From: Mattias Karen, Associated Press
Published August 24, 2005 12:00 AM

African Ministers Say Clean Water Key To Fighting Poverty

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water is threatening to undermine U.N. efforts to fight poverty, hunger and disease in Africa, ministers and experts said Tuesday.


While international aid is helping to bring food and medicine to many African nations, the issue of poor sanitation -- which affects an estimated two-thirds of the continent -- has been largely neglected and left to local villages and towns, according to the water ministers of Uganda, Ethiopia and Lesotho.


"Children pass away every other minute because they don't have access to clean water," said Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's water minister and chairwoman of the African Ministers Council of Water. The ministers were among hundreds of experts and politicians gathered in Stockholm to discuss global water management.


Mutagamba, along with Ethiopia's water minister Shiferaw Jarso and Lesotho's counterpart Mamphono Khaketla, are heading the African Ministers' Initiative on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, AMIWASH, which aims to bring safe water and better sewage systems to the poverty-stricken continent.


"There is no one international organization that looks at (water sanitation)," Jarso said at a news conference.


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Roberto Lenton, chairman of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, said clean water is key to meeting the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000 with the aim of halving poverty by 2015.


"If you're able to address water and sanitation targets at the same time, you make a major contribution to the other Millennium Goals as well," Lenton said. "While water is life, sanitation is dignity."


Only four out of 10 villagers in Africa have access to a latrine, and the content of many existing latrines is dumped into the same rivers or streams used for drinking water.


And while African women are forced to choose between using the little existing water to cook, bathe or flush the toilet, "the choice is obvious," Khaketla said. "You'd rather use it to cook."


Source: Associated Press


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