Thursday 21 February 2008

AfricaSan2008, Durban, South Africa

Sunday, 17 February
Arrived in Durban, South Africa, for the big African Sanitation Conference – AfricaSan2008, attended by around 500 delegates mainly from Africa. It took well over an hour to register as this was done under the supervision of the South African National Intelligence Agency − with as many as 35 ministers from different African countries attending, security was extraordinarily tight. At the ‘Meet and Greet’ party in the evening I met many colleagues from various parts of the world, some of whom I’d not seen for many years (in a couple of cases for over 20 years).

Monday, 18 February
9 am and it’s the Opening Ceremony, which started with a bang: a dozen or so traditional Zulu drummers beating the hell out of their drums for a good 15 minutes! Then the opening speeches, firstly from Minister Hendricks, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, South Africa. She gave an interesting speech which included the fact that in the next few weeks South Africa will have totally eliminated all its bucket latrines. Of course, there was a lot of “motherhood and apple pie” in her speech and also in that of Minister Itoua from the Congo – only to be expected but, even so, good to hear in these early days of IYS2008. There was also a video message from HRH the Prince of Orange, who’s President of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (read the transcript here). The other highlight of the morning was Clarissa Brocklehurst’s presentation “A Snapshot of Sanitation in Africa” – an African preview of the next JMP report due out in May or so (Clarissa is the head of water, environment and sanitation at UNICEF). The figures she presented on sanitation in Africa in 2006 were alarming but fortunately also encouraging: (i) in urban Africa 52% had improved sanitation, 28% used shared facilities, 12% had unimproved sanitation, and 7% practised open defecation; (ii) in rural Africa 28% had improved sanitation, 10% used shared facilities, 26% had unimproved sanitation, and 36% practised open defecation; and (iii) only the North African countries were on track to meet the MDG sanitation target. Alarming figures indeed, but encouraging because, although only ‘improved’ sanitation counts towards the MDG sanitation target, when you add in those using shared and unimproved facilities, you get the percentages of people using some sort of sanitation and this is actually very encouraging as it shows that the demand is there, albeit not yet fully satisfied; and, importantly, open defecation is on the decrease in all parts of Africa – all regions and both urban and rural; “flying toilets” may soon be a thing of the past! So the sanitation situation in Africa, while far from good, is also far from very bad.

In the afternoon the two highlights for me were the presentation by Neil Macleod, the head of eThekwini Water [Durban is in the municipality of eThekwini], about eThekwini Water’s excellent latrine programme – the urine-diverting alternating twin-vault ventilated improved vault latrines (UD-VIVs – see the blog of 16 January), and the presentation by Professor Edward Kairu, of the NGO Maji na Ufanisi (‘Water and Development’) in Kenya, on community- managed sanitation blocks in Kibera, Nairobi (see the blog of 28 January). The day rounded off with a Reception hosted by the Mayor of Durban.

Tuesday 19 February
Day 2 and we were in four parallel sessions – I gave the lead presentation in the morning session on technical solutions for the urban poor, and this was followed by round tables on condominial sewerage, pit emptying (led by Dr Graham Alabaster of UN-Habitat and a Leeds PhD), and urban sludge management. Four more parallel sessions in the afternoon – the one I went to was on financing to meet the MDG sanitation target – interesting but nothing special. The early evening saw the slightly chaotic launch of ASKNet – the African Sanitation Knowledge Network, aimed at the acquisition and sharing of sanitation knowledge amongst African academics, students and practitioners. If it works, it will be a really fitting achievement both for Africa and for IYS2008, and also a good model for other parts of the developing world. It really needs to succeed.

Wednesday 20 February
Day 3 and the Closing Ceremony: first a statement by the Africa Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, and then presentations of the slightly weird Plan of Action [for sanitation in Africa] and the main outcome of AfricaSan2008, the eThekwini Declaration (basically the Ministerial Statement on AfricaSan2008 and the way ahead for sanitation implementation in Africa – more “motherhood and apple pie” of course, but nonetheless a pretty good document), followed by the formal launch of IYS2008 in Africa: all the Ministers present released balloons − some yellow but the others not the other EcoSan colours! All in all, a very good 2½ days – but there’s a vast amount of work to be done before 31 December 2015. Let’s hope Africa is really up for it. [The eThekwini Declaration was originally due on the AfricaSan2008 site at 3 pm on 20 February, but now it's due "as soon as possible". I'll post a blog when it does come available.]