Target reached three years ahead :
Sri Lanka achieves MDG on water and sanitation
Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka
Amidst international development agency - WaterAid - calling upon the
South Asian region to invest more in sanitation to save the lives of
over 2.8 million children under the age of five, the Sri Lankan
Government said the island had achieved the United Nations’ Millennium
Development Goals on water and sanitation that targeted a coverage of
84.5 percent by 2015, three years ahead.
Minister of Water Supply and Drainage Dinesh Gunawardena said that
Sri Lanka had a total coverage in water and sanitation of 85.5 percent
in 2011 and had set its own target to reach 100 percent by 2020.
“Sri Lanka is confident of achieving this target easily, because our
reconstruction programs are centred to provide better sanitation and
quality water supply for all people”, he said.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer last Friday, just two days
prior to Sri Lanka hosting the fourth South Asian Conference on Water
and Sanitation (SACOSAN) in Colombo, from April 4 to 8, the Minister
said Sri Lanka would be the most progressive story of the region
committed to provide better water and sanitation to all Sri Lankans.
While Sri Lanka tops the other countries in the region with improved
sanitation facilities and safe drinking water, many in India,
Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Bhutan die and suffer due
to water and sanitation-related health problems.
According to WaterAid, the situation in the region is still shocking
despite the commitments made at the previous SACOSAN conferences.
As 500 experts from SAARC countries gather in Colombo at SACOSAN IV
to review the commitments set out in the Delhi Declaration in 2008,
WaterAid has warned that all countries in South Asia except the Maldives
and Sri Lanka are currently off track to meet the Millennium Development
Goal (MDG) to halve the proportion of people currently living without
access to a toilet.
Q: SACOSAN is a very important conference for the South Asian
region, which is still lagging behind in the UN MDGs. How do you see Sri
Lanka’s opportunity to host SACOSAN IV?
A: Yes, it is a very important conference, where especially
the ministers in-charge of water and sanitation will meet to discuss the
future steps to be taken to address the issue in the South Asian region.
The event will be ceremonially opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who
has recognised the importance of addressing this crucial issue.
The first SACOSAN in Dhaka in 2003 was a landmark event in meeting
the challenge of ensuring access to adequate sanitation for all South
Asians. It resulted in the first ever regional, ministerial level
declaration on sanitation in which governments committed themselves to
accelerate progress in sanitation and hygiene through a people-centred
community led approach.
Other SACOSANs were held in Islamabad, Pakistan and New Delhi, India.
Hosting this important conference, which helps save millions of lives in
the region, is very important to Sri Lanka, which has given priority to
safe drinking water and better sanitation facilities in its
post-conflict development goals.
Apart from the ministers of the region, this conference will bring
all agencies that work in the areas of water and sanitation together.
They would deliberate on different issues such as climate change, water
and sanitation and will discuss how to improve health through improving
better sanitation conditions and safe drinking water. We are very proud
to host this important event.
Q: Compared to other countries in the region, Sri Lanka
records a high standard with regard to water and sanitation. Are you
satisfied with this achievement?
A: Yes, Sri Lanka’s access to quality drinking water is around
82 percent and access to pipe-borne water in 2011 is over 40 percent. We
have an annul target of two percent to increase the pipe-borne water
We target over 50 percent access to pipe-borne water by 2015.
In some areas people do not want pipe-borne water as they have safe
drinking water from protected wells in their areas.
Q: Though we have a good islandwide coverage for water and
sanitation, there are pockets in slums, the coastal belt and the estate
sector where more attention needs to be paid to improving access to safe
drinking water and sanitation. What are the steps taken to address this
A: We have given equal priority to supplying pipe-borne water
to the plantations, coastal areas and the North and the East. Over 32
new projects are to start to provide safe drinking water for the people
in the coastal belt. These projects to cost over One billion rupees will
be built within the next four years, covering the entire island
including Matara, Hambantota, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Mannar,
Gampaha and Kandy.
Slum dwellers are also to get access to pipe-borne water, but there
is a problem here as most slums are regarded as temporary structures,
prevents the Water Board from providing them with a piped water supply.
Providing quality drinking water and better sanitation facilities is
important as a preventive tool to many water and sanitation-related
Q: Improving school sanitation is another important area that
needs urgent attention as there are over 1,299 schools with poor
sanitary facilities. How do you plan to provide better sanitary
facilities for schools?
A: Yes, this is an area that needs urgent attention. It has
become a serious issue due to poor maintenance. Of the 1,299 schools,
there are a few schools which don’t have any toilets, but the majority
suffer due to poor maintenance. However, the Ministry together with the
Ministries of Education and Health has plans to address the issue of
school sanitation. Building a toilet is not the only issue as it needs
better maintenance, to sustain the facility. The Government alone cannot
address this issue and needs the support of the school authorities,
parents, the community and the students.
We need to increase the number of toilets and rest-rooms in schools.
Our target is to double the present number of toilet, facilities in
schools. Providing better sanitary facilities for girls schools is
another important requirement.
Q: Some NGOs are helping improve sanitation in rural schools.
How do you expect them to provide more support?
A: Unlike in other sectors, NGOs contribute a lot to improve
water and sanitation facilities in rural areas. Apart from that, the
Ministry is also involved in a program with the Samurdhi Authority to
build toilets in rural areas through our Community Water and Sanitation
Project. Thousands of toilets have thus been built by a rotating fund.
