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Sanitation in Senegal: “High time to move from words to action”

By United Nations - Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
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DAKAR, Sénégal, November 21, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, warned today that the Government of Senegal has failed to invest adequately in Sanitation.

“The Senegalese Government has repeatedly stated that Sanitation for all is a national priority. However these promises have not been translated in sufficient budget allocations,” the special rapporteur said at the end of her eight-day mission to the country. “Without ensuring a significant percentage of the State budget to the sector, the majority of Senegalese will remain condemned to very unhealthy living conditions.”

“As resources are scarce, public investments in water and sanitation must prioritize those who need the most first,” she said. “In my visit to poor communities in great Dakar I noticed that the cost paid by users of borne fountains living in extremely poor areas was much higher than the price paid by richer households. This is unacceptable.” The same happens in rural communities, where social water tariffs do not exist.

For the Special Rapporteur, recognizing water and sanitation as human rights calls for policies to ensure that “under no circumstances those living in poverty have these fundamental rights denied because they cannot pay or because they cannot present the necessary documentation to benefit from these essential services.” Albuquerque stressed, however, that “better sanitation conditions will not be achieved simply by building latrines and sanitary tanks.” In her view, real changes in hygiene standards are only possible if the population is fully sensitized about improved hygiene practices.

“Sanitary officials working side by side with communities already play a role promoting the abandonment of unhealthy practices such as open defecation,” she said. “These initiatives, including the “Community-Led Total Sanitation” programme, must be reproduced throughout the country as part of a national strategy for the sanitation sector.”

The rapporteur underlined the importance of the participation of civil society in the discussions regarding the revision of the contract for urban water provision between the Government of Senegal and the Senegalaise des Eaux. “Full transparency is required, and the population must be able to participate in on-going discussions,” she said, recommending the creation of an independent regulatory agency to monitor the work of private or public enterprises engaged in the provision of water and sanitation in the country. “This is a crucial step to ensure these essential services are safe, affordable and accessible to all.”

While noting the expansion of the water network in the last few years, and the rise in coverage rates reaching 87,2% in 2010, the expert stressed that “increasing access has little meaning if the quality of the water offered is not adequate for consumption.” She further noted that the quality of water must be regularly assessed and called for greater investments to ensure sources of water contaminated by pollution, fluor and salt become drinkable.

During her mission Senegal, from 14 to 21 November, Albuquerque met representatives from Government ministries, the donor community, the private sector and civil society. She also visited communities and informal settlements in Dakar, Guedyawaye, Rufisque and Kaolack. The Special Rapporteur will present a mission report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, describing her main findings and recommendations.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: