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SACOSAN ends with pledges

April 10, 2011

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa addresses SACOSAN Ministrial Summit in Colombo. Minister of States and Frontier Regions Engineer Shaukat Ullah is also seen. – Photo by Saleem Shaikh

COLOMBO: The heads of the delegations from the eight South Asian countries here on Thursday adopted the ‘Colombo Ministerial Declaration’ at the concluding session of the fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN IV).

They affirmed in the declaration the value of the SACOSAN process in maintaining political momentum to tackle the sanitation crisis and renewed their joint commitment to invest in the people of the region through policies and programmes that deliver sustainable sanitation and hygiene to all.

The signatories of the declaration also recognised the potential of sanitation to empower communities and to be a powerful entry–point for development.

They committed to work progressively to realise the ‘right to sanitation’ in programmes and projects and eventually in legislation in their respective countries; develop time-bound plans and allocate as well as mobilise resources for delivering on all previous SACOSAN commitments; design and deliver context-specific equitable and inclusive sanitation and hygiene programmes including better identification of the poorest and most marginalised groups in rural and urban areas; raise the profile of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools; set up one national body with responsibility for coordinating sanitation and hygiene, involving all stakeholders including those responsible for finance, health, public health, environment, water, education, gender and local government at national, sub-national and local levels; establish specific public sector budget allocations for sanitation and hygiene programmes; to recognise the importance of people’s own contribution towards sanitation; develop harmonised monitoring mechanisms with roles and defined responsibilities, using agreed common indicators that measure and report on processes and outcomes at every level; include in monitoring mechanisms specific indicators for high priority measures such as WASH in schools, hand washing and menstrual hygiene; and adopt participation, inclusion and social accountability mechanisms from planning to implementation in all sanitation and hygiene programmes.

The heads of the regional countries’ delegations further called on development banks, external support agencies and the private sector to increase their support to provide financial and technical assistance for sanitation and hygiene in South Asia.

The four-day SACOSAN IV which began under the theme ‘Sanitation Enhances Quality of Life’ concluded on April 7. It was attended by 450 delegates, 320 foreign delegates, ministers, policy makers, senior civil servants, grass-roots activists, professionals from academia, NGOs, development partners and the private sector from South Asian and other regions.

The SACOSAN is a government-led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC).

Inaugurating the ministerial summit, president of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa underlined the need for political will of the respective countries to implement the commitments on sanitation and water, especially with regards to schools, poor section of people and the differently able people.

He said: “Safe sanitation, hygiene and provision clean drinking water are the key to overall socio-economic uplift. However, it is need of the hour to divert colossal funds being wasted on wars and conflicts to development research and technology to fight poverty and ease suffering.”

“Public expenditure on rural centric initiatives and on farmers, on children and similar expenditures on the provision of water, sanitation and clean environment are more productive and beneficial to the welfare of the citizens. Thus, at a ministerial conference such as this, our determination should be to appeal to the world to divert their defence expenditure to development” the Sri Lankan president said. He urged the South Asian governments to strive for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within the stipulated time of 2015.

The heads of delegations, experts on water and sanitation, international donor organisations including United Nations, World Bank, Unicef, WHO, WaterAid, Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) and government representatives from South Asian countries, key leaders of other national and international civil society organisations agreed on the need for more spending on increasing access of safe sanitation, hygiene and drinking water and water infrastructure development, to the people of the region.

After extended and in-depth deliberations, discussions and meetings at the South Asia Conference on Sanitation IV, they concluded that no country can achieve sustainable economic growth without improving its sanitation, water, education and health profiles.

The countries in the region sustain significant economic losses equal to at least 5.8 per cent of the total regional GDP due to poor sanitation.

“Most shockingly, children and adults are still dying needlessly. Since the last SACOSAN, about 750,000 of South Asia’s children have died of diarrhoea,” said Amarananda Abeygunasekara, Sri Lankan secretary in the Ministry of Water Supply and Drainage.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions Engineer Shaukat Ullah, in the country progress report ‘The MDG of Sanitation for SACOSAN IV’, said that 60 per cent of the total number of child mortality cases in Pakistan are caused by water and sanitation related diseases and 20-40 per cent of hospital beds in the country are occupied by patients suffering from such diseases.

“Nevertheless, Pakistan is committed to extending improved sanitation facility to 67 per cent of population by 2015. Review of sanitation date of government indicate that the use of latrines has increased significantly from 57 per cent in 2001-2002 to 78 per cent in 2008-09 and open defecation has decreased from 43 per cent to 22 per cent during this period,” he said.

And given this baseline, the country has progressed and succeeded in providing access to improved sanitation to 45 per cent of the population by 2008-09 that brings it closer to the attainment of MDG of Sanitation by 2015, Shaukat Ullah said confidently.

He said, “The government is engaged with international partners and donor agencies to accelerate the implementation of the sanitation agenda. Besides, projects worth US$ 61 million are under implementation at different stages in the implementation cycle. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has in the pipeline US$ 244 million worth of projects under WASH cluster.”

Talking about impacts of the projects and interventions for promotion of safe sanitation and hygiene, Head of WaterAid – Pakistan, Abdul Hafeez, said that interventions and projects aimed for safe sanitation, hygiene and clean drinking water have followed different trajectories, which have produced divergent outcomes.