Nowhere in the world is poverty more visible, more destructive and more pervasive than in Africa. Too often, Africa is associated with stories of failure and pessimism, of wars and famines, floods and unrest. Africa appears to be slipping back on many development indicators, even as other parts of the world move ahead.

In 2003, however, there are prospects of achieving progress in water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa. Across the continent, there is a strong sense of the need for peace, democracy and co-operation. Through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative, industrialised countries are finally proposing to write off a significant part of the debt into which the poorest countries have fallen. Many African countries have written Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, which give clarity and direction to the development work in those countries. Within the water sector itself, the African Ministerial Conference on Water (AMCOW) has been formed to share ideas and lessons and to provide mutual support and active direction. Recent meetings, especially the World Summit on Sustainable Development (August 2002), are giving fresh political impetus to this work.

This paper suggests five priorities for achieving the water and sanitation Millennium Development Goals in Africa. It relates them to practical examples of inspiring and positive initiatives in water and sanitation from across the continent. These examples have worked, or have the potential to work, at a large scale, are demonstrably sustainable, and do not benefit from too many unique local conditions. These characteristics enable the lessons from these examples to be useful for other people in, and indeed outside, Africa.

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