WASH: The impact of clean water on health and education

Published on: 12/12/2017




WASH: The impact of clean water on health and education

One of the greatest challenges in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 300 million people live in a water-scarce environment1, is the ability to access a clean water supply. Ensuring safe and sufficient water, coupled with basic sanitation facilities and improved hygiene practices, can have a significant impact on global health.

According to UN Water, the benefits of having access to a safe drinking water source can only be fully realised when there is also access to improved sanitation and good hygiene practices (known collectively as WASH).

For this reason, to ensure the availability and sustainable management of WASH for all, one of the aims of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 is to substantially increase water-use efficiency and secure a sustainable supply of freshwater.

SDG6 pays special attention to women and girls, who often have to walk long distances to collect water from outdoor sources. By fetching water from sources closer to home, girls would be less at risk of attack and spend more time at school2.

From the ground up

Most people in sub-Saharan Africa rely on surface water, which is either scarce, contaminated, or both. Groundwater is a source of safe water for drinking, hygiene and irrigation that remains largely untapped, whether it is due to poor management, high costs or simply poor understanding3.

Recent surveys concluded that there is more water under Africa’s surface than on it4. Therefore groundwater can be developed as a new and sustainable resource, as long as it is managed effectively.

UNICEF has developed a series of Groundwater Programming Principles, which ensure how to best site and develop a new water point. The strategy has proved successful in Chad, where Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) manually drill boreholes to increase the coverage of improved drinking water supply in the country5.

Also looking into the potential of groundwater development in Africa is GroFutures. Part of the international research programme UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor), the project aims to understand how groundwater resources can be used sustainably to meet future demands.

Hygiene through clean water supply

Access to clean water, improved sanitation and good hygiene practices go hand in hand, but education and awareness are key to provide universal WASH access. By raising awareness of the importance of hygienic behaviour, in particular hand-washing with soap, the incidence of water-borne diseases and other illnesses would reduce significantly6.

Projects like Education Effect Africa look to improve sanitary conditions in schools by providing proper sanitary infrastructure, such as toilets and hand-washing facilities, and sanitary consumables, such as soap and toilet paper. They also facilitate the introduction of health education to both students and teachers to raise awareness about good hygiene habits.

Children benefit from basic hygiene and sanitation education at school, but they also play an important role in driving change. Encouraging children to demonstrate good hygiene in their homes and communities helps them lead the way for positive behavioural change7.

To meet SDG6 and provide adequate WASH for all, TRANSFORM funds and delivers technical expertise and capacity-building to social business models, behaviour change, social impact and last-mile distribution to meet the needs of underserved households in sub-Saharan Africa. TRANSFORM is particularly interested in digital solutions for mass behaviour change, seeking to unlock the potential of mobile phones to deliver positive impact at scale.

UNICEF, Gender and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): https://www.unicef.org/esaro/7310_Gender_and_WASH.html

UNICEF, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: https://www.unicef.org/wash/3942_4456.html

UNICEF,  The impact of manual drilling for the construction of sustainable water-points in Chad: https://www.unicef.org/wash/files/CHAD_Case_Study_Aug14_lowRes.pdf

Schools and Health, WASH: http://www.schoolsandhealth.org/wash

Practical Action, Health and hygiene education: https://practicalaction.org/health-and-hygiene-education-1