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A high-level meeting of over 40 ministers from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East was held this week in Addis Ababa to discuss strategies on achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. The meeting, held out of the U.S for the first time, focuses on the implications of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on planning, funding and human capacity over the next 15 years.

“The government of Ethiopia has placed the guarantee of full access to basic social services and infrastructure amenities to all, at the heart of its pro-poor growth strategy. To implement the strategy, more than 65 percent of public expenditure has been allocated to pro-poor sectors such as education, health, agriculture, rural roads, energy, water and sanitation,” said President Mulatu Teshome, making his opening remark at the meeting that was held at the UNECA compound.

Further highlighting activities in Ethiopia and achievements thus far, the President pointed out that over the past decade, the government has been striving to make sustainable progress towards poverty reduction.

Latest world statistics show that 32 percent of the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities and 663 million people still do not have access to improved drinking water sources. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by lack of access to clean water and sanitation, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kill 800 children under 5 years old every day.

Despite Ethiopia’s progress in improving the accessibility of water, sanitation and hygiene, several challenges still remain. “There are financial problems. Responsibility for the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene has been given to regional governments, they set budget for it, though we cannot say there is enough budgeted everywhere. Even when there is enough funds, there are issues with capacity to carry out the work on the ground,” stated Motuma Mekassa, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy .

The minister further said that due to lack of capacity as well as negligence, projects lag behind, but the government is trying to address this issue.

The minister also underlined the significance of the meeting being held in Addis Ababa by saying, “This meeting is a good opportunity for Ethiopia to show its achievements in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene.”

At the meeting, it was stressed that in addition to health gains from safe water, better sanitation contributes to economic development, delivering an estimated USD 5.5 in social and economic benefits for every USD 1 invested – through increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs.