Most African countries are finding difficulties to score remarkable achievements towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on water and sanitation by 2015 because of the ever increasing urban populations.
In a speech read for him by Finance and National Planning Minister, Ng’andu Magande at the ongoing African Union summit in Egypt, President Mwanawasa said internal and external conflicts Africa has been experiencing were also making it difficult for the continent to achieve the MDGs.
Dr Mwanawasa said it was easy to focus on water and sanitation in peaceful environments, and very difficult to do so in conflict areas.
He said conflicts on the continent were resulting in displacement of people thereby making it difficult for them to access basic social facilities such as water and sanitation.
Dr. Mwanawasa said that some countries in Africa have performed better while others still lag behind in meeting their developmental goals.
He said Africa could not claim to have registered economic growth if the majority of its people lacked access to water and sanitation services.
The President said sanitation was key to sustainable social and economic development as lack of it could cause misery through disease and ill-health thereby reducing productivity.
Although there have been pronouncements at national, regional and continental level on how to tackle sanitary issues, there has been no meaningful and visible progress in addressing the problem.
In the case of Zambia, Dr. Mwanawasa observed that proper development of sanitation and water supply infrastructure was being hampered by unplanned urban settlements which were attracting scores of the rural poor.
This made it difficult and costly for local authorities to provide adequate water and sanitation services to the communities.
Dr. Mwanawasa said well planned urban and peri-urban settlements would provide solutions to sanitation and water supply problems the continent was currently experiencing.
"In this regard, I call upon the African Union to support capacity building in the area of urban planning and development," President Mwanawasa said.
Dr. Mwanawasa said with a population of 11.6 million, four million of whom live in urban areas, the sanitation problem in Zambia was still a major challenge.
In 2004, the country's national coverage for water supply stood at 53 percent while sanitation stood at 23 percent.
The president said the country has since embarked on the development of integrated national programmes to improve water supply, sanitation and hygiene in rural, urban and peri-urban areas and set targets of 60 percent for sanitation and 75 percent for water to be achieved by 2015.
He said the programmes would continue to be implemented until the country attained "universal coverage" by the year 2030".
Dr. Mwanawasa said through these programmes, the country intended to alleviate the suffering of the people and contribute to poverty reduction.
The 11th Ordinary session of the AU Heads of State and Government summit opened yesterday in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.
The summit is scheduled to officially close today.