Sanitation woes cost Africa 115 lives every hour

New UN study urges African countries to pay special attention to invest in sanitation systems for faecal sludge management

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 26 November 2020
A child sits beside an open sewer in Nairobi's Kibera slum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poor faecal sludge management and sanitation caused 115 deaths per hour from excreta-related diseases in Africa, according to a joint study by the UN Environment Programme and the International Water Management Institute, an international research organisation.

The report, titled Fecal sludge management in Africa: socio-economic aspects, human and environmental health implications, was released on World Toilet Day (November 19) this year.

The day is observed every year to raise awareness about the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation.

Faecal sludge is a mixture of human excreta, water and solid substances such as toilet paper or other cleansing materials as well as menstrual hygiene materials that are disposed of in pits, tanks or vaults of on-site sanitation systems.

Faecal sludge contains a high number of microorganisms originating from faeces, many of which are pathogenic. Direct and indirect contact with untreated faecal sludge poses a significant health risk.

Some 300 million of the two billion people lacking basic sanitation facilities globally live in Africa.  Access to sanitation facilities remains a challenge for urban populations in many sub-Saharan African cities, particularly for people living in poor peri-urban areas.

The report noted that poor faecal sludge management also contributed to huge economic losses in Africa. The analysis found that sustainably managing faecal sludge in Africa was hindered by a number of factors.

These included population growth and urbanisation, over-reliance on financial aid for construction of treatment plants, low revenue generation from users of treatment facilities, poor operation and maintenance and inefficient institutional arrangements for faecal sludge management.

The report said that some good practices along the sanitation value chain had been reported in a number of African countries.

The study urged African countries to pay special attention to invest in sanitation systems and low-cost biological methods for faecal sludge management.

It also said African countries should make direct investments to very poor households, in order to achieve the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water and sanitation for all by 2030.

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