NGOS say that poor suffer at the hand of Africa's Governments
IPN Press release
New study shows that governments deny water to the poor by refusing to recognise their legal existence 19 MARCH 2006, MEXICO CITY -- A new study* published this week by the Sustainable Development Network has studied urban water and sanitation issues in Africa. It criticises Africa’s governments for denying the poor basic legal rights which could massively improve their access to water and sewerage services. “The fundamental problem across urban Africa today is that Africa’s national and local governments do not recognise the legal rights of the poor,” explained Kendra Okonski, co-author of the new study and Environment Programme Director at International Policy Network, a London-based NGO. She explained, “Governments deny the poor a legal existence – especially to those people living in slums and peripheral urban areas. These governments then deny the poor water by making property ownership a prerequisite for connection to municipal water systems. At the same time, while cities across Africa are growing, municipal governments refuse to extend their urban boundaries – and thus their public services -- to recognise slums and shantytowns as legitimate dwellings.” Franklin Cudjoe, co-author of the new study and a representative of Imani, an NGO in Ghana, today highlighted the fact that the small-scale private sector operators are filling the water and sewerage gap caused by governments. “Informal entrepreneurs, operating at the lowest level of society, are addressing water scarcity and lack of sanitation caused by Africa’s governments,” said Cudjoe. “They sell water and sewerage services to their fellow slum-dwellers, in exchange for payment.” Cudjoe added, “The activities of these informal entrepreneurs show how human initiative and creativity can be harnessed for the benefit of the poor to solve water scarcity and poor sanitation in urban Africa.” However, he explained that governments are perpetuating water problems in urban Africa: “A fundamental problem is that Africa’s governments consider the economic activities of small-scale providers to be ‘illegal’. Hence, government officials use their political power to exact bribes out of these small-scale businesses, otherwise their owners are fined and their meagre possessions are confiscated.” Cudjoe concluded that “The single most important factor in improving Africa’s water and sanitation problems is to extend a formal legal existence to all poor people. This means enabling poor people to own their dwellings and property, and allowing them legally to operate small-scale businesses free of the need to bribe government officials and bureaucrats.” Ends. * “The reality of water provision in urban Africa” (PDF available online), written by Franklin Cudjoe and Kendra Okonski, published in The Water Revolution: Practical Solutions to Water Scarcity (Sustainable Development Network, March 2006). Key facts from “The reality of water provision in urban Africa” Governments have failed abjectly in achieving universal access to water in Africa’s cities. Hardly any African city has a sewerage system. Municipal water systems in Africa are failing. Public provision is characterised by poor water quality and thus a failure to recover costs. Thus, municipal systems can barely keep up with maintenance, let alone invest in extending their networks. Most of Africa is urbanising. 27% of Africa’s urban population live in dwellings on the outskirts of urban areas – referred to as slums or shantytowns. Subsidised water rarely reaches or helps the poor. In Nairobi, where government-subsidised water is provided by government kiosks, the kiosk operators charge up to 18 times (1800%) more than the subsidised price. Poor people in slums and shantytowns are not allowed to own their property, yet this is considered a prerequisite by governments to obtain a legal connection to a water system Many people in urban areas have benefited from privatised water provision (in the form of contracts between government and multinational companies). These include Conakry, Guinea and Dakar, Senegal. Cote d’Ivoire has had a private water system since 1959. A little-known but important phenomenon is that informal entrepreneurs supply water and sewerage services, for a price, to their fellow poor residents of slums and shantytowns in nearly every African city. They run small-scale businesses and earn profits, which are generally reinvested in their businesses and local communities. Government barriers to doing business prevent these entrepreneurs from addressing water scarcity on a wider scale. At the same time, government officials harass informal entrepreneurs and use their political power to exact bribes from these poor people. The single most important policy change that African governments could undertake to improve access to water and sanitation is to grant poor people a formal legal existence – including enabling residents of slums and shantytowns to own their property. This policy change would effectively enable entrepreneurs to continue to deliver water and sewerage in a decentralised, innovative manner.