[SAN FRANCISCO] Developing countries may fail to meet the sanitation target of the UN Millennium Development Goals because they lack civil engineering capacity, warned a civil engineering professor on Friday (16 February).
Jennifer Davis of Stanford University said international aid projects too often focus on new constructions that are not sustainable. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, she called for better local training and education to help improve and maintain older facilities.
According to the Millennium Development Goals, the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation should be halved by 2015.
Yet at the end of 2004, 1.2 billion people in developing countries still lacked basic sanitation, according to a 2006 report.
If natural population growth is considered, the world will miss the goal by 500 million people, according to Davis. She said lower income countries in the developing world face big challenges to meet the target.
Davis says that, despite receiving more international aid, there is not enough local capacity to develop sustainable engineering projects for sanitation.
"International aid incentives always favour new constructions over the operation and maintenance of older facilities", she said. "There is the danger that the new projects cannot be maintained in the long term.
According to Davis, even if extra measures were adopted to help developing nations meet the sanitation target, there would still be problems maintaining the facilities after the 2015 goal passes.
She highlighted the urgent need for developing countries to improve engineering capacity through training and education, and promote collaboration with other disciplines.
Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University, agreed.
"Any of the key [Millennium Development] goals cannot be met without significant investment in technological innovation and the associated institutional adjustments, such as engineering education," Juma told SciDev.Net.