NORMAN — A leader of a Pan-African organization that seeks to improve water security and sanitation on the continent was recognized for her work Friday at the University of Oklahoma.
Ada Oko-Williams, associate director of Water and Sanitation for Africa, was named the 2013 recipient of OU's Water Prize, given every two years by the university's Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center, or WaTER Center. The prize was announced Friday at the center's Water Symposium.
WaTER Center faculty member Jim Chamberlain said the winner was chosen by a panel of water issues experts the center brings to Oklahoma every two years. Those experts also give a panel discussion during the symposium.
Based in Burkina Faso, Water and Sanitation for Africa is an intergovernmental agency that includes representatives of the water and sanitation ministries from 22 African nations in its membership.
The organization was established in 1968 as the African Regional Centre for Water and Sanitation, and its leadership is entirely African. It seeks to improve access to clean water and sanitation across sub-Saharan Africa.
During a panel discussion, a member of the panel that chose Oko-Williams as the recipient said it's important to make sure local representatives are involved in leading efforts to improve access to clean water and sanitation.
Dennis Warner, a senior technical adviser with Catholic Relief Services, said projects tend not to be effective when they're imposed on a region by an outside organization.
“The world is littered with the skeletons of well-intentioned projects that were done for people rather than the people doing it themselves,” Warner said.
During a panel discussion, Warner said access to water in developing regions is still a major issue. Although improvements have been made, Warner said, more than 800 million people worldwide will lack access to clean water by 2015.
By the same year, he said, 2.5 million people will lack access to improved sanitation. Human waste and garbage poses a health risk in those areas, he said.
That issue is most dire in rural areas, said Christine Moe, director of the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory University, in Atlanta. Historically, Moe said, urban populations have been more likely to have basic sanitation services and clean water than people in rural areas. So most nongovernmental organizations focus their efforts on improving conditions in rural areas, she said.
All the while, she said, a global population shift has made the issue more complex. The global population is becoming increasingly urban, she said; in 2008, more people in the world lived in cities than rural areas, and that urbanization continues to grow.
Projections show that most of the world's urban growth over the next 30 years will occur in developing countries. Although urban areas have historically had better access to clean water and sanitation, she said, urban population growth could outpace governments' ability to keep up with water needs.