LONDON – Christian development agency Tearfund welcomed Monday a new global partnership aimed at bringing clean water and proper sanitation to billions of people.
Ministers and policy makers from 30 countries agreed at a meeting at the White House last week to make water and sanitation political priorities, and to assist in efforts to improve access to these resources in low-income countries and poor communities.
The Sanitation and Water for All partnership commits the countries to establishing a new funding mechanism to support the world's poorest countries in providing sanitation and water for their people.
It comes as a report from the United Nations last week showed that only 42 percent of aid earmarked for water and sanitation was going to low-income countries and that the level of aid being committed to these resources was in decline.
Paul Cook, Tearfund's advocacy director, said Friday's first annual High-Level Meeting of Sanitation and Water for All was a "very welcome first step" in bringing water and sanitation to billions of poor people around the world.
"We know that God cares about our practical needs as well as our spiritual needs, and we believe that our Biblical mandate as Christians is to speak up for justice with and for those who are poor and oppressed," he said.
Christians have been praying and campaigning for more commitment from governments on the issues of water and sanitation as part of the End Water Poverty campaign. Aid agencies such as Tearfund warn that unless governments do more, unclean water and poor sanitation will continue to kill millions of children.
"For too long, water and sanitation have been neglected by both rich and poor governments," commented Cook. "This meeting provides a ray of hope that things could be about to change."
Still, Edward Kairu, chairman of the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, called on developed countries to ensure the plan was implemented by committing fresh funds.
"People cannot drink promises, so the real test is whether today's announcements will be translated into action on the ground," he said.
"We need to put the meat on the bones of this agreement with clear plans and new money," Kairu added. "Only then will we really begin to see progress in the form of fewer children dying, more girls in school, and communities able to work themselves out of poverty."
According to the UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) report, over 2.6 billion people are living without access to improved sanitation facilities, and nearly 900 million people are not receiving their drinking-water from improved water sources.
These figures and other findings of the report were presented at Friday's meeting in Washington, D.C., hosted by UNICEF. The report was a UN-Water initiative implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO).