The Interconnection Between Poor Sanitation and Drinking Water Quality in Sierra Leone

Poor sanitation conditions continue to devastate the quality of drinking water sources, impacting public health and economic development making the country vulnerable to a looming crisis. CEO of Sustainable Water, Environmental Sanitation, and Hygiene for All (SWESHA), Stonison Tamba Kortu, emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address the interconnection.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Human Rights Advocate for Sustainable Water, Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene for all (SWESHA), e said the detrimental effects of poor sanitation on drinking water quality in Sierra Leone cannot be overlooked.

According to him, access to clean and safe drinking water is a fundamental human right and addressing the challenges of poor sanitation is crucial to achieving that goal. Through comprehensive approaches, including improved sanitation infrastructure, behaviour change, integrated management systems, and monitoring, Sierra Leone can pave the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future with improved drinking water quality.

The right to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right that is often overlooked, despite its critical importance for well-being and dignity of individuals and communities. Maintaining access to clean drinking water is a critical challenge in Sierra Leone, exacerbated by the issue of poor sanitation. The lack of proper sanitation facilities, waste management systems, and hygienic practices significantly affects the quality of drinking water sources in the country.

Sierra Leone faces considerable challenges in ensuring adequate sanitation facilities for its population. A report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that only 16% of the population in Sierra Leone had access to improved sanitation facilities in 2020. The absence of proper toilets, sewage systems, and waste management infrastructure has severe implications for the overall hygiene and cleanliness of water sources. Sierra Leone has one of the highest under-5 death rates in the world due to waterborne diseases such as cholera, polio, malaria and diarrhea associated with poor sanitation.

In 2012, Sierra Leone experienced the worst cholera outbreak in its history with over 20,000 cases and 280 deaths caused by unsafe drinking water and in the International Rescue Committee (IRC) advert for consultant the IRC claimed that over 85% of drinking water from improved sources is contaminated with E-coli, demonstrating the adverse effect of our drinking water sources.

Impact on Drinking Water Quality:

Waterborne Diseases: Poor sanitation contributes to the contamination of water sources with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause waterborne diseases. Cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A are common waterborne illnesses prevalent in Sierra Leone due to the consumption of unsafe drinking water.

Threats to Human Health: Consuming water contaminated with faecal matter, pathogens, and harmful chemicals poses severe health risks and affects the overall well-being of the population, especially children. Waterborne diseases contribute to high mortality rates, stunted growth, and increased vulnerability to other infectious diseases.

Economic Implications: The burden of waterborne diseases places heavy strain on the healthcare system and negatively impacts productivity. Families often bear the financial burden of medical expenses, which further exacerbates poverty and limits socio-economic development.

Addressing the Challenges:

Improved Sanitation Infrastructure:  

Investing in adequate sanitation facilities, such as proper toilets and sewage systems, is crucial in reducing contamination of water sources. The Government, in collaboration with international organizations and non-profit groups, needs to prioritize the development of sanitation infrastructure to ensure safe disposal of human waste.

Behavioural Changes and Hygiene Practices: Promoting behavioural change and hygienic practices, including hand washing with clean water and soap, is essential to prevent contamination of water at the household level. Creating public awareness campaigns and training programs can empower individuals to adopt better hygiene practices.

Integrated Water and Sanitation Management: Integrating water and sanitation management systems, such as establishing effective sewage treatment plants and wastewater recycling, can reduce the discharge of untreated waste into water bodies, safeguarding drinking water sources.

Monitoring and Regulation: Strengthening water quality monitoring systems and enforcing regulations are indispensable for ensuring compliance with sanitation standards. Regular monitoring of water sources and enforcement of penalties for improper waste disposal can significantly improve drinking water quality.

Collaboration and Stakeholder Engagement:

Addressing the impact of poor sanitation on drinking water quality requires a collaborative effort among Government agencies, NGOs, community-based organizations, and individuals. Active participation and engagement from all stakeholders are crucial to prioritize sanitation infrastructure and foster community-led initiatives for sustainable change.


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