The Governments’ Responsibility to Solve the Poor Water and Sanitation Issue


The issue of gaining access to clean water and sanitation is widespread affecting both the developed and the developing nations. Due to the media, non-governmental, and governmental institutions, most people across different geographical locations understand the need for clean water and sanitation. Also, studies show that a large proportion of the Earth that is 70% is covered by water (Tezera, 2011). Nonetheless, still, a large population in the world, comprising of approximately 2.5 billion individuals, has insufficiency of enhanced sanitation. Moreover, 1.2 billion individuals are also said to practice the riskiest sanitary method of them all, open defecation (WHO, 2008). Also, based on the type of residential areas, people living in rural areas have been found to have more significant problems regarding access to clean water and sanitation, that is, the magnitude of the issue is four times higher among the rural communities. On the other hand, poor sanitation has several consequences – for example, deaths because of preventable illnesses, overwhelming of health centers and suffering of national economies, reduced productivity in the business and industrial sectors, increased absenteeism in schools and workplaces among other effects. As such, the extent of the issue leaves questions in many individuals regarding what various governments are doing to offer solutions to the problem. Furthermore, another concern that can be raised concerning the water and sanitation issue is the effectiveness of the set policies regarding the problem. Therefore, governments around the world are responsible for the proper implementation of clean water and sanitation strategies and policies.



The Poor Water and Sanitation Issue

For years, water has been perceived to be one of the fundamental drivers of sustainable economic growth. It does so through supporting activities like transportation and energy, mining, manufacturing, and agriculture. On the other hand, sanitation has also become of major importance in people’s lives for protection against illnesses (Kitawaki, 2002). However, the concept of sanitation is quite extensive comprising of three major elements. For instance, practices such as water management, hygiene, and sanitation itself are said to be inclusive in the definition of the concept. However, in this case, sanitation as one of the elements consists of management of toxic wastes, with the inclusion of radioactive and chemical substances as well as hospital wastes among other dangerous substances. It also encompasses management and gathering of industrial waste products as well as recycling, reusing, and management of solid wastes. Lastly, sanitation also involves the safe collection, disposal, treatment, and storage of human excretion wastes. Nonetheless, despite understanding the various methods of upholding sanitation and the importance of using clean water, many countries across the globe still face the issue of poor water and sanitation (, 2013).

People living in developing nations are among the most affected by the issue of obtaining cleaning water as well as upholding the proper sanitation practices. A report by the United Nations (UN) revealed that half of the individuals who reside in developing countries lack access to even a basic toilet (Fuhs, 2004). As a result, in Africa, diseases associated with poor sanitation are responsible for more deaths of children compared to measles, malaria, and AIDS combined. However, this issue is mostly attributed to the poor planning regarding the strategies that can be utilized in ensuring access to clean water as well as the weak integration of the set policies for ensuring sustainability of water services. On the other hand, people in the developing countries also face a challenge, when it comes to obtaining of clean water. For example, in Ethiopia, a significant number of individuals residing in the rural regions have to walk long distances for the collection of water (Tezera, 2011). Nonetheless, the fluids that they end up taking homes mostly come from shallow and unprotected rivers, springs, and ponds, which are polluted. In other cases, the people have shared the same water sources with their animals.

Nevertheless, developing countries are not the only ones struggling with the issue of poor sanitation, and lack of access to clean water for the problem has become global. About 46% of the world’s population is said to lack improved sanitation, whereas 17% of the people do not have clean drinking water (, 2013). Moreover, a great number of world’s children attend schools that do not have proper toilets or water. As a result, approximately 40% of the children who go to school in various locations across the globe suffer from worm infections which later lead to developmental and cognitive problems among the young learners (, 2013). Furthermore, about 5,000 children deaths every single day are as a result from inadequate hygiene, poor sanitation, and insufficiency of safe drinking water (, 2013).

Apart from causing illnesses and deaths, poor water and sanitation practices are also said to play a role in human rights, like the right to food, education, and life among others, for they cannot be attained without full access to basic sanitation and clean water. Regarding gender, the female population is said to be the most affected by the issue, for millions of young girls and women are forced to spend long periods looking for, fetching, and carrying water back to their homes (Tezera, 2011). As such, some of the young girls drop out of schools, whereas others have high rates of absenteeism. Also, such activities promote inequalities within communities and households, establishing hindrances for girls and women regarding participation in community development, leisure, rest, literacy, and time to take care of the young ones as well as schooling (Brocklehurst, 2011). On the other hand, the urban poor are also named as among the most affected by the problem too.

