Onyinyechi Okechukwu, Communication and Campaign Officer of WaterAid Nigeria
writes on global efforts by the UK Charity to increase citizen’s access to clean water, improved hygiene and safe sanitation as a strategy of overcoming water borne diseases including Cholera.
Floods in Nigeria have sparked the worst outbreak of cholera in the country for 20 years, already killing 1,500 people with the death toll still rising.
Meanwhile, thousands have contracted cholera in Haiti, where the infrastructure is in ruins and over 1 million people remain homeless following January’s devastating earthquake; and just three months after floods hit Pakistan, people from affected areas are now faced with a deadly outbreak of the dangerous waterborne disease.
Cholera is caused by unsanitary conditions polluting the water, and is sadly not uncommon in areas recovering from emergency situations. Disasters such as floods and earthquakes often disrupt the water and sanitation systems, thereby increasing the likelihood of water becoming contaminated.
However, the life-threatening disease is not unique to disaster-struck areas. Cholera can spread rapidly in any area with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. For millions of people across the world, it is an everyday killer.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 – 5 million cases of cholera every year, and the disease is becomi
ng yet more prevalent due to increasing numbers of people living in unsanitary conditions.
Cholera affects both children and adults, causing diarrhoea and preventing the body from taking in water, leading to rap
id dehydration. Without proper treatment, it can kill within hours.
Up to 120,000 people worldwide die from cholera every year. These deaths are unnecessary, however, becaus
e the disease is both preventable and easily treatable.
Like many other waterborne diseases, the key to prevention is clean water and adequate sanitation facilities so that bacteria cannot re-enter water supplies. Hygiene education also plays a vital role by informing communities about the importance of hand washing with soap and the safe disposal of human waste.
WaterAid enables the world’s poorest people to gain access to clean water, improved hygiene and safe sanitation. By working with local partners, WaterAid helps communities set up and manage sustainable projects to reduce the risk of disease and form the first step in overcoming poverty.
While not a relief agency, WaterAid has helped in the aftermath of the Pakistan floods by supporting the delivery of safe drinking water to flood-affected communities through the provision of tankers and water purification tablets as well as conducting hygiene sessions and issuing hygiene kits.
In Nigeria, WaterAid continues its work to deliver water and sanitation solutions to the poorest people and has also rolled out an awareness-raising campaign.
Onyinyechi Okechukwu, Communication and Campaign Officer, said: “Through radio jingles and discussion programmes, we have sustained a public awareness campaign. The recent Global Handwashing Day was a great opportunity to further stress the importance of washing your hands with soap or ash as an effective and affordable way to prevent communicable diseases.”
Cholera as a major health threat is a thing of the past in developed countries such as the UK and the USA, and by working to uphold the universal right to water and sanitation, we can help put the threat of deadly outbreaks of the disease firmly in the history books.