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Ideas & Debate

LETTERS: Water, hygiene key to curbing waterborne diseases

student washes his hands
A student washes his hands after using a public toilet in Nairobi on Tuesday. Good hygiene prevents spread of most diseases. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU 

Sanitation has not received the priority it deserves.

The majority of urban areas in Kenya have inadequate sanitation facilities, poor quality water supply, poor drainage, uncollected garbage, crowded housing, ever-growing dumpsites, overflowing sewerage, flying toilets and an unending outbreak of poor man’s diseases.

Garbage management businesses to complement a lack of sanitation services by the government thrive in the major urban centres.

According to the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water supply and sanitation indicates that overall sanitation coverage is 31 percent with rural sanitation coverage at 32 percent and urban sanitation coverage at 27 percent.

In Kenya, public spending on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) lags far behind need as it is estimated that she only allocates paltry 0.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to sanitation as compared to the global target of 0.9 percent and eThekwini Declaration commitment of at least 0.5 percent of GDP to sanitation and hygiene.

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For instance, in 2010, the combined water and sanitation expenditure in Kenya represented only 0.86 percent of GDP, down from 1.1 percent in 2008.

Despite the provision by the Constitution in Article 43 that guarantees all Kenyans the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities and the right to reasonable standards of sanitation, many Kenyans still lack access to improved sanitation.

Access to improved sanitation will remain a challenge if the government continues to have a low perception of the WASH sector and view it as non-priority.

Access to sanitation alone demonstrates inequities as the poorest quintile of the population is 270 times more likely to practice open defecation than the wealthiest.

For the poorest, therefore, poverty is a double-edged sword, not only are they more likely to have poor sanitation but they have to pay proportionately more for the negative effects it has.

More than half of the population are at risk of diseases and death due to poor sanitation and hygiene, with over 75 percent of the country’s disease burden caused by poor personal hygiene, inadequate sanitation practices and unsafe drinking water.

Among children, diarrheal diseases and intestinal worm infestation contribute to a high disease burden and mortality with diarrhoea comprising at least 40 percent of deaths among under-five children.

Statistics indicate that 35 percent of children in Kenya suffer from moderate to severe stunting. Childhood stunting which can affect both educational and long-term productivity outcomes has been linked to open defecation

Consequently, about 19,500 Kenyans, including 17,100 children under five years are dying each year from diarrhoea, 90 percent of these cases are attributed to poor sanitation.

In economic terms, Kenya pays dearly as it loses an estimated Sh27 billion annually, equivalent to $365 million due to poor sanitation and hygiene services.

This sum is the equivalent of $8 per person in Kenya per year or 0.9 percent of the national GDP.

Open defecation costs Kenya Sh8 billion per year, yet eliminating the practice would require less than 1.2 million latrines to be built and used.

For Kenya to achieve the ambitious target of ensuring universal access to water and improved sanitation services as envisioned in Vision 2030 and to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for eradicating poverty while providing decent work and universal access to WASH, solutions must address the daily challenges faced by those at the base of the pyramid.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, and for real change to happen, there is need for the government and concerned stakeholders to work more closely with local communities who are too often left out of decision-making processes affecting their lives.

This will ensure the most vulnerable people aren’t left behind. Only then can we begin to measure and achieve meaningful progress.

Besides, increased investments in sanitation are required as it will not only realise the health and welfare benefits of sanitation but also avert large economic losses.

Oscar Ochieng via email

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