SANITATION

Water an essential, even post-pandemic

Vincent Amwoi

In Summary
  • Globally, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe water at home, complicating the fight against Covid-19 in low and middle-income countries
  • The pandemic is making it evident that investments in the provision of basic water, sanitation and hygiene services must be a key priority
Ndakaini Dam.
WATER WARS: Ndakaini Dam.
Image: COURTESY

Access to safe water and improved sanitation is a challenge in Kenya. The WASH joint monitoring programme report (2019) by the World Health Organization and Unicef found that only 59 per cent of Kenyans have access to basic water services and only 29 per cent have access to sanitary services.

Globally, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe water at home, complicating the fight against Covid-19 in low and middle-income countries.

The aim of sustainable development goal number 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. A key target of this goal is to achieve access to adequate and equitable hygiene for all and end open defaecation.

Kenya, under SDG 6, has committed to achieve, by 2030, universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water; access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and an end to open defaecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

The government’s commitment to enhance access to safe water and improved sanitation services is enshrined in Article 43 of the 2010 Constitution, which recognises access to safe water and improved sanitation services as a right of every Kenyan.

The national and county governments share the responsibility of facilitating access to water and sanitation services. Specifically, the national government is responsible for water resource management, whereas county governments are responsible for delivering water and sanitation services.

The pandemic is making it evident that investments in the provision of basic water, sanitation and hygiene services must be a key priority in the coming years, not least since the progress that has been made so far is now threatened by climate change and rising poverty levels.

Amid this pandemic, there has been the emergence of numerous handwashing facility innovations coupled with a newly formed belief that handwashing with soap or using sanitiser is critical in minimising the spread of the coronavirus.

One of Kenya’s largest urban areas, Nakuru, has installed eight permanent handwashing stations with clean drinking water with funding from UN-Habitat. The stations were set up by the Nakuru Municipal Board through the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations. Nakuru Municipality, which has more than 600,000 residents, faces various challenges, including a shortage of water and sanitation facilities and services. One handwashing facility, which has a separate tap for drinking water, serves up to 31,000 residents.

With handwashing stations noticeably increasing in communities and other public spaces, county governments, as part of their Covid-19 response plans, need to take urgent steps to make clean water accessible to all communities by drilling boreholes and mobilising water tankers to supply the commodity and sustain the promotion of handwashing post-Covid-19.

Leaders and the development community should seize on the high-level political interest in the preventive role of water, sanitation, and hygiene to help reach SDGs 3 and 6, which include hand hygiene and management of water and sanitation.

Good water governance will therefore be needed to ensure an adequate supply of quality water to fight and prevent future pandemics. Interventions should focus on strengthening policy, institutional and regulatory frameworks.