Government Efforts in Solving the Issue

Due to the diverse nature of the issue regarding sanitation and water, various governments and international communities have come up with practices of mitigating the effects of the problem. However, some authorities, especially in Africa, are perceived to be more focused on the handling of visible catastrophes like famine, conflict, and HIV and AIDS, leaving behind the issue of sanitation and water (Morris, 2004). Moreover, the government of India is also facing challenges related to poor water and sanitation. However, poor sanitation is the biggest problem in the country, especially for the urban poor.

Similarly to some of the Africa’s governments, the Indian authorities are said to have done little regarding reaching out to those in need of improved sanitation. Instead of supporting or developing of sustainable, low-cost sanitation options, the government is allegedly spending hundreds of millions of US dollars on schemes like JNNURM (Nallari, 2015). The latter gives more attention to urban housing redevelopment, particularly the construction of multilevel housing and demolishing of ground-level buildings, mostly at the expense of the poor within the affected regions. Furthermore, Nallari (2015) argues that concerning settlement upgrading, the poor are frequently promised improvement of their living conditions, but instead, end up being used for gaining political power and gaining of votes. However, some non-governmental organizations have emerged and initiated numerous activities regarding the improvement of sanitation in India, especially for the urban poor and those living in rural areas. For example, a grassroots organization, namely the Alliance, has been working with the poor urban communities in the establishment of practices and methods of enhancing sanitation through the provision of toilets and setting of standards that have an effect on urban policies at the national and state levels.

Similarly, other international communities are also playing a very fundamental role regarding the provision of clean water and improved sanitations to communities in need of the same. For instance, UNICEF’s efforts, through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), have led to the provision of water, improvement of hygiene and sanitation practices to billions of people in different geographical locations (UNICEF, 2016). However, the organization is facing challenges such as the climate changes, which can affect water resources and availability of clean water. Nonetheless, they are partnering with numerous governments to ensure that each child has access to proper hygiene and sanitation as well as clean water, especially in humanitarian situations, where the young ones are the most vulnerable, in health centers and schools.

The United Nations organization is also working towards the reduction of the number of people who lack clean and safe water around the world. They have conducted summits and enlightened individuals concerning the adoption of commitments to improve sanitary conditions and water in numerous nations. An example is the Summit which was held in South Africa in 2004, which brought together more than 10,000 delegates and approximately 100 world leaders (Fuhs, 2004). It focused on advocating for improvement of living conditions across different regions in the world but without sacrificial of the environment in the process. Another non-governmental entity that has significantly contributed to the improvement of sanitation and access to clean water is the International Development Association, which has been operating in the poorest countries in the world. Due to their efforts, International Development Association countries saw a 10% increment of access to improved water sources between 1990 to 2004 (The World Bank, 2017). However, they have been facing challenges concerning enhancement of sanitation in the various countries.

Effects of Current Policies on the Issue

In an effort to curb the enigma of gaining sanitation and clean water around the globe, individual governments as well as international communities, have developed and enacted various policies. For instance, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) (2004) established the Water Action Plan targeting provision of clean water and proper sanitation in their partnering countries. This plan is aimed at reduction of persons without access to safe water by half before 2015. They also sought to ensure that all nations create Integrated Water Resource Management and Water Efficiency Plans. Moreover, UNICEF (2016) came up with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) strategy aiming at guiding their organization-wide contribution to the attainment of access to sanitation and water for all nations by 2030. This policy was created to support and appraise the organization’s core planning and strategy procedures as well as direct the establishment of their programs (UNICEF, 2016). Moreover, it provided a set of tactics to be customized to each nation’s setting and principles to be employed to all the entity’s work along with guidance documents that offered more details on implementation. Therefore, the objectives for hygiene, sanitation, and water set a substantial challenge for countries for the following 15 years after establishment. The set policies also placed a higher level of ambition for the organization and its partners, regarding the mitigation of the issue of poor sanitation and water supply, but at the same time, focusing on the need to deal with inequalities in the society.

The Department for International Development also set the 2010 to 2015 government policy, which intended for the provision of access to clean drinking water, basic hygiene education, and effective sanitation for approximately 60 million by 2015 (, 2015).  Moreover, through their Research-Inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia (RIPPLE), the organization attained an increase in access to safe water for rural inhabitants as well as support and finance for functioning water pumps. In an attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the International Development Association (IDA) set policies concerning the improvement of water services and sanitation for the developing countries. Through their strategies, between 2000 and 2006, they provided at least 25 million individuals with access to better sanitation and water supply sources along supporting institutional development and policy reform of the water supply and sanitation sector (WSS). Eventually, their strategies proved to be both cost-effective and life-saving, regarding decreased occurrences of illnesses and improved hygiene (The World Bank, 2017). Furthermore, the UN also established inter-sectorial policies with the purpose of enhancing sanitation and associated benefits across a broad range of actors (Fuhs, 2004). This strategy required frequent addressing of different elements of sanitation by several sectors including transport and infrastructure, industry, environment, education, and health.

