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The Neglected Water and Sanitation Crisis

13 3 10

SUNSHINE COAST – The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the importance of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. As we all know now, hand washing is one of the best frontline defenses against the virus. Yet three billion people – almost half of the world’s population – lack access to basic hand-washing facilities, around one-third (2.2 billion people) do not have access to safe drinking water, and almost twice as many (4.2 billion) go without safe sanitation services of any kind.

The situation is even worse in the Pacific Islands, where the share of the population without secure access to potable water is twice that of the global average, and where sanitary indicators are lower than in Sub-Saharan Africa. As we are seeing in countries like Papua New Guinea, the absence of facilities for maintaining basic hygiene makes it incredibly difficult to combat the virus once it takes hold.

Yet despite our knowledge of the problem, water and sanitation continue to slide down the political agenda globally. Politicians are rarely as eager to open a wastewater plant as they are to cut the ribbon in front of a new school or hospital. But the problem is not so much a lack of political will as an inability to seize political opportunities. After all, it is hard to think of any other government service as important as the delivery of clean water and sanitation.

The real problem, in fact, is finance. For too long, governments have seen water and sanitation as a drain on national budgets rather than as an investment opportunity. As a result, they have traditionally relied on taxes, tariffs, and transfers to subsidize the sector. And though people are........

© Project Syndicate

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