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UN report: Washing hands saves lives

Nyahururu Water and Sanitation Company put a handwashing point at Nyahururu Sub-County Police Station. Frequent handwashing with clean water and soap is one way of curbing the spread of the virus.

Handwashing with water and soap is a basic hygiene that prevents diseases and pandemics. Countries lacking handwashing facilities and practices suffer the highest number of deaths from diarrhoea.

A United Nations university report shows that less than 10 people in 100 people in Kenya use handwashing facilities with soap and water at home. Kenya is among 44 of 54 African countries whose access to handwashing is below 10%. This has remained unchanged from 2015 to 2020.

“No progress has been observed for most of these countries and there has been little progress on the continental scale over the five-year period,” says the report.

UN University Institute for Water Environment and Health measured the usefulness of basic handwashing facilities by comparing it with the number of diarrhoeal deaths in 100,000 people. The report says countries whose populations have low access to handwashing suffer high number of diarrhoeal deaths. The report is titled, “Water Security in Africa: A Preliminary Assessment.”

Kenya’s low number of people using handwashing facilities with soap and water is leading to diarrhoea deaths. Seventy-six people in every 100,000 people in Kenya die annually from diarrhoea.

Chad is among eight countries that suffer the highest number of deaths from diarrhoea. In Chad over 100 people in every 100,000 people die of diarrhoea annually. Less than 10 Chadians in 100 use basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.

Handwashing with soap alone can cut the risk of diarrhoea by almost half and significantly lower the risk of respiratory infections – Unicef.

… What others say about handwashing

World Health Organization says diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. The disease is responsible for killing about 525,000 children every year. Diarrhoea can last several days and can leave the body without water and salts that are necessary for survival.

United Nations’ children fund, Unicef, says almost six out of 10 deaths due to diarrhoea worldwide are attributable to unsafe drinking water, poor hygiene and sanitation. Unicef says handwashing with soap alone can cut the risk of diarrhoea by almost half and significantly lower the risk of respiratory infections.

READ: Covid-19: Water firms give water, soap to residents to keep hygiene

Why we must treat wastewater

The UN university report says falling water quality is a major threat among communities throughout Africa. Every hour, 115 people in Africa die from diseases linked to improper hygiene, poor sanitation, and contaminated water. Most wastewater generated by domestic, industrial, and mining activities remains untreated and is released into freshwater bodies, the report says.

Africa only treats about 16% of wastewater it produces, says the report.

Also, farming makes water dirty. Using fertilisers and excreta from farms produces nitrates and phosphates that end up in water bodies causing excessive growth of plant and algae.

No country treats more than 75%. Only Tunisia, Egypt and Lesotho treat over 50%. Wastewater treatment scores are highest in north African countries and lowest in east and west Africa.

In east and west Africa 24 countries treat less than 5% of their wastewater. Kenya treats less than 5% of its wastewater. Kenya is among the 24 lowest performing countries in east and western Africa.

Although water treatment is low there are “bright spots,” the report says. Tunisia, Egypt, and Lesotho treat over 50% of their wastewater. Tunisia treats 74%, Egypt, 57% and Lesotho, 55%.

Eight other countries are currently treating their wastewater from over 30% to below 50%. Seychelles (49.7%), South Africa (42%), Algeria (42%), Mauritius (41%), Morocco (38%), Botswana (36%), Gabon (36%) and Equatorial Guinea (31%).

Water storage shows a country’s progress

Water dams play a critical role in the national economy by storing, cleaning, and delivering water for various needs, says the report. It says the state of water storage in a country may be seen as a measure of that country’s development.

Water storage is deemed best in the southern Africa, but worst in east Africa (includes Kenya). South Africa has over 25% of all large dams in Africa. Half of all countries score very low, reflecting the continent’s low level of water storage development. Only Ethiopia and Namibia have increased their storage over recent years.

Large dams play a crucial role in national water management ensuring flood control, electricity generation, and water supply for irrigation, the report says.

UN University Institute for Water Environment and Health gave the report on 21 March ahead of World Water Day on 22 March.

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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