Soap and water

March 26th, 2020

No tap, no soap – Unimaginable! Now more than ever having somewhere to wash hands is crucial.

What’s happening on the ground right now?

There are a large number of cases of Coronavirus confirmed in Zambia and Mozambique. Surrounding countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa, also rapidly rising number of cases.

The importance of hand washing is evident now, more than ever. As COVID-19 spreads, we are all doing what we can to tackle the virus, keep ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours safe and protect the vulnerable from fatality.

In Europe and much of the developed world we have strong health systems set up which will help stop the outbreak – if we don’t put them under too much strain. To help, we are all adapting our regular routines. We are isolating and distancing ourselves socially. We are washing our hands regularly.

Wash your hands before dinner, after going to the toilet, wash your hands with soap… We are taught to take these actions from a young age, because doing so can save lives.

But, where or how do you wash your hands hygienically if your house doesn’t have a tap? What if you don’t have any soap?

59% of people in rural Zambia and Mozambique live without a safe water source near home and are unable to wash their hands. That’s over 17 million people faced with barriers to even the most basic protective measures.

Families living in overcrowded, slum-like areas like George Compound in Zambia’s capital city Lusaka, where our DFID project is based, are particularly at risk. Keeping 2m away from each other isn’t an option. Many are malnourished or have underlying health problems. Public water points are shared by thousands, often closed for hours and can easily be contaminated.

Mr Phiti, a resident of Lima Ward, the poorest area in George Compound, told us: ‘’From yesterday at 16:00 hours until now at 12:00 hours the water tap has been closed. In the end we have no choice but to go where there is contaminated water.’’ 

What are we doing?

  • At every project we are carrying out vital messaging regarding how Coronavirus spreads, the symptoms and basic prevention measures. These include radio promotions, vehicle mounted loudhailers, small group training, posters and leaflets in key areas such as health centres and markets.
  • At every project we are demonstrating the correct handwashing techniques and providing safe water and handwashing devices.
  • At every project we are providing emergency supplies of soap, disinfectant and bleach to keep people safe.
  • For our local partners we are providing masks and hand sanitiser where available.
  • Providing extra data bundles for local partners and volunteers to work from home and keep the information flowing.

The government advice and actions from each country are:

  • Mozambique
    Immediate closure of all schools, colleges and universities for 30 days
    Quarantining of all arrivals into Mozambique for 14 days
    Cancelling of all international flights
    Ban on all gatherings of more than 50 (drastic reduction from previously announced 300)
  • Zambia
    All schools, colleges and universities closed
    No gatherings of more than 30 people
    Avoid unnecessary visits and work from home if possible
    Check points have been set up to monitor temperatures on roads and public places

What does it mean for our partners and projects?

Our in-country partners are skilled, knowledgable people who are passionate about helping their local communities and will support and aid government regulations to ensure everyone stays safe.

In response to the outbreak, Blessing Njopera, the Director of WATSAN Mozambique said: We feel we share the responsibility with the whole word to assist in the fight against this pandemic and to save lives in any ways we can.”

The teams are continuing to work on project activities to get as much done now whilst they can, including repairing pumps and promoting healthy hand washing practice, because now more than ever having somewhere to hygienically wash hands is crucial to keep communities protected.

All planned activities in schools will of course be postponed and hygiene and sanitation promotion, usually run with whole villages, will be run with smaller groups in line with government regulations.

‘Washing hands is important. We live a healthy life, because we have toilets and taps to wash our hands. There are less diseases and we don’t miss classes regularly.’

Pupil from supported school in Zambia, 2017

What can you do?

Now, more than ever we need to change our behaviours towards hygiene. And accessibility of basic facilities. No one’s health should be at risk because of where they live.

These are daunting times. But what’s amazing is that you have helped so many families protect themselves from disease every day and through unprecedented times such as these. And that is a very positive thought to keep with you right now.

If you want to continue helping our teams to support communities in rural Africa through this crisis:

  • £5 can buy 10 large soap bars suitable for 100 people
  • £10 can buy supplies so 10 families can wash their hands with clean water at home