Ama Kudom-Agyemang, April 27, 2020
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives globally, one thing has become clear – the need to prioritise water provision. This need is more specific to rural communities, where populations are most vulnerable due to a few water facilities and unsafe water.
Water experts warn that unless rural water access is attended to, the risk of the virus spread in rural areas will remain much higher than in urban areas.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mohammed Abdul-Nashiru, the Country Director of WaterAid Ghana says this is the time for Ministries of Sanitation and Water Resources, Local Government and Rural Development as well as Municipal and District assemblies to step forward and compliment central government’s efforts by taking responsibility for and fixing the non-functional water facilities in deprived communities. “This must be done to protect our people,” he notes adding that fixing of non-functional water facilities especially in rural areas, should be treated as one of the priority measures in the nation’s fight against COVID-19.
In an interview, Abdul-Nashiru explained that the need for such prioritisation arises because with the regular washing of hands requirement in this coronavirus era, “it becomes a challenge for rural communities because few water facilities are working and so social distancing can be compromised due to overcrowding.”
He says the situation is worrying especially in Districts like Bongo and Kasena Nankana West in the Upper East region, and Wa Municipal in the Upper West region, where most of the few water facilities are dysfunctional even at health facilities. “The alarming thing is that in health facilities such as Community Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS Compounds) where they have no regular supply of water, frontline health workers will not be able to provide basic health services,” observed Abdul-Nashiru.
CHPS Compounds is a national strategy to bring essential health services close to communities in underprivileged sub-districts. Launched in Navrongo in 1994, most CHPS Compounds have assigned health workers who man the facilities, ensuring that community members have access to essential health services including maternity services.
Abdul-Nashiru is concerned because some CHPS Compounds do not have regular water supply and “in this coronavirus era, these health centers risk becoming an avenue for infecting frontline workers, users and even newborn babies.”
He acknowledges the overwhelming nature of the situation saying “central government must not be left to handle it alone,” and calls for a collaborative partnership to cover the whole country. “This can work by pooling our different expertise for a comprehensive approach including targeted advocacy aimed at stakeholders such as institutions,” Abdul-Nashiru explains adding that “this will ensure that grants and resources such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) go where they are most needed.”
On the other hand, Attah Arhin, WASH Technical Coordinator of World Vision Ghana, urges families and households in water-stressed communities to adopt and prioritise simple water treatment methods such as boiling and straining. He notes that this is crucial because other COVID-19 prevention measures like sanitizing are less effective without clean water.
Arhin who is also the Vice-Chairman of the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS), calls for intensified community education on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). He proposes that the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) should use all information dissemination methods including door to door campaigns, adding that “though this can be tasking, it is very effective in educating rural populations.”
The proposals of Abdul-Nashiru and Arhin are in line with the recommendation of the Global Water Partnership West Africa (GWP-WA)- an organization that supports regional countries in the sustainable development and management of water resources at all levels. It recommends that administrative authorities should take advantage of COVID-19 to strengthen WASH measures.
GWP-WA wants Central and local governments as well as all decision-makers to seize the management context of Covid-19 to strengthen measures in the field of hygiene and basic sanitation, and make it a priority on their agenda.
In a recent statement signed by GWP-WA’s Chairman, Prof. Amadou Hama Maiga, communities and individuals in West Africa are urged “to adopt from now as habits, the hygiene practices acquired in the fight against Covid-19, such as handwashing with water and soap.” According to GWP-WA the daily information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the measures taken to combat COVID-19 are essential and must be followed by all.
The Right to water
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.
GWP-WA however notes that even though access to safe drinking water is a human right and a central element of hygienic measures advocated to combat Covid-19, this right is still not guaranteed for nearly half of the 430 million people living in the West African States.
It calls on the West African States to increase investment in water security, access to safe drinking water, hygiene, and sanitation. According to GWP-WA, there is also a need for integrated and sustainable management of water resources. “Such investments are necessary in order to strengthen the resilience of economies and populations to major internal and external shocks,” a statement from the organisation reads in part.