On Wednesday Finance minister Trevor Manuel committed R1,7-billion of the 2005 Budget towards municipal and sanitation infrastructure. Cholera epidemics have in the past been a reminder that many South Africans, mostly in rural areas and informal settlements hugging the cities, still don’t have access to safe water and sanitation.
Dr Jamie Bartram, co-ordinator for the World Health Organisation’s Water, Sanitation and Health Programme recommends the dramatic scaling up of efforts, involving the expansion of safe drinking water and sanitation coverage in order to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) water and sanitation target by 2015.
Bartram’s article in The Lancet is the fifth in a series of papers summarizing the key conclusions of the Millennium Project ‘ a three-year independent advisory effort commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review progress of the MDG.
The MDG’s commit the international community to address extreme poverty, with quantitative, measurable targets set for 2015.
Bartram and colleagues write that poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water is a ‘silent humanitarian crisis’ that kills some 3 900 children everyday and thwarts progress to the MDG’s, especially in Africa and Asia.
The paper warns that while sufficient progress has been made to reach the overall target of halving the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2015, meeting this target will still leave hundreds of millions of people without safe drinking water, particularly in east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Bartram reveals that sanitation coverage rates are barely keeping pace with population growth while four out of ten people in the world do not have access to a simple pit latrine.
The author states that although access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation can have a strong positive effect on human health, the development and management of water resources as a whole has significant health implications.
Man-made reservoirs and irrigation schemes help provide food and nutrition, but they can also form ideal habitats for intensified transmission of schistosomiasis, an infection caused by a type of flatworm.
Irrigation infrastructure and management of irrigation can be designed to keep transmission to a minimum.
Improving irrigation to avoid standing or slow-moving water and improving disposal of household wastewater can also reduce mosquito breeding and transmission of malaria.
The authors are quick to add that this requires neither colossal sums of money nor scientific breakthroughs or technological advances.