Water for life

Samuel Godfrey Chief of WASH, UNICEF Ethiopia
Samuel Godfrey Chief of WASH, UNICEF Ethiopia

The Multi Sectoral Forum (MSF) is the most important WASH sector meeting of the year, with over 250 participants from both regional and federal levels, and including government officials, civil society organizations, development partners and the private sector. This year’s forum was held here in Addis Ababa.

The theme is “a climate resilient, inclusive ONE WASH program”. Climate resilience, inclusiveness, equity, and effectiveness of the One WASH National Program (OWNP) are the areas the conference will focus on. The forum is particularly important because the undertakings from the MSF will be a key input to a High Level Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) meeting that will take place in April in Washington DC. In that meeting, the ministers of Water, Irrigation and Energy (MoWIE) and Finance and Economic Cooperation (MoFEC) will spread the word to other countries about the good progress made by Ethiopia in WASH programs.

To discuss the Forum and WASH programs in Ethiopia, Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to Samuel Godfrey Chief of WASH, UNICEF Ethiopia. Excerpts;

Capital: Tell us about the Multi Sectoral Forum being held this week and what it plans to achieve?

Samuel Godfrey: Every year WASH programs which are led by the different ministries involved in water supply and sanitation; the ministries of water, health, finance and education, review the progress of the sector and we bring together regional governments and development partners, the private sector, NGOs and academia; everyone that touches the area of water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and we take annual commitments of the various of work that we want to pursue within that fiscal year and we review the progress of where we have come since the last review. This is the 8th Multi Stakeholder Forum (MSF), we held the last one in December, 2015.

Capital: What kind of progress have been made would you say in the WASH sector?

Godfrey: The last Multi Stakeholder Forum we discussed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), where we actually celebrated the fact that Ethiopia has reached the development goal for water supply which essentially meant 57 percent of the population has gained access to water.

The progress on access to sanitation was the challenge and that was discussed in the last meeting. In this meeting, we will be discussing the Sustainable Development Goals which are the new global goals and how we can link the sustainable development goals with the second Growth and Transformation Plan.

We will be reviewing progress against those. Your audience may be familiar with the fact that we have established a ONE WASH national program which is a one plan, one budget, one report and one monitoring system led by the government with financing from the developing partners which has the ambition of trying to reach every Ethiopian with water supply, sanitation and hygiene by 2020.

Given the progress that we have made, this review meeting will revise the targets because we have not met all of the targets which have been set out in the ONE WASH national program, which is the objective the Forum.

Capital: What have been the major challenges of implementing the WASH program?

Godfrey: There were two big challenges. One of the major challenges was the 2015/16 Ethiopia was affected by climate change and there were significant problems to do with drought due to El Niño and La Niña which left almost 10 million people across the country in a situation where they couldn’t access water.

So many of those people and their wells or springs ran dry because of lack of rainfall and the majority effort of the WASH sector in the last two years was to provide immediate relief and life saving activities to those populations to ensure that their public health was protected.

We focused as a WASH sector on trying to reduce cases of Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD), measles and cases of scabies of all which are related to limited access to water supply, low levels of sanitation coverage and poor hygiene; poor hygiene is of course linked back to lack of access to water.

So that factor meant that we as a sector didn’t have the same level of acceleration in coverage that we had prior to 2015, so the last 18 months to two years we have been hampered by climate.

The second factor has been the big change in the demographics in Ethiopia. There has been a significant movement from smaller rural Kebeles to Zonal towns. A large number of population is migrating from rural to urban areas particularly the youth of the country and they are demanding water supply sanitation services once they get to the towns. But much of the investment plan we set up in the WASH sector at the beginning of the ONE WASH program was focused on rural communities.

