The need for water conservation and hygiene awareness in rural communities

By Nakampe Modike (Pr.Sci.Nat.)

Founding Member: African Hands for Youth (NPO)

Drinking clean water is necessary to remain healthy. But clean water is also necessary for all aspects of hygiene. Safe water supplies and sanitation are vital for protecting the environment, improving health and alleviating poverty. Improvements in one or more components of water supply and sanitation, for example quality, quantity or hygiene education, can substantially reduce the number of cases of water and sanitation related diseases.

Research actually shows that as the availability of water increases, the standards of hygiene are improved and incidents of water and sanitation related diseases decrease. Hygiene awareness and education in the proper use of water, is necessary for correct hygiene practises and methods of sanitation as it has a strong influence upon the health of communities. Most water related diseases are caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated by human excreta. Diarrhea is generally the number one cause of infectious illness resulting from unsafe hygiene, contamination of clean water or poor sanitation.

In many developing countries, operation and maintenance (O&M;) of small, community water-supply and sanitation systems has been neglected, This has led to some alarming statistics, with an estimated 30%–60% of existing rural water-supply systems inoperative at any given time, and more than 2 billion people worldwide lacking access to any type of improved sanitation (WHO, 2003) Inadequate water supply and sanitation are largely responsible for the high levels of water borne diseases in Southern Africa, where the majority of people live in rural areas and do not have appropriate sanitation systems (Hirji, 2002).

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that enshrines the basic right to sufficient water in its Constitution, stating that “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water”. However, much remains to be done to fulfil that right.

After the end of Apartheid South Africa’s newly elected government inherited huge services backlogs with respect to access to water supply and sanitation. According to one source, about 15 million people were without safe water supply and over 20 million without adequate sanitation services in 1990. The share of the population with access to an improved water source increased from 83% in 1990 to 91% in 2010.

Almost 15 million people gained access during that period. However, this remains short of expectations: In his State of the Union address in May 2004 President Thabo Mbeki had promised “all households will have running water within five years”. Despite substantial progress, this goal was not fully achieved. In some rural areas, women spend up to one-third of their time fetching water from streams and wells. They are also responsible for using it to cook meals, wash laundry and bathe children.

Notably, is the fact that in most rural communities, water quality comes second to its quantity, and this is mainly due to the limited water resources in these areas. A further compounding factor is the fact that water in rural areas often receives only partial or minimal treatment, while isolated communities and villages without access to electricity or other amenities often use water directly from rivers or streams without treatment. In the latter cases, both water quantity and quality may be affected by seasonal droughts or floods which might results in water born disease (Department of Health, 2009).

To prevent such illnesses, it is not sufficient just to construct improved water supply and sanitation facilities in rural communities. The facilities must be operated, maintained and used continuously by everybody in a safe way. This requires that both the community and municipality officials are keen to have safe, reliable, and accessible water and sanitation services at all times. Community awareness is essential in this process as it promotes the correct and safe use of facilities and services.

In response to these challenges, there’s a great need to educate communities in rural areas especially in schools youth about water conservation and hygiene, while encouraging them to choose a career within the water sector. Profession such as Water Engineers, process controller, Artisans and water resources Scientist are less known/common in rural areas but yet very critical in ensuring that we have safe and reliable drinking water in our communities

In my opinion these initiatives can easily be achieved by improving access to water and sanitation information and educational resources especially to assist with awareness and career guidance in rural areas which can be used to educate the youth in schools with the hope that they will carry the message to their homes, communities and be inspired to become future water leaders.

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