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Sanitation in the developing world: spotlight on Central Africa

Sanitation Action Against Hunger

For this year’s World Toilet Day, we asked Claude Sauveplane, a former United Nations Inter-regional Advisor on Water Resources and former Action Against Hunger Canada Board Member, to write a guest blog about access to sanitation, an issue that continues to impact millions of people around the world.

Access to adequate sanitation is a fundamental human right. Sanitation protects human health by reducing infant and child mortality; and finding specific methods for the prevention and control of communicable diseases. It also prevents contamination and deterioration in the environment from all waste streams including solid waste, sewage, and surface water drainage; hazardous, industrial and hospital wastes; and human excreta. Both the negative impacts and the challenges of managing all of these simultaneously are most acute in areas where population density is high.

The greatest challenges exist in countries where poverty and/or armed conflicts place a severe constraint on progress. Rapid urban growth means that more than half of the additional services must be in urban areas, even though current levels of coverage in urban areas are much higher than in rural areas.

“Good practices” in the sanitation sector originate from the absence of large-scale public funding. The role of the small-scale private entrepreneur in sanitation provision is significant, especially in East Asia. Many investments have been made so far at the household level through low-cost technologies, outside of government or donor-funded programs.  New and more effective approaches tend to provide a bridge to public agencies, which retain responsibility for setting policy and delivering publicly-funded services.   

The call for access to sanitation aims at improving sanitation in public institutions, especially health centres and schools. Children in the age range of 5-14 are particularly prone to infections of round worm and whip worm and there is evidence that these, along with guinea worm and other water-related diseases, including diarrhea, result in significant absences from school. These absences also have a gendered aspect: girls who are unable to access clean, safe and separate toilets and hand-washing facilities may disproportionately drop out of school at puberty, or even earlier. The availability of latrines in schools can enable girls to get an education.

Having water points and toilets near the home can also reduce violence against women. The success, and effective use, of sanitation facilities depends highly on the involvement of both women and men in selecting the location and technology of such facilities. Equal participation of women in fact improves the lives of everyone in the community, through cultural and ethnic divides.

Changes of the rate of access to sanitation in 10 countries of Central Africa, many of which benefit from Action Against Hunger programs, are illustrated by the table below

(National figures were essentially less than 50% and  figures for CAR, DRC and Burundi are now probably worse.)

Source: UN Human development country reports and Joint Monitoring Project of UNICEF-OMS (except for Equatorial Guinea who has provided its own access to sanitation data)

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