By Samuel Langat
The consideration for ‘special groups’ of people in improving sanitation in Africa continues to receive minimal attention even as different stakeholders elevate efforts to ensure that there is better access to sanitation facilities that include toilets and handwashing stations.
While World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 54% of the global population (4.2 billion people) are using standard sanitation services, over 1.7 billion people still do not have basic sanitation services, such as private toilets or latrines. In fact, 494 million people still defecate in the open mainly in street gutters, behind bushes, or into open bodies of water. Sadly, people with special needs such as the elderly, women and girls and people living with disabilities are among those that suffer the plight of poor sanitation.
The United Nations set aside dates in October to recognize the needs of girls and the elderly each year as the world observes The International Day of the Girl Child and the International Day of the Older Persons. Yet, debates on sanitation issues bedevilling this group are yet to receive the weight they deserve.
Generally, poor sanitation reduces human well-being, and social and economic development due to impacts such as anxiety, risk of sexual assault, and lost opportunities for education and work.
For women and girls, poor sanitation is a major hurdle in going about daily responsibilities and performing satisfactorily both at work and school.
Difficulties in accessing safe water and hygiene for women can increase the risk of infections and death for infants and mothers by up to 25%. Sanitation for women, safe water access, and improved hygiene saves their lives and the lives of their infants, reducing maternal and infant deaths drastically.
For younger women and girls in schools, poor sanitation has on numerous occasions resulted in absenteeism from school during menstruation and the spread of disease in classrooms. This, in critical cases, has meant an end to education simply because some schools lack basic female hygiene and sanitation resources.
Women all over the world without access to basic sanitation and safe water struggle to keep themselves clean, especially during menstruation.
Leaving the issue of gender, a recent UN report on aging population in Africa shows that Africa’s elderly population is expected to grow faster than in any other region in the world. The continent’s population aged 60 and over is projected to increase more than threefold from 69 to 225 million by 2050. This means that soon, the continent will need to pay even more attention to the needs of this group, key among them sanitation.
As we get older, our immune systems grow weaker, and we become more vulnerable to diseases caused by poor-quality water and sanitation practices.
In Africa, where a large section of the population is in informal employment, access to better sanitation facilities is directly affected by the amount of cash flow. Without access to pension funds upon retirement, the elderly who worked in informal sectors are easily left to suffer the consequences of poor hygiene.
Solutions to the sanitation needs of special groups do not need to be expensive, they however do need to be innovative. An example would be the SATO toilet pan which uses a mechanical water seal to close off pit latrines form open air. This reduces disease transmission from flying insects that come into contact with human waste. It also eliminates the unsightly appearance and odours from open pit latrines and reduces the volume of water needed to flush since it only needs as little as 200ml of water, providing a better toilet experience for women and girls. For older persons, SATO has innovated the SATO stool, which comes with increased level of comfort for people in this group especially those with weakened bodies that can’t handle the discomfort that comes with the design of the traditional pit latrine.
In November, the world celebrated the World Toilet Day, spotlighting the need to pose and pay special focus to the sanitation needs of special groups within our communities. By being cognisant of these needs, then we will be on the right path towards effectively tackling the global sanitation crisis and edge closer to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), which promises sanitation for all by 2030
With growing technology and increased interest in innovation for different sectors, we have no excuse to continue underplaying the sanitation needs of special groups within our communities. Technology has improved population segmentation and today, we can easily access data on special groups and map them out in terms of age groups, gender and needs. While resources are still limited, through innovation, we can find affordable solutions to needs that continue to dehumanise crucial groups in our society.
The author is the leader of Lixil in Africa (SATO Africa)