of a good standard not only saves lives, but also improves people’s life chances more broadly.

Public Works Minister, Gyude Moore, has pledged to make sure WASH is given sufficient priority in his Ministry’s next budget, and that advocacy groups remain involved in the process of rolling out better services. This is progress for sure, but without a Commission to oversee and regulate all WASH activities, it is unlikely to have the reach and accountability it needs.

At our mobilisation in Monrovia, Oxfam’s Mamadu Salifu made an excellent point; comparing good access to TV and telephones in the country to the much poorer access to supplies of safe water. As we push the government harder to keep their promises, we hold on to the hope that adequate WASH for Liberian households is much more than a pipe dream.

Prince Kreplah is Chairman of Liberia CSOs WASH Network