One of the greatest lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic is how big a difference access to a reliable supply of clean water can have on the well-being of all. We are reminded that water is life.
In addition to the now-ubiquitous alcohol-based sanitiser, public health experts encourage regular washing of hands with clean running water and soap as an effective way of combating the fast-spreading coronavirus disease.
Basic as it may sound, handwashing is now recognised as one of the first lines of defence against such contagious diseases. Unlike sanitisers, it is not only cost-effective but also less prone to stock-outs and price hikes. Properly done, it can prevent infection and keep communities safe.
Handwashing points with a constant supply of clean water and soap have been installed at many public points. These facilities should, ideally, be a constant feature of public places, not just a response to pandemics. Alongside other basic hygiene practices, similar small actions could dramatically reduce the prevalence of waterborne diseases.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Communities in many parts of the world, especially Africa, still grapple with limited access to clean water. According to Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO), 315 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in rural areas and informal urban settlements, had no access to basic water services in 2017, from 227 million in 2000.
Globally, one in three primary schools do not have handwashing facilities. In Kenya, official statistics put access to safe water at about 63 per cent. That means two out of five people do not have safe water for drinking, washing hands and other domestic uses. These are grim statistics.
Without ample water access, behaviour change campaigns to encourage handwashing as a strategy against Covid-19 will do little to move the needle. Attaining and maintaining universal access to safe water is a critical step towards combating the coronavirus pandemic and other communicable diseases. This is why governments have committed to universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Access to safe water needs to be extended to communities that have limited access to it or none at all. This can be done by extending the water pipeline or sinking wells and boreholes. There is a need to encourage recycling and reuse of water while minimising wastage in order to replenish water resources safely — especially for factories and other plants that extract and utilise significant amounts of the commodity.
It calls for collaborative efforts that bring together different partners for the sole purpose of sustainably enhancing access to safe water today and into the future.
Fighting Covid-19 and keeping communicable diseases at bay is our collective responsibility. Businesses are a critical cog in addressing the global water crisis and its attendant risks to populations. It makes business sense to invest in the well-being of people. It is not just a nice thing to do; it is the right thing to do.
Ms Ntonjira is head of global corporate communications, Amref Health Africa.