A mammoth task awaits government to improve on sanitation services after it transpired on Tuesday that only 34 percent of the national population of 2.3 million people have access to improved sanitation.
In rural areas the situation is acute with only some 17 to 22 percent of Namibians having access to adequate sanitation facilities, while 46.5 percent of rural people still have to do with open defecation.
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Anna Shiweda, announced the figures contained in the Namibia Demographic and Health Survey Report of 2013 on behalf of the agriculture minister John Mutorwa at the opening of the Ninth Water and Sanitation Sector Joint Review in Windhoek on Tuesday.
On the flip side of the coin, it was not all doom and gloom when she noted the sector met the target for access to drinking water and 87 percent of all Namibian households are able to enjoy a glass of fresh water.
Stressing that water and sanitation are inextricably interlinked to agriculture, food security, health, gender, education and climate change, she said the disparity of water and sanitation service coverage between urban and rural is cause for concern.
“For water the coverage in urban areas is 97.5 percent and for rural it is 75.5 percent, whilst for sanitation the coverage is 73.1 percent for urban and between 17 and 22 percent for rural.
“A mammoth task now awaits the water and sanitation sector to improve sanitation from 34 percent to 70 percent by 2017.”
She emphasised that Namibia should adapt community-led approaches that empower whole communities to collectively change their sanitation and hygiene behaviour.
“Open defecation has consequent negative effects on the public and particularly children’s health. According to the Namibia Demographic and Health Survey report of 2013, a total of 24 percent of Namibian children under the age of five have stunted growth and this negatively affects their cognitive development,” she noted.
Urging all Namibians to dig deep to improve the situation, she said access to water and sanitation is first and foremost access to dignity.
“We cannot remain silent when lack of access to water and sanitation takes a tragic and daily toll on the lives of the people, especially women and girls,” stated the deputy agriculture minister.
She cited lack of sufficient funding and implementation capacity as reasons for the underperformance of the sector and called on all stakeholders, including the minister of finance, to place due value and accord due status upon the water and sanitation portfolio so that the sector realizes a reasonable, proportionate resource allocation for execution of new capital projects and maintenance of existing ones.
“Until everyone has access to adequate sanitation facilities, the quality of water supplies will be undermined and people will continue to die from water-borne diseases. To benefit human health, it is vital to accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas such as informal settlements,” she said.
At the same event, EU Head of Cooperation, Markus Theobald, assured the audience of sustained support from the EU for current and future projects to improve access to water and sanitation. He is confident the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has the capacity to tackle the challenges ahead and he also announced a EU Livestock Support Programme that should be approved by the end of 2016 and which will support livestock farmers in communal and rural areas.