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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Putting safe water on the development agenda

I find this story on World Bank blog ( hilarious.

“Not even the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull could keep the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, the chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and the World Bank’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from participating in a Davos-style panel discussion of solutions for the 2.6 billion people who still lack access to sanitation.”

“The World Bank Group is a key partner in the water and sanitation sector.  The Bank is the largest single source of funding for water and sanitation, with $4.3 billion in lending devoted to this area in 2009. In addition, the World Bank-administered Water and Sanitation Program provided $30 million in free technical assistance to 25 countries to scale up successful sanitation and water projects.”

Here is my opinion

The scale of the World Bank's investment in water and sanitation is without doubt mind-boggling. the However, impact of the investment on health and economic development at the household and community level is underwhelming.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's childhood memories unfortunately, are the reality for hundreds of millions of girls, boys and women in Africa. And the problems related to water and sanitation will only get worse for a continent that is the least endowed with surface and ground water resources, especially under a drier climate.

When I was growing up in the 80s, the there we were promised water for all by year 2000. But by the mid 1990s all the taps in my village were dry. Today I see loads of projects on “spring protection” and “shallow wells”. I am not sure that is progress relative to water from standpipes of the 70s and 80s.

I am sure we cannot keep implementing the same wrong-headed projects and expect that we can meet the water and sanitation needs for a majority of Africans. Granted, some progress has been made, but it is a drop in the ocean.

My sense is that money is not the problem. The solution will not be found in the bureaucratic and expert style of the World Bank. This post World War II "reconstruction and development" approach will not solve 21st century African problems.

The Bank must work in more nimble and informal ways. The Bank must work more with private sector and local communities. The Bank must work less with the wasteful, inefficient and bureaucratic governments of Africa.

I think the reason Africa cannot solve water and sanitation problems in a significant scale is because the World Bank is the largest single source of funding.

Think about the cell phone irruption. The proliferation of cell phone in Africa has happened in spite of government.

Water and sanitation must be delivered in a "cell phone" type way.

If someone can convince me that World Bank funding could enable the unprecedented cell phone penetration in Africa, then I would believe that it can deliver safe water for 1 in 3 Africans in 5 years.

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