Unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation still major challenge in developing countries, says Don

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By Emeka Samuel, Uyo

A University don, Emmanuel Akpabio says unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene remain a major challenge in developing countries with dire consequences of avoidable deaths and diseases.
According to the University of Uyo lecturer, 83% of the one billion people without access to treated drinking water and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation, are concentrated in Sub Sahara Africa while infectious disease outbreaks in the region remain much related to an inability to get the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) act right.

“WaSH has diverse dimension, water (quantity and quality). It is associated with the transmission of water-washed, waterborne, water-based and water-related disease arising from inadequate supply, poor quality, hosts to aquatic invertebrates and the spread of diseases agents respectively.” He said.

Akpabio who is a Marie Sklodowska fellow, at the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, University of Dundee, United Kingdom stated this during a one day public engagement on a European Union project aimed at improving the capacities of policymakers, scientists and relevant stakeholders for achieving evidence-based policies in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) sector held in Uyo yesterday.

“So, the sources of water we drink, the storage medium and the way we manage water are fundamental. Sanitation and hygiene carry several elements including personal hygiene, domestic and environmental cleanliness, waste disposal, hand washing, food hygiene, menstrual hygiene, child, safe disposal of human excrement and control of wastewater,’’ he stated.
He lamented the impact of water, sanitation, hygiene and public health on children and woman who spend so much of their time and energy to secure water for drinking at the expense of engaging in other productive/study activities.

According to him, children carry the main responsibility for collecting water with girls under 15 years of age being twice as likely to carry the responsibility as boys under15 years pointing out that in Africa, 90 percent of the work of gathering water for the household and for food preparation is done by women.

“Indeed, WaSH challenge in Sub South Africa is complicated by the existence of layers of socio-cultural and religious beliefs, attitudes and values across geographies, religion and economic groups, our greatest problem is our inability to disengage WaSH matters from socio-cultural behaviours and religious beliefs which in some cases are reproduced at the policy arena.” He said.

He pointed out that that Nigeria’s inability to evolve practical and relevant policies for the water, hygiene and sanitation sector has hampered her effort to secure and sustain improved WaSH sector performance particularly in urban areas adding that roughly 42 percent of the urban and semi urban populations are estimated to have access to safe drinking water as compared with about 29 percent of the rural dwellers.

Quoting a 2000 report by the Federal Government that only Abuja and limited areas in Lagos have a sewage system, he noted that the task of securing access to safe drinking water and sanitary services is transferred to the ordinary citizens who have to depend on all forms of unimproved sources mostly dictated by economic, social and environmental circumstances as well as religious and cultural beliefs.

Calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to formulate a coherent policy on water sanitation and hygiene, the University teacher said the present adhoc arrangement was not good enough adding that the entire government system has to be reformed to pave way for innovation and smart ways of project implementation.

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