DEATH IN THE WATERS: MENACE AND PANACEA OF INADEQUATE WATER SUPPLY AND POOR ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION IN AFRICA
FEDERATION OF AFRICAN MEDICAL STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATIONS (FAMSA) HEADQUARTERS’ BOARD
PRESENTED AT THE FAMSA HEADQUARTERS’ MEETING WHICH HELD ON THE 1ST OF OCTOBER, 2018 AT FAMEWO COMMON ROOM, ALEXANDER BROWN HALL, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE HOSPITAL, IBADAN.
OGUNFOLU AMINAT AFOLAKEMI (MISS)
- Menace of inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation in Africa
- The causes of inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation in Africa
- Existing policies on provision of portable waters and existing help from international bodies
- Shortcomings of the policies
- Panacea – Solutions to the problem of inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation in Africa
Access to water has been broadly defined as the availability of at least 20 liters per person per day from a source within one kilometer of the user’s dwelling (WHO 2000).
Sanitation is defined as access to, and use of, excreta and wastewater facilities and services that ensure privacy and dignity, ensuring a clean and healthy living environment for all (WHO 2000).
A safe, reliable, affordable and easily accessible water supply as well as good environmental sanitation is essential for good health. Yet, for several decades, about a billion people in developing countries, particularly in Africa have not had safe and sustainable water supply neither can they boast of good environmental sanitation. This is a growing nuisance for heavily populated areas, carrying the risk of infectious disease, particularly to vulnerable groups such as very young, elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
It has been estimated that an average home requires at least 50 liters of water per day for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and domestic needs. Adequate water supply helps to maintain proper environmental sanitation. Thus, the availability of adequate water supply equals good environmental sanitation in an ideal environment.
In Africa, 16% of urban communities and 55% of rural communities have poor environmental sanitation (WHO, 2000). About 36% of the African population lack access to pipe-borne water and a large percentage lack access to proper sewage infrastructure. Even for those with proper sewage infrastructure, about 51% have to leave their compounds to access water and about 1 in 5 have to leave their houses to access water and to use a latrine.
MENACE OF INADEQUATE WATER SUPPLY AND POOR ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION IN AFRICA
- Yearly, more than 315,000 African children die from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation (WHO 2000).
- Environmental damage
Inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation have discouraged tourist trade, reduced overseas markets and fish production. This is due to water pollution by industrial and domestic waste which have polluted the living conditions of the aquatic environment and lead to increased death rate of fishes, thereby, reducing sales and overseas trade.
- Nutritional stunting
Poor environmental sanitation leads to decline in agricultural production or production of foods with inadequate nutrients which causes decline in nutritional intake. This coupled with intake of water from unhealthy sources eventually lead to nutritional stunting.
- Poor health status
Increased incidence of infections e.g. cholera, typhoid, dysentery, worm infections, eye infections, skin disease etc.
- Environmental pollution
Waste products especially from industries pollute the environment can cause depletion of the ozone layer thereby causing global warming. Also, exposure to fumes and hydrocarbons are dangerous and this is a risk factor for some cancers e.g. laryngeal carcinoma.
- Reduced economic returns
Reduced agricultural production leaves a big gap in the economy by reducing exchange trades and reducing the income of the economy.
- Increased morbidity and mortality rates
A combination of the above factors especially exposure to pollutants and consumption can lead to reduction in life expectancy in the society. Also, infections and diseases which occur as a result of inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation will eventually lead to death in most cases.
THE CAUSES OF INADEQUATE WATER SUPPLY AND POOR ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION IN AFRICA
- Increasing population demand for portable water and waste disposal
There is low contraceptive use in Africa and the population increase is not fully under control. Thus, there is increasing need for portable water and waste disposal. The demand cannot the met by the current facilities in place for portable water and waste disposal.
- Increasing urban slums (illegal settlements)
Over the years, there has been a rapid increase in immigrants from rural settlements into the urban areas. Due to insufficient funds to settle in the urban areas, the immigrants tend to create illegal settlements for themselves and usually, they do not have a proper facility to get water and dispose waste. Instead they source for water through illegal means e.g. by breaking through pipes that supply the legal settlements and dispose their wastes on the road sides.
- Environmental pollution by industrial and domestic waste
Most industries and homes in Africa do not have controlled means of disposing waste. Especially industries, fumes are released into the atmosphere which pollute the air and deplete the ozone layer thereby causing global warming. Also, waste products are disposed into water bodies thereby reducing the quality of water supply.
- Ineffective long term health care policies
Most health care policies in Africa do not last for long as they do not address the major issues affecting inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation, Also, there is an issue with compliance with these policies in most African nations.
- Poor economy and inadequate budget in developing countries
Most African countries usually have a low percentage of their budgets allocated to adequate water supply and waste disposal. This does not allow adequate provision of these needs.
