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World Water Day: Aid Groups Call for Action in Africa

FILE - Densa Tadicha, a 10-year-old Ethiopian girl, collects water from a pond used by animals at El-Ley village in the drought affected region of Moyale, June 12, 2009.

Global aid groups Wednesday joined World Water Day commemorations noting that Africa is facing several challenges providing its people with access to clean water and making an urgent call for action.

This year, World Water Day commemorations are being observed under the theme of accelerating change to address water and sanitation crises around the world.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said this week around 190 million African children face risks from lacking clean water, water-related diseases and climate hazards.

“Africa is facing a water catastrophe. While climate and water-related shocks are escalating globally, nowhere else in the world do the risks compound as severely for children,” said UNICEF director of programs Sanjay Wijesekera.

Peter Karanja, the technical lead for the water, sanitation and hygiene program at World Vision Kenya, said approximately 12 countries need immediate water assistance due to the drought in the Horn of Africa and its neighboring countries.

“The drought situation in Kenya currently is one of the worst that has happened in the last three drought seasons within a decade, and this reflects squarely how climate change is negatively impacting the issue of water access,” Karanja said.

“If we remain and do things as usual, the situation looks like it will worsen as we progress. At the moment, close to 12 counties are in crisis in terms of water access,” he added.

Drought has particularly impacted children in the East African country.

“The most vulnerable population are the children under five. The issue of malnutrition affects children, waterborne diseases affected children, and people are walking too far to fetch this water,” Karanja said.

Susan Koki Mutua, a Kenyan health ministry officer, said the government has put in place nationwide programs focused on improving sanitation.

“We are ensuring that in healthcare facilities, sanitation is topnotch. In schools we have a program for WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), where we make sure that the children in schools have adequate WASH facilities. And these children happen to be our ambassadors in the homes,” Mutua said.

The Kenyan official also noted that there should be more measures implemented in her country and across the globe to ensure equal access to clean water.

“The main challenge is the finance that goes to WASH activities. That’s the biggest challenge because of course preventative activities – not just in Kenya but world over – they tend to take the back banner,” she said, adding that progress may take time.

About 9.9 million people drink directly from contaminated surface water sources, according to UNICEF.

Martin Dery, the director of nonprofit ProNet North Ghana, said there are some communities in the West African nation that have been deprived of sanitation for around 28 years.

The nonprofit has assisted over 24,000 Ghanaians in the past two years, along with international partners, working to improve access to potable water through the construction of boreholes fitted with hand pumps.

Dery called on Ghanaian authorities to allow private companies to play a role in alleviating water woes in the country.

“There must be private sector involvement. Water and sanitation is not something government alone can do because the investment is very heavy, the number of people who still need water are so many and so it is an area we must encourage private sector involvement because water is life,” Dery said.

Dery also said Ghana should invest more in ensuring that citizens have access to clean water.

“We will need a major shift in the way we are doing things in Ghana. There is a financing gap. If you look at how much money as a country we pump into water, it is very low, we pump much less into water than we pump into education for instance, more than what we pump in health,” Dery said.

“You would see that most of our financing for water comes from outside sources, there is a big gap,” he added.

VOA’s Reuben Kyama and Mavis Okyere contributed to this report.