By Novell Zwange – GENEVA – Former UN Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Professor Anna Tibaijuka has been elected by The Steering Committee of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), as its new Chair.
The Tanzanian-born Professor of Economics and the widow of the former Tanzanian ambassador Wilson Tibaijuka, rose to prominence on the African political landscape in June 2005, when the Secretary General appointed her as his Special Envoy to study the impact of the Zimbabwean Government’s campaign (known as Operation Murambatsvina) to evict informal traders and people deemed to be squatting illegally in certain areas.
She brings a wealth of experience and expertise to WSSCC, an alliance of members from a range of sectors who are committed to improving the lives of poor people around the world by improving access to basic sanitation, good hygiene practices, and safe drinking water. Prof. Tibaijuka will succeed Dr Roberto Lenton, whose second and final term of office comes to an end in March 2011.
“We live in a world of unacceptable inequality,” said Prof. Tibaijuka. “Two-thirds of the world’s population takes access to a toilet for granted. Yet a third of the people alive today – 2.6 billion individuals, most of them in Africa and South Asia – do not have access to basic sanitation, and 0.9 billion lack safe drinking water. I want to address this inequality.”
Prof. Tibaijuka grew up in rural Tanzania, and knows first-hand the impact of poor sanitation and hygiene on the health and economic well-being of a community. She has seen the benefits that small changes can make: installing a separate toilet in a school can improve girls’ attendance; providing soap and water for handwashing can reduce the spread of diarrhoea, the second leading cause of death among children under five years old; and ensuring clean drinking water can help reduce outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Recent analyses of progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals have revealed that sanitation is by far the most off-track MDG in sub-Saharan Africa, and second globally, after nutrition. “We are delighted that Prof. Tibaijuka has accepted the challenge of leading WSSCC to address the neglected topics of sanitation and hygiene,” said outgoing Chair, Dr Roberto Lenton. “These issues need champions, and she has already proved herself to be a strong leader – respected in her home country, throughout Africa, and on the world stage.”
In her role as Chair of WSSCC, Prof. Tibaijuka plans to draw on her experience and network of contacts in politics, business, academia and within the UN system, to raise awareness about the need for concerted action. Under her leadership, WSSCC intends to continue its current growth, notably in the Global Sanitation Fund, a programme of WSSCC, which supports sanitation work in many of the world’s poorest countries.