As climate change disrupts the global ecosystem and brings up questions about the sustainability of natural resources, people in developing countries are confronted with a crisis in their daily livelihoods and health. Under half of rural Zambians have access to safe water and just over a quarter of households have access to adequate sanitation. Many of the most vulnerable groups such as women and children are affected more severely by the water crisis. Sanitation and hygiene are among the most off-track Sustainable Development Goals, making the water crisis an issue that Humanity Africa has highlighted as a target for long-term, sustainable development.
Clean water and sanitation is number 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but the issue of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is strongly correlated with at least eight of the SDGs. For example, water might not be the immediate solution to the SDG of “zero hunger,” but improved irrigation will increase water supply for farmers, directly improving food security in the region and decreasing hunger. In this report, we will break down and highlight the importance of WASH in a range of issues across the SDGs.
Water and Disease Prevention
Unsafe water sources can lead to disease and infection and are often the root cause of many deaths, especially in rural areas where sanitation issues are worse. Young children are especially susceptible to water-related diseases which often end in death. Over 1,000 children under the age of five die yearly as a result of diarrhoea caused by unsafe drinking water and a lack of hygienic practices. Malaria, which is spread by mosquitos which breed in water, caused up to 3,000 deaths in 2014 and over 4,000 hospital admissions. Of those deaths, 50% were children under the age of five.
In order to combat the spread of disease holistically, facilities must be created, resources made available, and people educated so that awareness about sanitation and hygiene create behavioural changes. The creation of sanitary facilities won’t make a difference unless people are made aware of the importance of washing hands and hygienic practices in preventing the spread of disease.
Increasing Awareness, Creating New Practices
Basic sanitary processes such as boiling water in order to clean their water and the development of saline solutions to treat diarrhoeal disease are fundamental to the health of the communities. Rehydrating a person who is dehydrated is aided by saline solution, which can be created at saline facilities or even by hand at home. However, saline solution made with unsafe drinking water can worsen a person’s condition and even lead to death. We want to ensure that people understand the importance of purifying water in every circumstance.
Communities also need to be aware of homemade saline solutions that can reduce child mortality as a result of diarrhoea. The lack of safe drinking water can be addressed by providing water purifying tablets at a low price. However, even more effective and far-reaching than this is teaching people the concept of boiling water to kill bacteria and get rid of impurities. People are often unaware of simple practices such as this; awareness and education are often the most powerful tools in creating lasting change.
An Institutional Issue: Schools and Hospitals
The lack of sanitation facilities at schools disproportionately affects girls, many of whom miss school due to a lack of sanitation facilities in more than 25% of schools. A lack of sanitation facilities and lack of access to cheap sanitary napkins leaves many girls unable to attend school during menstruation due to inconvenience and shame. Oftentimes, the frequent absences lead to girls dropping out of school entirely, creating a gendered education imbalance. Girls can be empowered to attend school during menstruation if they are provided with cheap sanitary napkins and sanitation facilities at school. Since the crisis affects both institutions and households, awareness of the topic is the most important step and the education of the community over the importance of proper hygiene and clean water is vital. The people of Zambia must first value hygiene and sanitary processes to properly implement new projects.
The water crisis does not end at the community but is exacerbated by a lack of sanitation facilities at institutions such as schools and hospitals. According to UNICEF, in some hospitals, babies are not washed when they are born because it is more dangerous to wash them with dirty water which may lead to infections during a very vulnerable period of life.
With rainfall decreasing in the past three decades, there is greater stress on land-based water sources. Zambia has a good supply of freshwater sources, but rural areas lack irrigation to take advantage of surface water, and fields are often too far away from water sources to allow people to properly irrigate their fields. Women and children must walk several miles a day to retrieve water, often making several trips to unsafe water sources. A closer option is wells, but wells are often hand-dug and left without reinforcement or covering. This leaves the water that is drawn from wells susceptible to contamination and disease.
Fields nearby water sources should be irrigated to take advantage of rivers and springs, allowing farmers to grow more crops more effectively without relying solely on rain. People must be made aware of good washing and disposal practices so that water sources are not polluted by washing or faeces. Wells should be reinforced by concrete and people trained to cover their wells when they are not in use. This will prevent contamination and increase the longevity of a well.
The Connection to the Sustainable Development Goals
Increasing access to clean water and introducing the proper resources to improve hygiene and sanitation facilities and practices will tackle the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. The goal of no poverty will be addressed by improving irrigation and access to water that will increase crop yields and result in the improvement of people’s’ livelihoods. Improved irrigation will increase water supply for farmers, directly improving food security in the region and decreasing hunger. We will work towards good health and well-being by increasing access to clean water to allow people to maintain their health and help prevent potentially deadly diseases. The quality of Zambian students’ education can be improved by introducing proper hygiene and sanitation focusing on girls’ menstruation. Menstruation hinders the quality of education that girls are exposed to and therefore by introducing cheap sanitary napkins the Gender Equality can be reached through education. By also giving access to sanitary facilities and accessible water there can be reduced inequalities. Women can have the same opportunities and resources as men as a result of not having to travel miles by foot to bring water home.
Humanity Africa has honed in on WASH as a crucial factor in improving the livelihoods of rural Zambians and working towards several Sustainable Development Goals simultaneously. Our focus on a solution that is deeply intertwined with multiple issues will ensure that the resulting changes feed back into one another.
“Resources.” UNICEF Zambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2016. <http://www.unicef.org/zambia/5109_8460.html>.
“Simple Solution Improves Water and Sanitation in Zambian Health-care Facilities.” WHO. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2016. <http://www.who.int/features/2015/zambia-sanitation/en/>.
“Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.” UNICEF Zambia. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2016. <http://www.unicef.org/zambia/washe.html>.