Central American Ministers of Health Endorse Regional Sanitation Strategy

The Council of Central American and Dominican Republic Health Ministers, during the 24th Meeting of the Health Sector held in Tegucigalpa from January 27 to 29, 2009, endorsed the Regional Sanitation Strategy presented by the Central America and Dominican Republic Forum for Water and Sanitation (FOCARD-APS).
“We are pleased to have FOCARD-APS move forward with the strategy which provides the framework we need to move our sanitation goals for the region forward,” said Honduran Minister of Health and President of the Council. Dr. Carlos Aguilar.
The ministers, the highest national authorities in the water and sanitation sector, raised the sanitation agenda to the highest political level by requesting the Ministries of Foreign Affairs to include the topic in a presidential summit of Central American countries. As part of this agreement the Council will strengthen the national links between the Ministries of Health and the water and sanitation Regulating Institutions. With this endorsement, the efforts on sanitation would be jointly coordinated by both sectors becoming a priority for Central American countries.
With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline nearing, the Council also approved the FOCARD-APS business plan with focus on the following activities:
• Developing a regional strategy on sanitation
• Promoting of Handwashing practice and access to safe water and;
• Improving water and sanitation sector information systems;
• Harmonization of concepts and definitions related to key sector indicators;
• Training on efficient management of water and sanitation services.
This signed agreement is a credit to FOCARD-APS’s efforts and advocacy in each of the countries.

Sanitation Situation in Central America and Dominican Republic
The Central American region has almost 50 million people. Although water and sanitation access is relatively good according to the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP), quality, continuity and sustainability of the services remain limiting factors. This is mostly caused by deficiencies on service management, restricted source of financing, and remote location of the urban and rural poor. The hygiene practices are limited due to lack of proper promotional programs in remote areas. Little waste water receives proper treatment, causing a high impact on water resources and the environment.
WSP, together with the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO), and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), provides technical assistance to FOCARD-APS supporting concerted regional activities.
“We are thankful with the Ministers of Health for supporting the Forum’s actions, mainly the handwashing initiative, access to safe water, the national agendas on sanitation, and the sector information systems. We kindly ask them to maintain this joint effort for improving the quality of life of our communities in Central America,” said Ricardo Sancho, Executive President of the Costa Rican water utility, Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, and current FOCARD-APS pro-tempore president.
Moving forward
Despite the current activities, new challenges are taking place in the FOCARD-APS agenda, such as:
• Climatic change demanding to include water and sanitation services under the integrated water resource management framework;
• Response to natural disasters and emergencies and;
• Impact of the financial crisis on water and sanitation service delivery and investments.
The implementation of these new issues would demand a strengthening of the institutional capacity of FOCARD-APS, more country involvement at the political and technical level, as well as qualified external assistance from cooperation agencies.
FOCARD-APS is a regional body represented by all Water and Sanitation Sector normative institutions in Central America under the framework of the Central American Integration System (SICA) with the aim to improve access to quality water and sanitation services in Central America by sharing knowledge and harmonizing efforts and policies. Each country member pays a yearly contribution to sustain the Forum activities.
For more information contact Nicolas Coto, Executive Director of FOCARD-APS.