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Let's prioritise WASH to avert waterborne diseases, deaths

LETTERS
By Oscar Ochieng | March 17th 2020

Worshipers at Memorial Cathedral Church, Mombasa wash their hands before entering the church compound. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Sanitation has not received the priority it deserves.

Majority of urban areas in Kenya lack adequate sanitation facilities, have poor quality water supply, poor drainage, uncollected garbage, overcrowded housing, just but to mention a few.

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

In Kenya, public spending on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) lags far behind need as it is estimated that a paltry 0.2 per cent of GDP is allocated to sanitation as compared to the global target of 0.9 per cent.

Access to improved sanitation will remain a challenge if the government continues to have low perception on the WASH sector and view it as non-priority. Access to sanitation alone demonstrates inequities as the poorest quintile of the population are 270 times more likely to practice open defaecation 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.

Due to poor sanitation and hygiene, more than half of the population is at risk of diseases and death, with over 75 per cent of the country’s disease burden caused by poor personal hygiene, inadequate sanitation practices and unsafe drinking water.

Among children, diarrhoeal diseases and intestinal worm infestation contribute to a high disease burden and mortalit,y with diarrhoea contributing at least 40 per cent of deaths among children under the age of five.

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

In economic terms, Kenya pays dearly as it loses an estimated Sh27 billion annually due to poor sanitation.

For Kenya to achieve the ambitious target of ensuring universal access to water and improved sanitation services as enshrined in Kenya’s Vision 2030 and to meet the 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 often left out of decision-making processes affecting their lives.

In addition, increased investments in sanitation is required as it will not only realise health and welfare benefits of sanitation but also avert economic losses. 

Oscar Ochieng, via email

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