KAMPALA - With only five years left to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target, experts have urged regional countries to prioritize programs that aim at increasing access to safe water and sanitation if the goals are to be achieved.
This was suggested during the on-going second East African sanitation conference that is taking place in Kampala, Uganda.
According to the Regional Director of UNICEF ESARO, Elhadj As Sy, major goals such as reducing child mortality rates mainly rely on improving sanitation among the population in the region.
“Access to sanitation facilities is a right as it safeguards human health and dignity. Every 10 seconds a child dies as a result of sanitation-related diseases, therefore there is need to urgently accelerate efforts to achieve development goals,” he said.
Dr. Aphrodis Kagaba, a health and sanitation expert from Rwanda, said that hand-washing should be scaled up to facilitate behavioural change in a bid to curb infection rates of preventable diseases.
“Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of under-five mortality. Promoting hygiene will substantially reduce child mortality that results from this disease as well as intestinal worms that are responsible for malnutrition,” said Dr Kagaba.
The Executive Secretary of the African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation, Jamillah Mwanjisi. said that all MDGs must be achieved through universal coverage of water and sanitation.
“It is not just one MDG but all. The poverty eradication goal for example, depends on improved access of water to poor people. As a result, undernourishment is eliminated especially for those in places of disaster such as droughts.”
During the discussions it was also noted that to achieve the MDG on universal primary education, there should be water facilities in place to guarantee that girls do not spend most of the time collecting domestic water.
According to Water Aid, an international NGO, one billion people still lack access to safe drinking water while 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation.
Experts therefore urged that sanitation and hygiene in emergency situations such as floods and droughts be scaled up to promote rural development and lower death rates that arise due to outbreaks of diseases like cholera.
Officials also lauded Rwanda’s community-based environmental health promotion program which seeks to increase use of hygienic latrines in schools and homes from 28 percent to 80 percent.
Under the same program, hand-washing with soap at critical times will also raise from 34 percent to 80 percent.
By promoting hand washing initiatives, diarrhoeal diseases reduce by over 40 percent.