Updated: Mar 25
Over 40% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to clean water and are unable to take the advice of health experts to wash their hands as a primary way to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, over the next decade or so investments in the water sector by the African Development Bank and partners are set to provide about 154 million more people access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene, according to Wambui Gichuri, acting vice president of Agriculture, Human and Social Development and director of Water Development and Sanitation at the bank. Gichuri says the bank has been supporting and advocating WASH long before the arrival of COVID-19, making an investment of about $6.4 billion to strengthen core water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure systems over the last decade. She says this has provided approximately 52 million additional people with access to improved water, sanitation, hygiene and enabled increased pandemic preparedness. “Providing access to clean water, improved sanitation systems and implementing healthy hygiene practices lowers the infection rate and builds the ability of communities to ward off infectious disease outbreaks. Investments in improved water and sanitation infrastructure is a public health priority for countries and communities as it significantly contributes to reduced mortality, ill health and impacts of water-related epidemics/pandemics which are a major economic drain,” says the vice president. Gichuri says the bank’s guide on WASH interventions is currently helping governments in their COVID-19 preparedness and emergency response supporting implementation of emergency WASH interventions at hotspots, utilities and service providers. She says this enhances business continuity, promotes hygiene, improves viability of hygiene products and supply chains, as well as enhances sustainability of hygiene outcomes. According to the vice president, many of their established, on-the-ground WASH interventions have adapted to the coronavirus era, especially in resource-constrained settings with school children serving as ambassadors to convey the message about preventing the pandemic from spreading into homes and neighbourhoods. She says in Zambia, school children recruited in early 2019 to be WASH ambassadors have added to their hygiene and sanitation practices campaign the COVID-19-message of wearing masks, social distancing and implementing stay-at-home orders. Gichuri says campaign t-shirts with the slogan ‘Stop Spreading Germs, Wash Your Hands with Soap’ are as applicable today as when they were designed pre-COVID as part of a $243 million Lusaka Sanitation Program. She says in rural northern Malawi, they constructing school sanitation facilities including secured toilets to provide privacy and comfort to learners for Mzimba Town increasing community access to potable water from 65% to 95%, improving sanitation access from 45% to 97% and creating about 1000 jobs. “The WASH project recently received the Prince Talal International Prize for Human Development and $200 000 in prize money which will go to projects implemented by government agencies, public institutions or social businesses approved by the Mzimba Town scheme. Investing in WASH is a no-regret policy and decisions taken now to improve these public health systems are going to be worth it, regardless of the uncertainty around COVID-19,” says Gichuri.