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UNICEF: 500 children die every day from lack of safe water, sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa

West & Central Africa conference on financing for water, sanitation aims to get more funding to sector

© UNICEF/UNI115244/Asselin
A little girl waits to fill her water container in the village of Kikonka, Bas-Congo province, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2011

DAKAR, Senegal, 15 December 2015 – Around 180,000 children under 5 years old die every year – roughly 500 a day – in sub-Saharan Africa due to diarrhoeal diseases linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), UNICEF said ahead of a conference in Dakar on financing for the sector.

“With children dying every single day, with millions stunted, with such a huge economic toll, it cannot be business as usual,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West & Central Africa Manuel Fontaine. “The pace of progress has to speed up exponentially – and it’s going to take strong policies; robust financing; and a major shift in priorities among those who have the power to act.”

Currently, nearly half of the global population without access to improved drinking water lives in sub-Saharan Africa and some 700 million people in the region lack access to improved sanitation. With a population which has nearly doubled in the last 25 years, access to sanitation only increased by 6 percentage points and to water by 20 percentage points across the region in the same period, leaving millions behind.

UNICEF said that without speedy action, the situation can drastically worsen within the next 20 years, as rapidly rising populations outstrip the efforts of governments to provide essential services. For example, the number of people in the region who defecate in the open is higher now than it was in 1990. Meanwhile, open defecation has been linked to an increase in stunting among children.

The first West and Central Africa Innovative Financing for Water Sanitation & Hygiene conference is being convened by UNICEF in cooperation with the Government of Senegal and the African Ministers’ Council on Water.

UNICEF has invited 24 governments in the sub-region to meet with major investment banks, international organizations, businesses and experts. The aim is to find new mechanisms to raise the estimated US$20-30 billion annually the WASH sector will need to bring universal access to water and sanitation to West and Central Africa.

UN estimates are that global economic losses due to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene amount to $260 billion per year. As the sub-region with the worst access, West and Central Africa carries a significant portion of this burden.

No country in West and Central Africa has universal access to improved drinking water. According to the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2015, the highest coverage rates are in Sao Tome & Principe (97%), Gabon (93%) and Cabo Verde (92%). At the other end of the spectrum there are countries where roughly half the population do not have access, with the lowest rates in Equatorial Guinea (48%), Chad (51%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (52%).

Access to sanitation is even more challenging. In the countries with the best coverage, as many as 1 in 4 persons still lack adequate sanitation. Equatorial Guinea (75%), Cabo Verde (72%), and Gambia (59%) are the top three in terms of access. The lowest coverage is in Niger (11%), Togo (12%), and Chad (12%). 

However, funding for the WASH sector is uneven and insufficient. No African country has allocated more than 0.5 per cent of GDP to WASH. Meanwhile, of the US$3.8 billion Overseas Development Aid (ODA) allocated for WASH in 2012, approximately three-quarters went to water, and the remaining quarter to sanitation.

Most ODA funding goes to countries which are already doing well, and while rural water and sanitation access is far behind urban, both external and domestic funding goes primarily to urban systems.

Among the financial models being discussed for the WASH sector at the conference are:

  • WASH Microfinance Facility – which would provide small loans to suppliers and consumers to help people in villages gain access to water and sanitation.
  • WASH Input Credit Fund – designed to work with domestic financial sectors in developing countries to provide working capital to small- and medium-sized companies involved in WASH
  • WASH Financing Trust Fund – a mechanism financed by governments and foundations and administered by UNICEF and another multi-lateral agency that allows increased funding to member states for WASH programmes.
  • WASH Emergency Revolving Fund– looks to bridge the time gap between a funder’s commitment of a donation and the actual disbursement of cash
  • WASH Common Vision Fund – to help companies make contributions for WASH using their own business models and in line with standard practice in their industries.

“While we know what needs to be done, we have to figure out a way to do it faster and better,” said Fontaine. “There are a lot of options on the table; what is not an option is to continue to allow children to pay for our lack of action.”


Note to editors:
• The Innovative Financing for WASH Conference takes place December 15-17 in Dakar, Senegal.
• Governments in attendance are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
• Other attendees include the Agency for French Cooperation, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Ecobank, and others. See full list at:

• Download multimedia resources, including photos and videos from:

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