Clean water is key to curbing the spread of disease in East Africa

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Access to clean water, a precious resource often taken for granted, is a human right. However, access to own; Affordable water remains a real challenge for many people in the East and Horn of Africa, with vulnerable groups being disproportionately affected. Beyond its use for personal consumption, water also plays a huge role in maintaining people’s health.

Extensive land borders, combined with intense trade and travel, facilitate the spread of infectious diseases in the countries of the East African Community (EAC) region. The region has seen frequent outbreaks in the past, such as cholera, measles, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and COVID-19, among others.

Good water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices, applied consistently, can help curb the spread of waterborne and other communicable diseases. This is particularly important in areas that experience high levels of human mobility, especially at border crossings and in transport corridors where local communities have a higher risk of infection.

Therefore, these critical public health “hotspots” need to be targeted with timely interventions in health, hygiene promotion and access to clean water.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) aims to ensure universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water for those who need it, by supplementing the supply of safe water with information on appropriate sanitation practices and systematic promotion of good hygiene.

In collaboration with the EAC Secretariat, IOM is currently implementing a regional health project targeting over 6 million migrant, border and host communities at 19 key points of entry (PoE) and routes of migration in the six EAC Partner States: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

This intervention is facilitated by the project “Support for Pandemic Preparedness in the EAC Region (PanPrep)” which is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German government.

The treaty for the establishment of the EAC provides for joint action for the prevention and control of outbreaks of communicable and vector-borne diseases, as well as pandemics that could endanger the health and well-being of residents of the States partners.

The EAC-IOM project aims to strengthen the capacity of governments in the region to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases of public health concern in the EAC region. The project also set up handwashing stations and provided access to water in up to three selected high-risk areas in each of the 6 partner states.

Through the intervention, which runs from June 2021 to May 2022, IOM is connecting handwashing facilities to running, clean and sustainable water through context-specific interventions, such as building water in South Sudan and Uganda, and connecting them to existing national networks. water supply systems that are usually located far from PoEs, and building a rainwater harvesting system in Rwanda.

At Wau Airport in South Sudan, a water park with a water collection point for fire extinguishers, sanitary facilities and a hand washing station has been built.

“The Airport Authority is grateful for this intervention as Wau Airport is now the only airport in South Sudan with a reliable source of running water,” said Stephen KijuYoungule, Director of the Wau airport.

He added, “Before, the airport administration suffered from lack of water and had to hire water truckers and donkey carts to supply the airport with water. It took 2-3 days to get to the airport, and in the meantime the airport was left without water for cleaning.

To date, more than 4.7 million people have been reached with behavior change interventions, including health and hygiene risk awareness activities and capacity building of key community influencers. In addition, 31 fixed handwashing facilities, 3 watercourses, 5 toilet blocks/latrines and 4 pipe connections to a water source were constructed in the 6 countries to improve access to water drinking water and hygiene services in high-volume migration areas.

Despite this intervention, it is still necessary to strengthen the preparedness and response capacity of partner States, by guaranteeing access to drinking and running water for the entire population, as well as hygiene services, knowledge and behavior change interventions.

IOM’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives in the East and Horn of Africa have included construction and rehabilitation of boreholes and wells, transportation of trucking, surface water treatment systems, construction of latrines, hygiene promotion campaigns and distribution of hygiene kits, among others. IOM also works with communities and governments in the region to protect water resources.

The Organization is committed to ensuring inclusion and addressing inequalities that primarily affect women, girls, people with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced people – who are most often the poorest and most marginalized with regard to their basic human rights to water. They should never be left behind.

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