Some 2,4 billion people – of which an estimated 300 million are in Africa alone – do not know how to safely dispose of their waste, including human excreta. The poorly enforced measures of waste disposal mean that human faecal matter easily contaminates the clean water sources and soil.
Municipal sewage (a mix of water and excrement) usually goes to a safe disposal point, but this is often not the case, leading to water borne diseases. One example is Cholera, which remains rife in Africa where up to 80 percent of the infected show no real symptoms, meaning that they continue to infect other water sources. One cure for treating Cholera is through rehydration – which is only possible if there is a clean water supply.
Typhoid fever also continues to ravish Northern and Western Africa, and is a disease that once again springs from contaminated water as well as from food fertilized by human excreta.
In Uganda, the education system is facing a sanitation crisis whereby in some schools there is only one toilet per 700 pupils, while open defecation is a very real problem in countries like Somalia and Eritrea.
According to a UNICEF report, diarrhea linked to unclean water kills 24 000 young people around the world every day. The United Nations has now acknowledged that “improvements in sanitation are bypassing the poor” and “the sanitation target appears to be out of reach”.
In Botswana, one of the more prosperous countries of Southern Africa, over 90 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, but only 60 percent has improved sanitation, according to worldpress.org. In rural areas, that drops to 40 percent.
“We have to treat access to drinking water and sanitation separately, but overall it is one global issue,” said George Yap, executive director of WaterCan, a Canadian NGO. “With access to drinking water we’re on track, but with sanitation we’re off track. … We could help a family with a pit latrine, but what happens if they don’t wash their hands afterwards? We could build a well with clean, delicious water, but if you put it in a dirty bucket that water is dangerous again.”
In rural regions of arid West African countries like Chad, Niger and Mauritania, less than 10 percent of the population has toilets.
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