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WHO Meeting underscores importance of achieving SDG 6

KWR was present at the WHO High Level Meeting and Technical Workshop on Water Safety and SDG 6 in Accra, Ghana from 16 to 18 October 2018. The meeting was held on the occasion of the presentation of the new WHO strategy on water, sanitation and health (WASH) and to launch the Round II Report of the WHO International Scheme to Evaluate Household Water Treatment Technologies. The report details 20 products, many of which incorporate new, innovative methods, and serves as an important resource for governments and partners in selecting household water treatment products that protect health. KWR was present as WHO Collaborating Centre on Water Quality an Health and as one of the two laboratories to test Household Water Treatment Technologies under the WHO scheme.

The Dutch Government is one of the donors that provide important resources for implementing the new WHO WASH strategy. The Ambassador of the Netherlands to Ghana, Mr. Ron Strikker, joined the High Level Meeting to underscore the importance of translating the strategy into action. One of the key elements is the supply of safe drinking water and one of the ways of doing that is through the use of Household Water Treatment Technologies. The International Scheme to evaluate these technologies was specifically set up to ascertain that the claims of manufacturers of these technologies are correct and to provide potential users of these technologies with reliable information about their ability to remove microbiological threads. A technology is only granted full marks when strict WHO standards are met on the removal of bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Round II of the testing scheme is now finished for technologies that use filtration, UV and solar disinfection, and 12 products have been tested and rated. Eight chemical and combination flocculation-disinfection technologies are currently under evaluation, thus completing reporting for Round II.

Round III will start in the beginning of 2019. Apart from testing, Round III will look at opportunities to strengthen both local production of Household Water Treatment Technologies and local evaluation of these technologies. As a WHO Collaborating Centre KWR again is approached by WHO to assist on both accounts.

Gertjan Medema and Loet Rosenthal represented KWR in Ghana. Gertjan took part in panel sessions during both the High Level Meeting and the Technical Workshop.

Ghana was selected to host the meeting and workshops because of Government commitment towards achieving SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all), recent progress on strengthening policies and standards on Household Water Treatment Technologies and WASH in health care facilities, and a breadth of partners working to improve WASH and universal access to safe water, specifically.

The workshops that followed upon the High Level Meeting were aimed at helping countries such as Ghana to take action in achieving SDG 6 through a combination of setting national targets, developing standards, surveillance, water safety planning, education and the use of effective and affordable technologies. Capacity building was the key element in these discussions. An interesting technical development are rapid easy-to-use water quality testing methods. One of these methods was demonstrated during the conference and showed that the public drinking water supply at the meeting venue was free of E.coli. This does not mean that the water is safe to drink since E.coli gives only limited insight into the safety of the water.

People in the bigger cities in Ghana, such as Accra, trust on ‘sachet water’ as their primary source for potable water. This is water, sealed in plastic bags of 500 ml. This sachet water is usually produced by private companies, using membrane technology to filter the water. Tests have shown that its quality is usually reasonable and that factories must invest in certification. It also shows that there is a willingness to pay for reliable drinking water. The downside to sachet water is the plastic litter that comes with discarding millions of sachets. The question is if a more reliable public water system could replace the sachet market.

While in Accra, Gertjan Medema and Loet Rosenthal, along with WHO-employees, also visited the laboratories of the Ghana Standards Authority, that certifies sachet water and other water products. They also visited the Water Research Institute of Ghana, which may become a partner institute for KWR.