Many countries in Africa are currently suffering from a lack of drinking water and sanitation. Despite progress, almost 40% of people do not have access to drinking water and about 70% do not benefit from sanitation systems . This situation is even worse in Western and Central Africa, especially in countries facing serious political and security crises. Thereby, more than 1.4 million people in Mali are in need of emergency assistance regarding water, hygiene and sanitation, and 1.9 million in Burkina Faso and Cameroun . In countries facing massive population displacements, as in Burkina Faso with 800 000 people displaced internally, water access conditions are getting worse and the infrastructures are overflowed in reception areas.
While Senegal is getting ready to host the World Water Forum in 2021 and that there are talks about speeding up the right to drinking water and sanitation, the coronavirus pandemic raises the fear that efforts might slacken. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic brings about a global health and economic crisis that threatens to widen the gap regarding water and sanitation access in Western and Central Africa.
The Coronavirus is advancing quickly across the continent (with 12,360 confirmed cases and 586 deaths as of April 19th) as well as in Western and Central Africa with 5,820 confirmed cases and 157 deaths as of the same date. To protect oneself against the virus, two of WHO’s recommended interventions are regular hand-washing and social distancing. Once again, these recommendations bring out the crucial part of water and hygiene in preventing diseases. How can one washes hands regularly with limited access to water? How can one comply with social distancing in view of Western African crowded living conditions? How to ensure adequate supplies of soap, chlorine and other Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) products and equipment while the border shutdowns are disrupting the global supply chains?
These are all the issues that governments, populations and humanitarian entities are facing. There is an absolute need to rally collectively and to grant additional resources, especially in the context of humanitarian crises. Therefore, the WASH sector is facing several challenges to address the pandemic by distributing basic hygiene products and by raising awareness of preventive measures in order to contain the spread of the virus. They also need to protect themselves so as not to become a carrier of the virus through their field work. In addition, they have to keep on carrying out the ongoing relief programs towards the most vulnerable populations whose access to water and sanitation is a major issue; all the while readjusting their programs with revised procedures.
In this context, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is committed to standing by the vulnerable populations, through increasing prevention measures against infection on all its fields of intervention and through developing specific actions to fight and control the epidemic. Furthermore, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is working hand in hand with health partners in order to contain the spread of the virus, by helping with prevention activities and infection control within health centers. Access to water, hygiene and sanitation is vital – now more than ever – throughout the pandemic as well as afterwards.
1. Make WASH access a priority to address Covid-19
Health interventions are key in order to take care of people and reduce mortality. However, access to water and hygiene is essential to reduce morbidity and to curb the epidemic. The answer to this crisis cannot just be medical. It is also important to pay greater attention to water and hygiene access which resources are not enough to meet the needs. We have to:
- Increase the support to health facilities to meet the WASH needs and improve the prevention and control activities for infections in which water plays a crucial part
- Heighten the broadcast of key messages and preventive measures as well as make their application easier through better access to water and basic hygiene products
- Increase safely managed access to drinking water and sanitation services to all
- Amplify community engagement and risk reduction activities by relying on the strength of the communities
2. Staying the course with the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goal 6, especially in conflict zones, is essential in order to guarantee better access to water and sanitation for the most deprived populations
In view of the upcoming World Water Forum (Dakar, 2021), it is high time to actually act so as to make the right to water and sanitation a reality. West and Central African governments, backers, the United Nations and NGOs must all come together to ensure better access to water and sanitation services. Water and sanitation are essential to life, survival and health, and should not be pushed into the background. We must:
- Ensure the building and the renovation of water and sanitation infrastructure in order to improve access to deprived populations, especially in crisis-affected areas
- Ensure the performance and sustainable management of drinking water and sanitation services
- Ensure a proper follow-up and better quality of services provided to the populations
 WHO & UNICEF, Joint Monitoring Programme, Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, 2000-2017, 2019.
 OCHA, Humanitarian response plans of Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroun, 2020.
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Translated by Clara Cohen