So we ended up with a very large investment in the rural areas but the population we intended to reach, many of them have moved and so our number of national beneficiaries was reduced. So we are reformulating our ONE WASH national program during this MSF to include these two critical pillars; one is climate and emergency humanitarian WASH response and the second is greater focus on urban and urbanization need particularly for sanitation and increasing access for people, particularly outside of Addis Ababa in smaller towns who have very limited access at the moment to public toilets and public, market latrines, there needs to be a big investment in those areas so that we can cater to this migration occurring between rural and urban areas.

Capital: Since there are a number of humanitarian emergencies across the globe right now, has it been a challenge to get financing for this project?

Godfrey: The analysis of the expenditure report last year in the WASH sector as a whole, including government contributions, including all the development partners, loans, grants and also NGO investments, showed that we spent around USD 450 million last year in the WASH sector as a whole, not UNICEF, but the WASH sector as a whole.

Of that USD 450 million we saw a significant amount of money coming from humanitarian funding; 110 million came from humanitarian funding and a large percentage of that was channeled through UNICEF. The government’s contribution to also the WASH sector last year increased a lot. We saw not only investments from the government to development programming, but also to emergencies. So of the overall funding last year for humanitarian programs, 30 percent of it was from the government, not from external sources.

So one way we are trying to mitigate the potential loss of financing for Ethiopia to other countries that are in crisis in the Horn of Africa and in the Middle East and elsewhere, is to look into leveraging our development money, funding that we have for development programs; both government and non government funding, and use it for humanitarian responses in the WASH sector. We call this the nexus between development and emergency and we have done that extremely well in the WASH sector last year in the El Niño response but we have to do it again this year because of the current drought in the Oromia and Somali regions.

Capital: There are places in Ethiopia that have been affected by drought, how are you implementing WASH programs in those areas?

Godfrey: The current emergency that we have has two different case holds. One is the residual case of last year were we still have measles cases and a high number of scabies and we still have AWD in parts of the country so that needs a response but it is a continuation of fallout from El Niño last year. The second emergency that we have is the Indian Ocean dipole where we essentially had very low rainfall in the Southern part of Ethiopia; Southern Oromia and Southern Somalia and Southern SNNPR. This was due to low pressure in the weather system which drove the rainfall out of Ethiopia towards the Indian Ocean and then it rained heavily over the Indian Ocean of course causing some flooding in some of the islands on the Ocean.

So we are left then with a population in those areas which have had two, in some cases three failed rains over the last two years. So there is still a huge need for us to address those needs. Then, if we look at where the majority of the population of the country is, in the Northern and Central parts of Ethiopia, they are better off now than they were last year because they did receive rainfall. We are slightly relived in a sense that they will be able to have more developmental activities to provide water and sanitation to them while we focus on those sparkly populated areas of the country which need a response.

Currently, UNICEF’s operation for WASH in Ethiopia is the largest WASH operation in the world; we are the biggest WASH operation of UNICEF in the world. Last year, we were able to invest in the sector USD 42 million and of that, 22 million of it was for emergency. So this year we are expecting again to have a similar level of expenditure just purely because these areas are hard to access and reach.

Capital: More refugees from Somalia and South Sudan are expected to enter Ethiopia, how are the WASH projects in areas such as Gambela?

Godfrey: We are very much involved in partnership with our colleagues UNHCR working together to provide water supply. We were instrumental in financing the biggest water scheme in Gambela for most of the refugees that came into Kule camp, Tiekidi camp and so on. We are also intervening now with UNHCR in other refugee situations across the country including refugees coming across from Eritrea into Afar and those from Somaliland and South Central Somalia into the Somali Region. The main driver of displacement from Somalia into Ethiopia at the moment is the lack of pasture and water for livestock and so we are seeing families being displaced because their livestock are unable to survive in Somalia and so we provide as UNICEF solutions which are more sustainable in terms of deep boreholes which provides water for cattle, camels and the population as well. Once you provide those kinds of water schemes, it attracts more inward migration from other countries, so we have to be careful also on our dialogue on where and how we locate this type of infrastructure.

