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[afro-nets] Women, Water, Hygiene - Key to Change in Africa (3)
- From: Peter Burgess <Profitinafrica@aol.com>
- Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2005 01:23:58 EDT
Women, Water, Hygiene - Key to Change in Africa (3)
I think there is widespread agreement that women and water and
hygiene are a big part of the social and development dynamic in
an African community, indeed in any community. But I don't think
this is a particularly novel and new idea. As I recall it seemed
to be at the top of the development agenda in the 1970s and
So what has happened over the past 30 years to get these socio-
economic development problems solved? And it seems that the an-
swer is "not very much".
There is an interesting passage in the book "The Price of Loy-
alty... George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of
Paul O'Neill" by Ron Suskind published early in 2004.
On page 245 the following: Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil is
visiting several countries in Africa with Bono, and is now in
"How much of the country has clean potable water? asks the Sec-
retary; "About half" the development official said. O'Neil
looked hard at him. "Half? Jesus, that mystifies me. Only half
the population has clean water? Without good water, people get
sick, crops don't grow... you can't get started developing any-
On the next page... starting mid paragraph:
"The UN goal was arbitrary, he said. Meaningless, and daunting
problems were solvable with resources already available, if
someone thought for five minutes about how the dollars could be
better spent. Of course, there were people who'd spent more than
5 minutes on the subject matter - namely the foreign aid commu-
nity and the myriad NGOs and programmatic altruists - but
O'Neill had felt those groups had been shielded from hard ques-
tions about how money is spent and how progress is measured. He
was looking for value; he was a strange CEO/Policy hybrid with a
proven track record of calling things by their proper names and
cutting through excuses, so let him look." But then human value
- the divine value of each blessed and beleaguered African -
started to intrude on O'Neill's calculus. The parade (of offi-
cial visitors) squeezed into the narrow halls of a regional hos-
pital: 380 beds in an unsanitary, crumbling sprawl that sup-
ported itself, and turned no one away, on $200,000 a year. "Did
you hear that? Two hundred thousand a year" O'Neill said. "Okay,
right" said Bono, nonplussed. O'Neill did not notice. He was
factoring how fast one patient could run up that total in a
Washington hospital. "What's your biggest problem?" he asked the
doctors. They huddled. Unsanitary water, lack of medications,
but the worst was electricity. Power would quit during surger-
ies. Patients would die on the operating table. They needed a
backup generator. Good God, the disparities are overwhelming,"
O'Neill said. "Just mind boggling."
And then on page 254... by now in Uganda:
O'Neill had been asking questions for a week. In Ghana he had
done some calculations. A good working well could serve one
thousand people, and well digging was priced by each foot dug.
Using data on the depth of Ghana's water table, he estimated
that 10 million Ghanaians without clean water - about half the
populations - could be supplied potable, well-drawn water for
Now, after a week of seeing hospitals without clean water,
stunted crops and the ravages of waterborne diseases, O'Neill
was armed for Uganda, with a population of 24 million. Uganda's
water table is even higher than Ghana's easier and cheaper to
drill. He laid it out, with gusto for Musoveni - as if he was
offering a gift. All of Uganda, with clean water for $25 mil-
One of Musoveni's aides interjected. Oh yes, they had already
done a study of the matter. "It will cost many times your
price," he said. O'Neill asked if he had the study. After a mo-
ment, it was produced. As Bono and Musoveni chatted, O'Neill
flipped pages. It had been done by a U.S. consulting firm. It
recommended a complex array of treatment plants and heavy metal
pipelines. Total cost $2 billion.
"President Musoveni," O'Neill said, shaking his head, "this is
recommending you build a water system like in Detroit or Cleve-
land. You won't need that for a hundred years. You just need to
drop wells, and mostly maintain them. Your people can handle the
rest. We can do this quickly, maybe a year or two."
But the rest is history. Treasury Secretary O'Neill was dumped
by the administration not long after this trip with Bono to Af-
rica. The U.S. Government has not seen fit to follow up on
O'Neill's thinking about affordable water even though it is such
an important component of quality of life.
And later in 2004 John Perkins publishes the book "Confessions
of an Economic Hit Man" which also addresses the issues of dis-
connect between cost and value of development aid... and ex-
plains why he considers development assistance does not work.
Not a pretty picture.
And this year all sorts of people and responsible organizations
starting to write about this same disconnect and the fact that
only a small percentage of development assistance being used in
a valuable way for Africa... and the labelling of development
assistance as "phantom aid".
I would imagine that every community on the planet would put ac-
cess to safe potable water as a priority. When I started doing
development analysis and planning work 30 years ago, this was
true, and it is still true. We know that rather limited progress
has been made. The UNDP documents this fact every year in their
Human Development Report... but what does not get answered is
WHY progress is not being made, and HOW huge fund flows seem to
do rather little of tangible value.
When the official relief and development assistance (ORDA) com-
munity does its cost accounting and performance analysis well,
we will know the answers to these questions. But don't hold your
breath. The ORDA world has avoided accounting and accountability
for 30 years, why should they start now?
Tr-Ac-Net in New York
The Transparency and Accountability Network
With Kris Dev in Chennai India
and others in South Asia, Africa and Latin America