Written By Dr. Samuel Ganyaglo - Water is life – no doubt, we all know this to be true and the current COVID19 pandemic brings it into sharp focus. Achieving universal access to safe drinking water is still a major challenge in most parts of the world especially Sub-Saharan Africa. The link between safe drinking water, human health and well being has been well established.
Similarly, hand washing has been prescribed as one of the best ways to protect oneself and the family from getting sick. Information about COVID 19 is still evolving and changing quickly while social media is currently doing more harm than good. The main prevention methods are; wearing hand gloves, face masks, social distancing and washing hands with soap under running water and use of alcohol based sanitizers. There is still a raging debate on the use of face mask and hand gloves but what has been consistent and undisputed in the prevention of COVID-19 is hand washing under running water for at least 20 seconds. For this reason, there is emphasis on hand washing under running water.
The big question is “How can the populace wash their hands frequently and keep themselves and homes clean without water”? Unfortunately, under the current circumstances and what all of us are obliged to do, there is no point in some of us being able to wash our hands and others unable to do so because we would all be at risk from those unable to wash their hands.
In Ghana, rural water supply as at 2018 is around 66.06%. This implies that 17.94% do not have access to potable water according to Community and Water Sanitation Agency report, 2018. Of the 66.06% majority have to travel within 500 metres radius to access water normally from boreholes fitted with hand pump. Since the last decade, access to safe water has been recognized as a human right issue.
It is therefore, unacceptable that so many people still have to choose between drinking and washing their hands because they don’t have enough water to do both. People in the water sector are very much aware of the challenges of bringing safe water to rural areas. There have been collaborations among institutions and several studies have been carried out on groundwater potential, recharge, quality and sustainability.
Undoubtedly, the successes chalked by the Ghana water sector have been largely fueled by strong donor support and well organized institutional and policy framework. What then are the barriers militating against sustainable provision of potable water to the rural communities? Some gray areas need to be addressed, for instance, who are responsible for funding rural water supply, maintenance and groundwater research?
Until the nexus between the government-donor agencies-communities-researchers and their responsibilities are clearly defined, the challenge of rural water supply will be with us for quite long.
However, the biggest gap is still the political will. It is hoped that when we get to the end of this pandemic, Ghana will take advantage of the national awareness of hand washing to provide water and hand washing facilities at various places such as lorry stations, schools, health facilities, markets and public toilets. The opportunity of exploring groundwater for the provision of potable water to both rural, urban and peri-urban areas have to be explored. The current pandemic has clearly demonstrated that lack of safe water and good hygiene behavior put individuals, their families and everyone they encounter at risk.
COVID 19 will certainly not be the last world pandemic and water will surely be needed in fighting future pandemics. An American President, W. Bush Junior in 2005, stated that, “it is vital our nation discuss and address the threat of pandemic flu now…if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare…. scientist and doctors cannot tell us where and when the next pandemic will strike or how severe it will be, but most agree at some point, we are likely to face another pandemic”. . Let’s get to work to provide water to our people so that when another pandemic comes, WATER will be there to our rescue and our lives may depend on it.
NEWS COMMENTARY CHOOSING BETWEEN HAND WASHING AND DRINKING WATER IN TIMES OF COVID 19: A DEADLY DILEMMA IN RURAL GHANA
BY DR. SAMUEL GANYAGLO, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, GHANA ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION.