By Wambui Gichuri*
This year’s World Toilet Day observance comes in the midst of COVID-19. The gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s global spread heightens awareness about the important health benefits of appropriate toilet hygiene across Africa. Never has this been more pertinent than as we observe World Toilet Day.
While promising results on the vaccine front are underway, a primary effective, preventive measure against the disease is basic handwashing with soap. Everyone must have sustainable sanitation, alongside clean water and handwashing facilities, to help protect and maintain our health security and stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases such as COVID-19, cholera and typhoid, among others.
The effects of this behavior change in hygiene practices will take some time to quantify. According to the British medical journal, the Lancet, handwashing practices in Africa have improved tremendously since the outbreak of COVID-19, with access to handwashing stations noticeably increasing in community centers, schools, markets, bus terminals, and other public spaces in rural and urban areas.
The Bank’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions across the continent have emphasized the importance of basic sanitation, as well as the health, economic, and environmental benefits that communities gain from it. In the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Bank is ramping up these messages and the funding to expand the impacts of WASH programs.
In Africa, 60% of the population – about 715 million people – still don’t have access to basic sanitation, according to a Joint Monitoring Report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF. To address these water and sanitation challenges, the Bank has invested $6.2 billion over the last decade toward promoting universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, as well as to improved sanitation. An estimated 52 million people gained access to improved water supply and sanitation services due to these investments. Over the next 12 years, the Bank’s water sector investments aim to provide an additional 154 million people with these services across Africa. We are also advocating for more private sector participation as an option for sustainable management and financing of water services.
The Bank and the African Water Facility in 2019 launched the development of the African Urban Sanitation Investment Fund, an initiative to promote innovation and inclusive sanitation services for sub-Saharan Africa’s urban inhabitants. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the development of the initiative. It seeks to accelerate the pace of achieving Target 6.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals for sanitation in African
countries by fostering citywide inclusive sanitation, focusing on the poor and providing safe access to women and girls.
The African Water Facility has promoted innovative urban sanitation projects focusing on low-income groups and disseminated knowledge products on acceptable practices across Africa.
One particular success is the Bank co-funded “Toilets for All” project in Sokode, Togo. The small town of 100,000 people located 350 kilometers outside the capital, Lome, applied innovation and microcredit facilities to improve and expand sanitation services.Completed in 2018, the project constructed 688 private toilets in Sokode, thereby increasing access to improved sanitation by 6%. The African Water Facility funded $1.4 million out of its total cost of $1.88 million. A community-based microcredit system provides household toilet installation services to this day.
The program also acquired a truck for safely emptying fecal sludge from on-site sanitation technologies, like septic tanks and transporting the sludge for treatment, use, or disposal. Neighborhood committees operate an installment payment program for eligible residents to pay for fecal sludge services.
The project’s new sludge treatment plant converts waste into fertilizer, which is sold to farmers. The plant also shares its solar-powered pumped water supply system with a neighboring village that previously had no access to potable water.
The Toilets for All initiative is making a difference in the lives of our people, and it is an example of the meaningful, community-centered and inclusive sanitation and fecal sludge management development that we are scaling up through funding and advocacy across Africa.
So as we mark World Toilet Day amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bank is urging its African member governments and development partners to make greater efforts to provide access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all, and for an end to open defecation in Africa by 2030.
*Wambui Gichuri is the African Development Bank’s Acting Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development and also holds the position of Director for Water Development and Sanitation. She oversees the Bank’s water sector program of over $4.5 billion, covering 44 countries and multinational projects.