African governments need to review their policies and make sanitation a priority as the majority of deaths on the continent are a result of poor sanitation.
The call was made by several experts and sanitation specialists who are attending the third African Sanitation and Hygiene Conference dubbed AfricaSan 3.
According to the Unilever Global Social Mission Director, Dr. Myriam Sidibe, children constitute the majority of victims.
“On average, only 30 percent of the global population wash their hands with soap before eating and the number of diseases that result from not washing hands is really big,” said Dr. Sidibe.
She added that the number of children dying of diarrhoea and pneumonia is very high. Currently, it is estimated that about 1.5million children die of diarrhoea and 1.9 million children die of respiratory infections.
“… but these cases would be reduced if there is hand-washing with soap. This can reduce about 47 percent of diarrhoea; imagine what that would mean out of the 1.5 million children dying each year. Unfortunately, even though soap penetration is at 99 percent, there is need to sensitise people on how and when to use it,” added Sidibe.
South Africa’s music legend, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who is the UN hand-washing ambassador, said that there is need for more campaigns on hand-washing in Africa, especially in the villages.
“There can never be progress in any country if there is no political will. We have seen governments saving lives in situations where there is political will…as a strategy of reaching out to many and saving the future generation. I do much of the campaigns among children and their response is amazing,” Chaka Chaka said.
Meanwhile, WaterAid International, together with grassroots activists in Africa attending the conference have urged governments to demonstrate strong leadership and take urgent action on the continent’s critical sanitation situation.
According to WaterAid, only 31 percent of people living in Africa have adequate access to sanitation, despite sanitation and water being a recognised human right.
This has a devastating impact on the health, education, economic and social standing of the poorest communities.
Diarrhoea linked to inadequate sanitation is now recognised as the biggest killer of children in Africa. It is estimated that lack of safe water and sanitation costs the region around five percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year.
Civil society representatives and community leaders have come together to present one voice at the only Africa-wide conference on sanitation.
A civil society leader from Uganda, Doreen Wandera Kabasindi said that despite collective efforts, since the last AfricaSan, 2.1 million children under-five have died of diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation, water and hygiene in Africa.
“We are striving to bring an end to these preventable deaths and this huge suffering so we call on our governments to take urgent action,” Kabasindi said.
The calls come on top of a new progress report from WaterAid, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UNICEF which shows that there is still much to be done if Africa is to meet the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation.
Over 230 African Civil Society Organisations have petitioned African governments to develop clear financial plans to ensure that 0.5 percent of GDP is spent on sanitation.