“Large inequalities exist between urban and rural communities when it comes to current access to safe water sources and sanitation,” said the UNICEF representative, Geoff Wiffin.
The release further stated that in Sierra Leone as a whole 63 per cent of households had access to safe drinking water sources, 13 per cent had access to improved sanitation facilities and only 22.9 per cent of primary schools had access to functional safe drinking water sources in their school premises.
Handwashing levels in pre-Ebola era, it observed, were less than 20 per cent, but all indications were that that had improved significantly during the Ebola response.
Meanwhile, more than 150,000 people would benefit from improved water, sanitation and hygiene under a new project launched by the government and UNICEF with funding from the British people.
The project would see the improvement of vital sanitation and hygiene practices - like use of improved toilets and hand washing with soap - in rural communities across eight target districts. In addition, a total of 504 water points would be constructed or rehabilitated in schools, communities and health facilities in a bid to reduce the numbers of deaths and illnesses such as cholera, caused by poor water and hygiene.
“Safe water and good hygiene are key to developing a healthy Sierra Leone,” said the minister of water resources, Momodu Maligie.
He added that: “This project will target vulnerable communities and bring about sustainable access to basic sanitation that has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
As part of the project, children in 180 primary schools in the priority areas would be provided with child friendly WASH facilities as per the ministry of education’s minimum standards.
British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Guy Warrington, said at the launch of the project that: “I am delighted to see the WASH programme in action. This underlines the UK Government’s commitment to help at least 60 million people globally get access to clean water and sanitation, over the next 5 years. Improving water and sanitation is also a Presidential Recovery Priority, I am pleased we are working on a common goal. We know that to address Sierra Leone’s development challenges effectively, we must work together to ensure everyone has access to clean water and good sanitation. I am delighted that UK Aid is able to support the Government of Sierra Leone’s efforts to improve WASH for rural communities as part of our £240 million pound commitment to the recovery.”
The UK government has been a committed partner of Sierra Leone for many years in the water sector and is investing £8.5 million ($10.4 million) in the project. UK Aid’s support to the previous 6-9 month post-Ebola recovery plan saw WASH services provided in 84 healthcare facilities and 170 schools, delivered by UNICEF.
Last year, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including hygiene for the first time in the global agenda. One of the SDG targets is to achieve ‘access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene’ by 2030. This underlines the importance of the project and the strides the government of Sierra Leone is making in the WASH sector, with UK Aid support.