We are responding at the moment in Dolo zone in the Somali region. When I was there last week, I visited one of the water schemes we have instructed with our financing and it is providing water for 2,000 people and 200,000 camels. So you can see the ratio in terms of the need between livestock and humans. There is human displacement but it is predominantly because of livestock

Capital: How achievable do you think the goal to reach every Ethiopian with WASH services by 2020?

Godfrey: Within the WASH sector, one of the goals is achievable and that is the elimination of open defecation. Ethiopia was celebrated in the UN General Assembly as being the country that has made the biggest progress in the world, in reducing open defecation and is on track to have a 100 percent elimination of open defecation by 2021. This is predominantly because of the advocacy of the health extension program and the excellent out reach that has been put in place by the Ministry of Health to reach people at the grassroots level, not just with health services but also with preventative health like sanitation and hygiene promotion. So that in itself is one of the goals we will achieve. We are on time and on budget to achieve that.

But then if you move into the infrastructure area of water supply, or into the infrastructure component of sewerage or septic tank or sanitation as a broader area, we would need to main things. One we would need to think very cleverly about innovation and financing.

At the moment the financing of the water sector is predominantly from transfers; so it predominantly comes from government of Ethiopia transfers from the Ministry of Finance and development partners’ transfers. It doesn’t come at the moment from either tariff or taxes. We have very low tariffs; everyone living in Addis Ababa does not likely know how much they are paying for water, it is minimal. If you really want water services and sanitation services to work, people have got to pay for the service. They have got to have a service that they trust and they have to pay for it. That is an area we really need to work on, not just in Addis as a city, but as a country because the average at the moment is less than one percent of the funding for the WASH sector is coming from tariffs. Globally the sustainable water and sanitation services that you might see in South Africa or other countries, it is in the region of 60 to 70 percent of the funding is coming from tariffs. So we have a long way to go in terms of moving and understanding of behaviors of consumers towards the idea that they may need to pay for service. It is a financial flow which is critical. So we have got to look at behavior and people have got to understand if we are going to have universality of water and sanitation services then we have to have a situation where people are willing to pay for it.

That is an important area of reform which will be discussed in the MSF. UNICEF along with key partners like the World Bank are working with the government to introduce independent regulation of pricing so that there is an equitability of pricing so that the poor don’t have to pay more than the rich and they don’t have to be in a situation where they don’t benefit; there needs to be cross subsidy for these things. So this is one key limiting factor in terms of reaching that goal which needs to be looked at.

The second limitation is the capacity of the private sector to be able to deliver all this infrastructure. Even if we have USD 3 billion a year, which is what we estimate we need to reach this goal, we don’t have at the moment, enough private sector operators, civil engineering contractors, drilling engineering contractors design and supervision contractors to be able to do the work. So this part of opening the market for the private sector to deliver the infrastructure more efficiently has started but we need to keep pushing and promoting that, particularly in some regions where it is still very limited. Those are two areas that will be discussed in the MSF.

Capital: Is the government in agreement with the suggestion on increasing the tariff?

Godfrey: The initial consultations are showing that there is an openness on the government’s side, it is included in the second Growth and Transformation Plan; the inclusion of independent regulation body is there, the question is more on how and when because we know that clearly the economic willingness and ability to pay for the services are different in different parts of the country. At the moment the discussion UNICEF is leading with the government is to identify proper areas in the country where this regulation could be tested and to see whether or not it has some sensitivities and to see how far it can go and it will need to be introduced carefully and gradually as it has been in many Africa countries and it needs to have the full backing of the state so it is something that is driven by them.

We have in April a very important meeting in Washington DC which is called “Water and Sanitation for All” meeting, last year Ethiopia hosted the sanitation and water for all forum at the UNECA where there were 120 ministers that came from around the world to discuss on WASH. This year it will be hosted in Washington DC and some of the commitment the government of Ethiopia has made to increase potential funds from tariff will be discussed there so there will be an element of political pressure and global pressure which we will have to answer to during that meeting.