This is a major problem affecting most African nations. Even with the low budget for water supply and waste disposal, the corrupt practices of most government officers restricts provision of these needs.
- Inadequacies of existing policies on water supply and environmental sanitation
Most of the existing policies on water supply and environmental sanitation in Africa do not specifically address how to tackle the problem of inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation.
- Poor supervision of environmental sanitation in communities
Most communities do not have adequate supervision for sanitation practices and this has increased the problem of poor environmental sanitation,
- Poor health practices due to little knowledge on health education
Due to high rate of illiteracy in Africa, most people do not know the right health practices and they dispose waste inadequately and use poor water sources.
- Lack of collaboration between health and environmental agencies
More often than not, health agencies work in isolation from the environmental agencies to adequately inform people on the right health practices especially those involving sanitation.
- Water wastage
This is a major problem affecting water. Burst pipes and leaking pipes are left unattended to till the water source gets exhausted.EXISTING POLICIES ON PROVISION OF ADEQUATE WATER SUPPLY AND GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION
A lot of policies have been introduced to help with adequate water supply and good environmental sanitation. Few amongst them include:
- Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
The MDGs are 8 goals which were signed in September 2000 by the United Nations Millennium Declaration to commit world leaders to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. Particularly relating to inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation is MDG 7 which aims at maintaining environmental sustainability.
However, these goals were not attained at the stated deadline in 2015 and this lead to the introduction of the sustainable development goals.
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
On the 19th of September, 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. There are 17 SDGs and the increase in number was to correct the gaps and shortcomings of the MDGs which were described to be not specific by many countries.
The SDGs cover social and economic issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice. SDG 6 particularly focuses on clean water and sanitation.
Many nations including African nations are focused and working towards these SDGs.
- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) ProgrammeThis programme is a UNICEF initiative that aims at creating safe water sources and sanitary facilities in communities and schools and also, provides hygiene education.
- National Environmental Sanitation Policy (NESP)
This is specific to Nigeria and it was introduced in January 2005. It covers solid waste, medical waste management, excreta and sewage management, food sanitation, sanitary inspection, adequate portable water supply, pest and vector control and urban drainage management. Targets have been set but these targets have been extended four times to increase the coverage of this policy. The latest target aims to achieve and sustain 100% sanitation coverage of the population.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE POLICIES
- The MDGs were perceived as being ‘too ambiguous’ by most UN member nations especially the African nations as it was not very specific in stating the aims that were meant to be achieved. Due to this reason, most African nations could not successfully carry out the MDGs.
- Even though the SDGs were introduced as a modification to the MDGs, a major problem is the fact that government challenges towards implementing these goals have not been addressed. This could lead to failure in achieving these goals.
- The WASH programme had issues with some communities and religious groups who refused to accept the programme and did not volunteer. There were also issues with lack of motivation and the training was not sufficient.
- The NESP policy did not address how it would impact on water and sanitation supply through additional yield especially in local communities. Also, issues of acceptability to local communities and long-term applicability were not addressed. Till now, the shortcomings of NESP have not been fully addressed and this might just mean that the aims of the policy might not be eventually achieved at the new deadline.
PANACEA – SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM OF INADEQUATE WATER SUPPLY AND POOR ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION IN AFRICA
- Dry or low water sanitation techniques in which waste can be processed directly on-site or collected and transported to the processing site to obtain products like water, compost, fertilizers, soil conditioners, biofuel and biogas should be used instead.
- For low-cost options, clean pit latrine systems, urine diversion dry toilets and pour flush toilets (requires just 0.5-2 liters) of water
- New policies that will address the problem and factors surrounding the problem in a holistic should be introduced.
- Private institutions could also go into providing sewage disposal facilities.
- Collaboration between health and environmental agencies
- Strict sanctions on industrial and domestic environmental pollution
- War against corruption
- Water conservation
New-ground breaking initiatives which are still getting processed include:
- A dehydration auesterisation machine which would enable faecal sludge from ventilated improved pits to be processed by drying off and pasteurizing the sludge using infrared radiation. The product can be safely used in agriculture.
- Another promising project is use of the larvae of black soldier flies for faecal material degradation. After which, the larvae, which are rich in fattys acids and proteins, can be used for poultry feed or biodiesel production.
- There’s also another project that focuses on the treatment of urine to obtain reused water and fertilizer.
Inadequate water supply and poor environmental sanitation in Africa have to a large extent affected growth and progress in the continent. Also, various infections and disease conditions have occurred due to these problems leading to increase in mortality and morbidity rates in Africa.
Although some policies have been put in place to address these problems, they have their shortcomings which have to be addressed to provide long lasting solutions.
Also, strict measures should be put in place to ensure that the solution-providing policies are adhered to.
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