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Source: African Development Bank Group

This year’s Global Handwashing Day* theme – “Hand Hygiene for All” – takes on an added importance.

Handwashing, this simple, effective, and inexpensive practice, saves lives and prevents infectious diseases and epidemics such as COVID-19 from spreading. Unfortunately, this essential preventive measure is not available to everyone because only one in four Africans have access to a safe source of water.

Handwashing is the most cost-effective measure to limit COVID-19 contamination. Hands must be washed with soap and water to break the chain of transmission.

The gap in water supply in the continent has disastrous consequences for public health, especially for children: according to a 2019 UN estimate, poor sanitation and hygiene lead to repeated bouts of diarrheal diseases, which contribute to malnutrition, weaken the immune system, and make other diseases more likely.

COVID-19 has heightened the need for governments to invest more in responses to the pandemic by increasing funding for the water and sanitation sector, especially in the rural areas. We must correspondingly increase our pre-pandemic advocacy to get governments to redirect resources into water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and other essential issues like food security and nutrition.

We must also advocate among governments and our development partners for greater focus on economic, sector and analytical work in order to keep the investment momentum going around WASH issues.

The provision of water and sanitation services is one of the African Development Bank’s top priorities. Since 2015, Bank-financed WASH programs have provided 43 million Africans with better access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Amidst the current pandemic, our teams are mobilized to develop and implement new innovative projects to enable millions of Africans to have access to clean water, practice hand hygiene, and cope with COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.  

The Bank is not alone in this vital mission. We work closely with governments, other development institutions, regional organizations, the African Ministers’ Council on Water, and private sector institutions which are increasingly focusing their attention and investing in access to water and sanitation. The coordinated commitment of all these bodies boosts efforts to achieve, by 2030, the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, as well as an end to open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

The SDGs aim for universal access to safe and affordable WASH services by 2030. The SDGs raise the bar by aiming to close gaps in service quality, with a view to long-term sustainability. Achieving the SDGs requires behavioral changes that include making hand hygiene a routine activity.

On this Global Handwashing Day, I invite our partners, and in particular, African states and development partners, to increase their investment and advocacy efforts to make access to water and sanitation this decade’s top priority! This is an emergency for Africa, and a commitment that we made in 2015 by adopting the SDGs. The COVID-19 pandemic calls on us to achieve this goal.

We must intensify and accelerate advocacy efforts to spur greater action, equipment, and facilities. Hand hygiene must become as routine as having a meal.

Wambui Gichuri

*15 October 2020 is Global Handwashing Day. The Global Handwashing Partnership founded this observance in 2008 to help communities, advocates, allies and leaders spread the word about handwashing with soap.

MIL OSI Global Banks