Bridging the sanitation divide in Africa

Published: 18 November 2013 10:35 CET

By Katherine Mueller, IFRC

Access to sanitation remains a dream for many in Africa with millions still defecating in the open. Illnesses caused by poor sanitation and hygiene are putting a heavy burden on both families and governments in expenses related to health care and absence from work.

The Red Cross Red Crescent recognizes that access to safe water and sanitation, combined with improved hygiene awareness and practices are crucial to strengthening community health, resilience, and preserving human dignity.

In the region of Mmazami, northern Tanzania, many people have little or no water or sanitation facilities and, as a result, preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera are common. This has been the status quo for as long as anyone can remember, but Nyamseta Orucho, sub branch secretary of the Tanzania Red Cross Society, is determined to change it. Slowly but surely the organization’s volunteers are building latrines and educating people about the benefits of improved hygiene.

“Changing people’s minds and attitudes is hard work, it takes a long time, but we are moving forward,” said Orucho, who also lives in the community and has recently installed a new latrine in his section.

To encourage behavioural change and ensure ownership and sustainability of its water and sanitation initiatives, the Red Cross Red Crescent combines the provision of infrastructure with community engagement and health promotion that recognizes the needs of women, children and socially marginalized and excluded groups. Sanitation and hygiene promotion initiatives that are inclusive, and gender and diversity sensitive, lead to more equitable, effective and efficient solutions for people in need and for those without access.

Godliver Francis is certainly a convert. Not long ago, she and her three children only had a hole covered with leaves to use as a toilet. It was smelly, unhygienic and unsafe, and many youngsters got sick as a result. Now, with the help of the Tanzania Red Cross, she and her neighbours have a brick latrine with a shower, which everyone works hard to keep clean.

“This is much better compared to before,” said Godliver, who grows maize, millet, sweet potato and cassava. “It is not smelly. It is more stable and safe. There are fewer cases of diarrhoea. I feel proud and happy that we have a better latrine. It makes a big difference.”

The Red Cross Red Crescent in eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands is working toward improving the sanitation, hygiene and water situation in both disaster contexts and longer-term development. In particular, Kenya, Uganda and Eritrea are implementing large-scale community-based sanitation and hygiene programmes, with a focus on building community resilience and reducing the risks from poor sanitation and hygiene facilities and behaviours.

Delivery of affordable and sustainable sanitation and hygiene promotion solutions takes effort, time and resources. Long-term investments are required to bridge the current disparity across Africa in people’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene promotion.

Water and sanitation at IFRC