Africa’s sanitation problems

Recently, data reported in a World Bank report referred about the social costs (and not only) related to the practice of most people in Ghana to defecate in the open air. A practice widespread among the population that costs the African country about 79 million dollars a year. 74% of this amount is linked to the premature death of tousends of people (of whom 5,100 children 5 years old or younger) every year precisely because of complications related to diseases attributable to infected water and lack of hygiene. Impressive data confirmed by Rushnan Murtaza, representative of Unicef in Ghana, during the “National Hygiene Campaign”: one out of every five Ghanaians only one house every seven has a bathroom inside. A few days ago, under the patronage of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was launched a campaign “We keep Ghana clean: do your best”, but, according to Murtaza, unless the country takes drastic measures, it will take at least 90 years to solve this problem. We have known for a long time the impact of poor sanitary conditions on health, but this is one of the first studies to quantify the annual costs,” said Yolande Coombes, the World Bank’s water and sanitation specialist, Yolande Coombes a few years ago,” Ghana will not be able to grow sustainably without facing these costs.

The problem of lack of sanitation (which is also closely linked to another problem, that of lack of water) is not limited to Ghana. Despite “18 out of 54 African countries have reached a medium-high standard of living” (African Economic Outlook report published by the African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations Development Programme), the situation in many countries remains serious. 544 million Africans (out of a population of just over one billion people) live in poverty. Most of the population have no access to primary services such as cooking fuel, electricity and, above all, sanitation. It is precisely this lack that kills more children than those who kill because of malaria, AIDS and measles together. According to the UN, access to adequate sanitation, good hygienic practices and drinking water could save the lives of 1.5 million children every year. For this reason the World Toilet Day has been celebrated around the world for some years now, on 19 November.

In 2017, 2.5 billion people in the world still do not have access to toilets. And so far nobody has been able to solve the problem. Trying to combat some of the most serious causes of death in the world is completely pointless if we do not take action to reduce the lack of sanitation. In shanty towns (sometimes are immense) there is almost always a lack of sewerage. In many countries, hundreds of children in schools are forced to long queues up to access toilets (or supposedly under-sized ones). Quite often, outside the inhabited centres, widespread poverty prevents families from dedicating the few economic resources available building latrines.

The consequence is the spread of diseases. Such as dysentery, which kills 1.5 million children annually. And hundreds of millions of people have limited growth due to this water-related disease (the disease deprives them of nutrients and energy).

In Africa (and in Asia) the most serious situation. Not only in Ghana. Also in Uganda, where unacceptable waste treatment systems are used near refugee camps in the north of the country. Or in Ethiopia, where more than 70% of a population of almost 100 million does not have access to “modern” toilets (which means at least one latrine closed and covered with a concrete slab and equipped with a tube that sucks in the air from the hole).

According to researchers, 58% of the population in Africa do not have access to adequate sanitation, there is no adequate sewage system. For children under five years of age, diarrhoea and malaria are the second and fourth causes of death. Every year, 900,000 people die of malaria in Africa and 70% of them are children. In sub-Saharan Africa, every 30 seconds a child under five dies of malaria. Even worse data for the diarrhoea (and its consequences) that kills 5000 children every day.

According to Unicef, in the South of the world, 226,000 children die every week from diseases that could be avoided with a very modest expense: solving some of these problems and avoiding their death would take three billion dollars a year. A ridiculous sum thinking that all around the world countries spend 80 billion dollars on armaments. Not in one year: every single day.

The USA alone spends more than USD 500billion on weapons and armaments. And recently, President Trump has urged the countries that are party to the Atlantic Pact to increase their annual payments to NATO. Hundreds of billions of dollars when 80 billion dollars (less than 1% of global wealth) would be enough to guarantee all inhabitants of the planet basic services. Including hygienic ones.

This would deserve celebrating the World Toilet Day.

C. Alessandro Mauceri
C. Alessandro Mauceri
Since thirty years C.Alessandro Mauceri deals, writes and talks about issues related to the environment and a sustainable development, as well as internationalization. He is author of several books, including Water War and Finta Democracy. His research and papers were reported in several newspapers, in Italy and abroad.Posts

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