Message from the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti
World Toilet Day, celebrated annually on 19 November, tackles the global sanitation crisis and achieves Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Water and sanitation for all by 2030.”
This year’s theme, “Sanitation and groundwater,” focuses on the impact of the sanitation crisis on groundwater.
Access to safely managed sanitation services, in combination with safely managed drinking water services and good hygiene practices, is fundamental to ensuring public health. It leads to fulfilling the SDG 6 targets and is essential for the realization of all other sustainable development goals.
Between 2000 and 2020, the population of Africa increased from 800 million to 1.3 billion. Some 290 million people gained access to at least basic sanitation services during that period. However, 779 million people still lack those basic services. Of these, 208 million still practice open defecation. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report on progress on drinking water and sanitation highlights the fact that only 29% of health care facilities in Africa have basic sanitation services.
According to the Joint Monitoring Programme 2020 data, 33% of households in Africa have basic sanitation services, with 21% using safely managed sanitation facilities. Two out of three people lack safely managed sanitation services. The same report shows that in Africa 27% of rural and 5% of urban populations still practice open defaecation. We must work on average four times faster to ensure everyone has a safe toilet by 2030. The connection between sanitation and groundwater cannot be overlooked.
In densely populated urban settings, pit latrines and septic tanks sited close to waterpoints that draw from shallow aquifers create potentially serious health risks. This has a profound impact on public health and environmental integrity. For women and girls, in particular, toilets at home, school and at work help them fulfil their potential and play their full role in society, especially during menstruation and pregnancy. The indignity, inconvenience, and danger of not having access to safely managed sanitation is a barrier to their full participation in society.
Safely managed and properly sited sanitation protects humans and groundwater from faecal waste pathogens. A safe and sustainable sanitation system begins with a toilet that effectively captures human waste in a safe, accessible, and dignified setting. Toilets drive improvements in health, gender equality, education, economics, and the environment.
The link between ground water and sanitation needs to be strengthened through inclusive policy and coordinated implementation. Thus, cooperation between policy makers, water resources, sanitation specialists and practitioners should be increased.
Through its normative role, WHO Regional Office for Africa supported two key monitoring interventions this year:
• Facilitating regional consultations for the 2022 WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report on community and institutional access to sanitation services.
• Conducting the GLAAS survey 2022 on delivery of drinking-water supply and sanitation services, and the status of hand hygiene activities, with a focus on governance, monitoring, finance, and human resources.
WHO Regional Office for Africa promoted the membership of African professionals in the WHO International Network of Drinking-water and Sanitation Regulators (REGNET). Twelve of the 42 current members of the REGNET are from the African Region. The network supports standard setting to ensure the safety of drinking water and quality of sanitation services. The regional office has collaborated in the elaboration of hygiene and sanitation strategies of the SADC Region and is fostering coordination and partnership in supporting Member States to implement the World Health Assembly resolution 72.7 towards universal access to WASH services in health care facilities.
Today as we celebrate World Toilet Day, let us make the “invisible visible”, knowing that groundwater is invisible but with visible impact everywhere. I call on policymakers to accelerate progress on sanitation and to ensure that the connection between sanitation and groundwater is reflected in legislation and related guidelines at national and sub-national levels.