Yesterday, here in Dakar, I moderated an AfricaSan session on the 2008 eThekwini commitment by African governments to allocate budget to sanitation amounting to 0.5% of GDP. The session went well, it was lively and fun: we had about 120 people in the room, including representatives of different ministries (Water, Health, Finance, Education) from many African countries. And we had some fascinating speakers, including Julian Kyomuhangi and Achille Kagni from the Ministries of Health of Uganda and Benin respectively.
Progress towards the 0.5% commitment has been weak: only South Africa and Namibia report that they have achieved this figure, and most countries are currently in the 0.01% - 0.1% bracket. So a key starting discussion point was whether the bar was set too high at 0.5%, or whether countries simply need more time. There was clear consensus on this: 0.5% is absolutely not setting the bar too high. In Uganda, for example, that would amount to only $3.5 per person per year, so it’s an absolutely reasonable aspiration. Many people in fact argued that 0.5% should be a minimum, and that we should really be pushing for more.
A big problem is of course data availability and budget transparency, as pointed out by the very knowledgeable Tim Brewer of WASHwatch... currently most countries simply don’t have reliable and accurate data around exactly what budgets are allocated to sanitation and hygiene, and exactly what this is being spent on. So one outcome of this session is to recommend inclusion in the AfricaSan 4 Ministerial Commitments (“the Ngor Commitments”) of a commitment to tracking and publishing accurate data.
Alongside the eThekwini 0.5% commitment, we have seen development of the SWA High Level Meeting Commitments: the big difference from eThekwini is that under this process countries get to express their own commitments in whatever way they want (“double budget every 2 years”, “increase budget by $3 million”, whatever). Again we had clear consensus in the room: we need to stick with the across-the-board 0.5% commitment, but the SWA HLM process provides a very useful parallel mechanism by which countries can develop their own roadmaps towards this 0.5%. Clearly, it’s not just about money: it’s also about governance and capacity. Check out the excellent SWA website for more info.
The final commitments on national government financing that we have proposed to the Ministerial Dialogue are as follows:
“To ensure that government budgets and spending on sanitation and hygiene are clearly and publicly reported annually, at all relevant levels of government”.
“To increase government spending on sanitation and hygiene doubles every 3 years, until it reaches at the very least 0.5% of GDP”.
[If you start at 0.1%, 0.5% will be reached in about 7 years; if you start at 0.01%, you’ll still get there by around 2030.]
Finally, in any meeting of this type there are stars, people whose contribution fires up the room. In this case it was most definitely Julian Kyomuhangi, with her frank critique of politicians who pay lip service to sanitation, but who don’t actually sign the cheque. AMCOW and other key actors including SWA need to work together to focus not so much on the commitment per se, but on supporting governments to actually achieve the spend. As Julian said of politicians: “maybe God will move their hearts”. Let’s hope so!