Here the community is playing a vital role by taking part in building
toilets to their own communities. It is easy to manage these projects
when the community in that area is given the opportunity to manage their
own affairs. Under this project, we have been able to build toilets,
village by village.
Public toilets, which are built at transport points, are in poor
condition due to poor maintenance. The responsibility of maintaining
them lies with the local authorities, who should pay attention to
improve the quality of their services.
National monitoring system
Q: Do we have a national monitoring system to pay more
attention to areas where they need improved water and sanitation?
A: Yes, there is a survey and study, which are carried out
once every three years. According to these studies, we are lagging a
little behind our own set targets in providing safe drinking water and
better sanitation facilities.
As I mentioned earlier, Sri Lanka is much better in providing safe
drinking water and sanitation to our people, but we should not be
But we are happy to have achieved this progress while facing a
tsunami, the decades-long battle against terrorism and recent disasters
such as floods and landslides. These disasters destroyed the country’s
water and sanitation coverage. All toilets in flood-hit areas had to be
In Sri Lanka there is only five percent access to drainage systems
which is a serious issue. This need to be tackled soon as it
contaminates the ground water resources. We are seriously considering
solutions to this problem.
Q: In the post-conflict development process, water and
sanitation play a vital role. How do you plan to meet the challenge?
A: The Government has allocated a huge sum of money for the
water and sanitation projects in the country. The major ongoing projects
in the country cost over Rs. 60 billion and another Rs. 29 billion has
been allocated from this year’s budget for new projects. They will be
channelled through the National Water Supply and Drainage Board to rural
water and sanitation projects. Sri Lanka has a fairly balanced program
to provide safe drinking water and improved sanitary facilities for the
As President Rajapaksa said, leading the country to make it the
‘Wonder of Asia’ is a leap forward and I am proud to say we are ready to
take up that challenge.
Having better health facilities than the others in the region, Sri
Lanka faces no challenge in providing people safe drinking water and
quality sanitation. We will achieve our own targets soon to meet the
Government’s new goal - development in the post conflict era.
Q: According to the UN MDGs in rural areas in South Asia 76
percent of the population do not use proper sanitation; in urban areas
it is 34 percent. The SACOSAN’s target is to meet the target by 2015.
Are we ready to achieve this?
A: Yes, Sri Lanka is doing better in addressing issues related
to water and sanitation and has a good coverage islandwide. In 2000 the
country’s sanitation coverage was 69 percent and it was decided to
extend it to 84.5 percent coverage in 2015 to meet the target set at the
2003 SACOSAN. But we have already achieved this target in 2011 as we now
have a coverage of 85.5 percent.
After reaching the target, we have set our own target to achieve a
100 percent coverage on better sanitation by 2020. Sri Lanka is
confident that we could achieve this easily as our reconstruction
programs helps promote better sanitation and a quality water supply to
the people when designing new housing projects after the tsunami, at
slums, plantations and resettled villages for former internally
displaced people of the conflict in the North and the East.
I should mention that there are special programs to improve water and
sanitation in the plantation sector, which were lacking for the last 30
Q: Sri Lanka had signed the Dhaka Declaration in 2003 and also
participated in all the former SACOSAN conferences. What is the progress
made since then?
A: Sri Lanka has made tremendous progress in terms of
percentage in achieving the set target as I mentioned earlier. We are
committed to what we have agreed at the SACOSAN meetings and the
improvements made after each SACOSAN will prove it. I am proud to say
that Sri Lanka is the most progressive story in the region. I would like
to remind you of what former Indian President Abdul Kalam mentioned when
he addressed the foundation session. He said the target should be to
give ‘a toilet for each house’. This shows how acute the problem of
sanitation is. India needs millions of toilets, but Sri Lanka, which has
already met the set target, will reach our own target by 2015.
Q: How many toilets do we need to achieve this target?
A: Every family has access to a toilet in Sri Lanka, but that
does not mean that every family has its own toilet. With regard to
sanitation, this is the area we are working on at the moment; we are
paying attention to building more toilets in the plantation and rural
sectors. Over 200,000 people still practise open defecation, especially
in the coastal belt, rural villages and plantation sectors. Of the 20
million population, over 1.4 million people do not have safe toilet
We have channelled the funds through Samurdhi through community
participatory programs to build toilets in these sectors. This is a very
successful approach as the community is involved in their own affairs.
Q: You mentioned that there are some major water projects in
the North and the East. What is the progress of these projects to
provide safe drinking water for people in the North and the East?
A: In Jaffna quality drinking water is a major problem. We
have addressed it through the implementation of a massive water scheme
to supply water from the Iranamadu Tank in Kilinochchi by developing a
600 km pipeline. Water schemes have also come up in Mannar and Vavuniya
to provide safe drinking water.
Two water schemes funded by the ADB and JAICA to provide water for
over 50,000 people in Ampara are coming up while another scheme also
founded by the ADB to provide quality water to over 58,000 people in
Muttur will commence soon. The MoU in this regard will be signed this
Covering the estate sector, six massive water schemes will come up
while projects are to be implemented to provide safe drinking water to
people in the coastal belt.