Farewell to a great WASH champion, Kofi Annan

3 min read
Kofi Annan
Image: Stocklight

This week our country and the world say a last farewell to a great statesman, as Kofi Annan is laid to rest.

The boy from Kumasi, Ghana, went on to raise the plight of his people and so many others at the highest levels of government, rising up through the levels of the UN to become UN Secretary-General on 1 January 1997: the first man from sub-Saharan Africa to hold this position. He prioritised aid and development, turning his call to action on HIV/AIDS into the first global fund to fight the disease. 

As UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan was a visionary and a champion for the rights of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, proposing the UN Global Compact on human rights, labour and the environment, to encourage businesses to act responsibly and sustainably.

He issued the UN Millennium Declaration that led to what was then the most ambitious effort in history to defeat poverty: the Millennium Development Goals, among them to halve the proportion of people in the world without access to water and decent toilets. He shared with the United Nations the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for these visionary efforts, which later led to the renewed Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015. 

He called on the world to free women and girls from their daily burden of hauling water over great distances, and established the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation to help mobilise funds for water and sanitation projects.

Later in life as chairman of the board at the Kofi Annan Foundation, and as part of the UN Foundation and The Elders, the rights and wellbeing of the poorest people on Earth remained his primary focus and concern.

As we mourn Mr Annan’s passing we see the legacy he has left, and the work we must continue. In 2000, 18% of the world’s population did not have access to clean water; today, that proportion has been reduced to 11%. Progress in child mortality means that 50 million children who would have not seen their fifth birthday if they had been born before 2000 have survived.

Yet there is so much more to do. Still 2.3 billion people around the world do not have access to a decent household toilet – a number which has barely changed in almost 20 years. Still, 389,000 children under five around the world die each year of diarrhoea linked to dirty water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene – a preventable tragedy. Here in Ghana, only 14% of the population is using clean, safe, household toilets and 2 in 10 people still do not have access to clean water, a situation which limits the health, productivity and human rights of every man, woman and child in this country.

As Mr Annan himself said: 

We shall not defeat any of the infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation, and basic healthcare.

At WaterAid, our deepest condolences are with his family, and our firm resolution is to carry on his work until everyone, everywhere has access to the life essentials of clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, which are critical for good health, education and a prosperous future.

Abdul-Nashiru Mohammed is Country Director of WaterAid Ghana @AbdulNashiruMo1