Al-Hassan Adam, End Water Poverty’s International Coordinator, writes on his insights from meeting fellow WASH advocates from around Africa at the recent African regional civil society advocacy meetings held by African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW).
For the past two weeks I have been busy crisscrossing the Africa continent and Asia attending regional meetings, bringing together civil society organisations active in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. These meetings were to plan how to strengthen our advocacy work and regional connections to have a strong civil society voice on WASH.
At one of the recent meetings, held in Nairobi, I met Roukiattou Ouédraogo, who is the Communications and Advocacy Officer at Secretariat Permanent des Organisations Non Gouvernementales (SPONG) from Burkina Faso. Roukiattou was proud to share how civil society organisations in Burkina Faso took the opportunity for the transitional government to get the right to water included in the draft constitution. She also mentioned that their advocacy work, which was pushing for 10% of the national budget to be allocated to WASH service delivery, had successfully been taken up by the main political parties. To demonstrate her point, Roukiattou shared a couple images of various political parties’ billboards promoted during the run up to the election, which clearly showed the prioritisation water as a main campaign issue. The poster included here is the campaign billboard of that of then-candidate Marc Christian Kabore prioritising water as one of his main promises.
She was upbeat about the general elections in Burkina Faso and its potential to change how things worked in the country. “Burkina Faso is going to be a beacon of change in the West Africa sub-region”, she proudly said.
One week after our conversation in Nairobi, I returned from another regional advocacy meeting, this time for South Asian civil society held Sri Lanka, to hear that Burkinabe’s have elected Kabore as their president. My question to colleagues working in Burkina Faso is will Marc Christian Kabore deliver on his campaign promise now that he is in power? Maybe it is too early to ask. Anyway I know Roukiattou and her colleagues will be sustaining their advocacy demands for 10% of the national budget for WASH as a national priority in the coming months. Talking to her helped reaffirm my conviction that advocacy and campaigns for social justice cannot be isolated from politics.
To those who are new to the WASH situation in Burkina Faso, 82% of the population have access to water, while very worryingly, only 20% of its population have access to sanitation (according to WASHwatch.org most recent data). Despite the seemingly high percentage able to access water, this does not mean water is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. Rather this percentage includes water drawn from wells and boreholes which could be more than 30 minutes’ walk from people’s homes. Women and children have to trek a number of times in a day to draw just enough water for the needs of their families. Burkina Faso ranks 181 on Human Development Index out of 185 countries; a very worrying low rating, indicating the very poor circumstances that most of the population are forced to live in. The country has come out of a very difficult and tumultuous period of political protest, which has persisted over the past decade. However, despite these difficulties and serious challenges, the recent November elections have been hailed as a remarkable achievement for the country. Burkina now has an opportunity to transform this instability into a new beginning, restructuring its governance and representation, and transform the lives of its citizens. Civil society organisations (CSOs) played a key role in this process by getting the politicians to focus on the issues that matter most, particularly water and sanitation. The experience of CSOs in Burkina Faso could be useful for us in thinking through how change happens. They have just started their journey, and now will be pushing their challenge and demand for 10% of the national budget to be allocated to water and sanitation service delivery.
It was refreshing to vacate my desk in London to get a deeper understanding of the challenges and excitements across the world; together we truly can ensure a better future!