Nairobi, Kenya: On Tuesday, March 22, Amref Health Africa joins the global community in celebrating World Water Day, notably the first following worldwide adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in November 2015. The launch of the new global goals has renewed hope for millions of African women and children who spend up to 40 billion hours annually walking to collect water. Water is central to everything including agriculture, food security and nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and overall health, industry, human settlement and development in general.
This year’s theme “Water and Jobs” reminds us of the central role water plays in providing livelihood to millions of people across Africa. Depending on the country and region, economic benefits have been estimated to range from US$3 to US$34 for each dollar invested in clean water and sanitation. Unfortunately, lack of sustainable access to clean water has an enormous negative impact on development, particularly for women and girls who are the main water carriers in more than 70% of households without water. As a result, they miss out on vital activities that can provide a path out of poverty, such as getting an education or earning an income.
In rural Africa, women spend 26% of their time collecting water, and walk at least eight kilometres to the nearest water source. In the dry season, when water becomes more scarce, this time can double. Walking to remote water sources exposes women to the risk of injury, sexual harassment and animal attacks. Moreover, women are subject to adverse health effects from constantly carrying water containers weighing up to 20kg on their heads, hips, or backs.
Boosting water and sanitation investments in hospitals and clinics in low income countries is essential to reduce maternal and newborn deaths. Although clean water plays a key role in promoting health, 42% of health facilities in Africa do not have access to safe water. Many women in developing countries give birth at home, often without access to clean water and toilets, exposing themselves and their babies to infections. Clean water is essential to prevent sepsis or cord infections, and limit transmission of diseases. Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment. Notably, 15% of all maternal deaths are caused by infections in the six weeks after childbirth mainly due to unhygienic conditions during home deliveries and in institutions.
Since our founding nearly 60 years ago, Amref Health Africa has been responding to this need by working with local experts and communities on long-term solutions to increase access to safe water. In over 10 countries, we are increasing community usage of technologically appropriate improved water supply services through provision of appropriate water supply infrastructure in underserved communities, targeting mainly schools and health facilities.
Water quality is key to everyone’s health. We are therefore supporting water source protection at village, school and health facility levels to prevent contamination. We are also building the capacity of local government officials and community health volunteers to monitor water quality using field test kits, government water quality testing laboratories and Amref Health Africa laboratories. In order to realize optimal outcomes, Amref Health Africa is intensifying programme integration to ensure water, sanitation and hygiene is integrated with projects focused on HIV, malaria, diagnostics, maternal health and child health. In addition, we advocate for increased investment in safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation through policy, research and targeted campaigns.
As we mark this important day, Amref Health Africa calls on development partners, governments, civil society, and the private sector to systematically increase investments geared towards the provision of safe water in Africa, focused on women and children living in marginalized rural and urban communities. This is the surest way of delivering lasting health change in Africa.
About Amref Health Africa (@AmrefCanada) Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and with more than 55 years of experience, Amref Health Africa is the leading African public health organization. Recipients of both the Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health and the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, Amref Health Africa partners with communities to improve health. Amref Health Africa tackles some of the most critical health challenges facing the continent: maternal and child care, HIV, TB and malaria, clean water and sanitation, and surgical and clinical outreach.
Media: For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Amref Health Africa in Canada, (416) 961-6981; (647) 771-5815 (cell); email