Documenting a Common Understanding of the Sanitation Situation in Five African Countries

Kenyan students wash their hands. Photo credit: Reuters/Alamy

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably raised awareness of the water and sanitation crisis in many of Africa’s developing nations. The enormous sanitation and hygiene challenges and opportunities were evident as the pandemic hit Africa and will only grow each day it continues. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme estimates that less than a third of the continent’s population has a handwashing facility with soap and water within or adjacent to their home. It is also clear that significant disparities exist between functioning public sanitation facilities and services in rural versus urban areas in most African countries. And although having working facilities for washing hands with soap and water in health care centers, schools, and markets is fundamental to prevention and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, data on public sanitation facilities are incomplete. Only by addressing the incentives shaping the sanitation and hygiene sector and the institutions responsible for them will access to adequate and safe sanitation and hygiene services be achieved and sustained.

The stark reality of sanitation and hygiene in Africa combined with the COVID-19 crisis elevates the AfricaSan Movement’s importance. The current situation presents an even stronger argument for national leaders to back up their commitments made in the Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa to achieve universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services and eliminate open defecation by 2030. Through the lens of COVID-19, the case for sanitation and hygiene can be reframed not as a challenge to address but rather as a vital tool in fighting disease, securing human rights, and ensuring a more robust economic recovery after COVID-19. The AfricaSan Movement recognizes that a blend of political will, technical advancement, and knowledge exchange are needed to close the significant sanitation and hygiene gaps found in Africa’s developing nations. 

USAID has been a long-standing supporter of the AfricaSan Movement through its partnership with the African Ministers’ Council on Water. Through this partnership and assistance from the USAID Water for Africa through Leadership and Institutional Support (WALIS) Program, the first-ever Ngor Commitments Baseline Monitoring Report was published in February 2020. The report provided governments and sector stakeholders throughout Africa with a clear view of their progress toward fulfilling their Ngor commitments.   

Building on the Baseline Monitoring Report, WALIS developed sanitation profiles for five countries to document a common understanding of the sanitation situation and underscore critical areas where government leaders and donors could prioritize their efforts in close coordination with other sector stakeholders. Across every country, we found opportunities to close gaps in intragovernmental coordination, strengthen financing and private sector engagement, focus investments on significant growth areas and in public sanitation facilities, and increase the capacity and competency of sanitation and environmental health workers in the sector. The profiles have been shared with AMCOW and will be featured on its Knowledge Hub, which aims to make water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector knowledge easily accessible to AMCOW member states and encourages learning and information exchange among WASH stakeholders across the continent. 

With the support of USAID, we hope that these country sanitation profiles inform governments and sector stakeholders to plan and execute technically sound and politically savvy development programs that the AfricaSan Movement envisions to spur a more robust response to COVID-19 and beyond.

By Richard Rapier, Chief of Party for WALIS