By: Augustine N. Myers from Liberia – Journalists working for print and electronic media institutions across Sierra Leone have established a National Media Network on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). The Group is known as the WASH MEDIA Network–Sierra Leone.
The establishment of the WASH Media Network–Sierra Leone came as a result of consultations held with stakeholders during a Social Accountability Training on WASH for Civil Society Organizations in Bo City at the J&E Resort in 2013.
The stakeholder’s consultations which also brought together journalists from print and electronic media institutions nationwide, under pinned the importance of journalists to play an integral role in reporting on WASH issues in the country.
WaterAid and the Urban WASH Consortium were instrumental in the establishment of the Media Network after they identified major gaps in WASH media reporting in Sierra Leone, leading to the need to ensure the formation of a WASH Media Network of Sierra Leone.
The consultations came up with an action plan on how to report key issues in the WASH sector. Among them is how to build a common voice in the media landscape that will engage government and other sector actors at all levels to improve on WASH.
The Objectives of the WASH Media Network-Sierra Leone include but not limited to Enhancing the understanding of Sierra Leonean Journalists on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Issues; Increasing Media Coverage and Reportage on WASH Issues Nationwide; and Ensuring that Sierra Leonean Journalists play their watchdog role in holding individuals and Institutions involved in WASH activities transparent and accountable.
The Objectives further seek to Raising the voice of the poor and marginalized to have access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and better hygiene facilities; Ensuring that WASH is given serious media attention to generate political interest, among others; Providing information, education and awareness about the WASH sector; and Doing advocacy with professional WASH Media Focus across Sierra Leone.
The Network shall embark on fund raising for particular events by working closely with WASH International and Local Non Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, Government and others.
The WASH Media Network-Sierra Leone is led by an Executive Committee and elections will be held after two years consistently.
Officials elected of the WASH Media Network-Sierra Leone include Komba Fillie-National Coordinator, Sallay Vandy-Secretary General, and Theresa Mato Munda-Financial Secretary.
Others are Tilly Barrie-Western Regional Coordinator, Sheiku Tanga-Eastern Regional Coordinator, Mohamed Kabbah-Northern Regional Coordinator, and Abu Christo Mattia-Southern Regional Coordinator.
The election of officials of the WASH Media Network-Sierra Leone also followed a 2-day workshop from December 5-6, 2013 in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
A major WASH Media Training Workshop for the elected leadership and new WASH Media Network-Sierra Leone is expected to take place in early 2014, which will concurrently lead to the induction of the new officials and official launch of the Network, respectively.
According to data compiled by a UNICEF-WHO Joint Monitory Program (JMP), the rate of progress towards achieving WASH targets in Sierra Leone is such that, the targets will not be reached by 2015. Sierra Leone national targets are 66% for Sanitation and 74% for water supply.
Based on the Joint Monitoring Program 2012 updates of Sanitation coverage, Sierra Leone needs to increase sanitation coverage from 23% to 61% in urban areas and from 6% to 53% in rural areas to meet the MDG targets in 2015.
In Rural areas, access to safe water needs to increase by 28 percent points from 35% to 63%. Even if Sierra Leone meets targets in both rural and urban areas, 48% of the rural population and 39% of the urban population remain without access to improved sanitation and 37% of the rural population and 19% of the urban population would still be using unimproved sources of drinking water.
Equity in achieving the MDG target is important not because the poorest households are least able to invest in their own facilities, but because they also have the most to gain due to their heightened vulnerability to adverse health outcomes.
Therefore additional efforts and resources are needed to ensure the vulnerable and the poorest are reached.
The media as an agent for positive change therefore has an important role to play in promoting the national policy targets on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).