On the other hand, the governments of different countries are also rising to the challenge of setting policies targeting the improvement of hygiene and sanitation factors and supply of safe water. For example, the government of Madagascar amended its Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) to include prioritization of sanitation and water upon the realization that they were undergoing significant costs and losing three to five million school days due to diseases associated with sanitation (Morris, 2004). The South African government has also enacted the national water and sanitation program, which comprises of several policies. They include the “free basic water” policy, which intends to ensure that affordability is not a hinderer to access to safe water and the legislative and policy framework within which the national program had been established. As a result of the strategies, significant progress has been achieved in South Africa, particularly concerning water.

Nevertheless, the future is predicted to bear the largest uncertainty regarding the financial sustainability of the free basic water policy, which relies on the strength of the national economy. However, most of the governments have not done enough regarding coming up with policies and strategies for ensuring that their citizens follow the appropriate sanitation practices and have sufficient clean drinking water.  For example, a study by Bentley, Han, and Houessou (2015) revealed that a great number of African citizens that is 55% rated their government’s tackling of the poor sanitation and water issue as “very bad” or “fairly bad.” Moreover, the countries with the highest negative ratings were Egypt, with78% of the respondents evaluating their government efforts as very poor, Cameroon followed with a 75% negative rating, and Nigeria at 71%. As such, there is a need for the numerous state governments to pay more attention to the issue of sanitation and provision of clean water.

Call for Action on the Issue of Water and Sanitation

Despite the combined efforts of several international communities and some governments, access to clean and safe water as well as sanitation practices remains one of the major global issues that various countries are facing. However, based on various reports and studies presented above, it is fair to state that the international communities have put a substantial effort into the issue. On the other hand, the same cannot be said regarding various individual governments. Most of them, especially those in developing countries, are said to put in minimum efforts concerning the prevention of the issue of proper sanitation and water supplies. Nevertheless, for the achievement of control over the issue, specific tactics ought to be employed in regions with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation.

A Focus on Water Governance

The international sanitation and water crisis is primarily entrenched in inequality, power, and poverty. Thus, it is what is making it a catastrophe of governance (Kurian, 2007). The effective governance of water is as a result of a shortage of new investments, insufficient capacity, bureaucratic inertia, and lack of appropriate institutions, corruption, and poor resource management (UNICEF, 2016). Therefore, unless steps concerning the improvement of governance of water are taken, the issue will continue spreading in future.

Oversight and Accountability

In numerous nations, institutional arrangements regarding water service delivery have been set up. Ironically, despite the effort, the performance remains poor. In such scenarios, accountability is the missing element, which involves making changes happen through ensuring that the assigned responsibilities in the policy provide results. Moreover, for the attainment of effective control over water services and resources, the service providers and decision-makers ought to take responsibility for their actions. Proper functioning accountability procedures can result in efficient management of fiscal resources and assist in the explanation of the commitments of actors participating in water governance. They can also aid in ensuring minimum quality standards, the increment of control over the conducts of private and public stakeholders as well as protection of water resources.

On the other hand, the establishment of oversight systems for monitoring of the procedures put in place as well as the accountability is also necessary. For instance, a nation can have a horizontal oversight system. It comprises of internal balances and checks within an entity. Some of the internal control processes carried out in such a system include assessment and monitoring of regulations and rules associated with fiscal management alongside the services offered.


Governments around the world are responsible for the proper implementation of clean water and sanitation strategies and policies. Nonetheless, some of the authorities have failed in the provision of the same. Alternatively, numerous international communities across the globe have given significant efforts to the provision of proper sanitation and clean water to individuals in need of the same, particularly the urban poor and those residing in rural areas. As such, various policies have been established with the inclusion of international community outreach plans. However, some countries in Africa claim to lack the proper policies for addressing the crisis. As a result, there is a need for a call for actions for various governments to become more committed in the handling of the issue. An example of practices that can be adopted includes establishment of oversight and accountability. Therefore, for improved management of the sanitation and water calamity in future, there is a need for governments to increase their diligence as well as combine efforts with the international communities for better performance.

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