As the world faces the coronavirus pandemic, the main message to stop the spread has been ‘wash your hands’. But how can you protect yourself if you don’t have access to clean water?
This is a serious problem for millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who have to walk long distances to collect clean water. Even those with taps in their homes can’t rely on any water coming out – more than two days can pass without a drop of water in the pipes due to poor and damaged water infrastructure across the country.
And when pandemics hit, this problem can become even more life-threatening.
Stefano knows this all too well. He leads the sanitation and hygiene team at a health centre in the DRC, and is responsible for making sure that the centre has enough water to run safely.
This has always been a big challenge. With the water supply so unreliable, Stefano and his team were forced to walk for miles to fetch litres of water every day. The centre only had a small water tank so only a limited amount of water could be stored.
‘It was hard,’ says Stefano. ‘If I had another option, I would have given up this job, but how could I feed my family and send my children to school?’
A deadly threat
When Ebola first hit in 2018, the water shortage became even more serious. A health centre cannot afford to run out of water, especially with a deadly virus spreading – the risk of contamination and the spread of disease is too high.
‘I spent sleepless nights when I remembered in my bed that there was no water in the hospital,’ Stephano says.
‘With Ebola, everyone was afraid of being infected. It became necessary to install water points everywhere in the hospital so that patients and medical staff could wash their hands regularly.’
A life-changing response
As part of Tearfund’s Ebola response, we supported health centres in the DRC. We provided water, hygiene and sanitation support, distributed protective equipment – such as gloves and face masks – and set up isolation units.
And, to Stefano’s relief, a big water tank – with a capacity of 3000 litres – was installed at his health centre. The tank is connected to the pipeline, so when the water does come it goes directly into the tank where it can be stored. This was life-changing for Stefano and all the staff and patients.
‘Today, the hand-washing stations are easily supplied with water, and bedding and medical materials are washed regularly,’ says Stephano.
‘I no longer wish to leave my job, we praise God and we are thankful to Tearfund. God answered my prayers.’
A new virus
Stefano’s centre is now much better equipped to tackle the new threat of coronavirus, but there are many more that need urgent assistance.
Now that coronavirus is spreading in the DRC, Tearfund and local partners are responding quickly to ensure that communities and health centres have access to the water that they urgently need.
‘Our biggest fear is contamination at the health facilities,’ says Hebdavi Muhindo, Country Director for Tearfund in DRC. ‘There are still people coming to the clinics with other diseases. Malaria is always with us; diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid... they're not going anywhere.
Coronavirus is an additional problem to everything else. Health facilities are not equipped or prepared to prevent coronavirus patients from infecting others.’
Quick access to water
Public health messages urging people to wash their hands frequently must be accompanied with support in accessing the water needed. When people have to walk for over two hours to get water, it can seem like a waste to use that precious water for hand-washing.
‘Quick water solutions are the only answer,’ explains Hebdavi. ‘We can share information and tell people to change their behaviour, but if they don’t have the water it does not work.’
Tearfund and our local partners are acting fast to help communities and health centres access the water they need. We are working hard to install water tanks, build and repair water sources – such as springs and boreholes – and set up hand-washing stations in public places across the DRC.
This work is critical in preventing the spread of coronavirus and will be life-changing for many more people like Stefano.
- Thank God that Stefano no longer needs to walk for hours to collect water, and that his health care centre now has access to the water they need to keep their patients and staff clean and safe. Pray that our local partners will be able to help even more health centres access the water they need.
- Pray for our staff and local partners in the DRC who are on the frontlines supporting the most vulnerable through these challenging times.
- Lift up all those who are unable to protect themselves from coronavirus because they have limited access to clean water and cleaning supplies. Ask for God’s protection over them and pray that our local partners will be able to reach them with the essentials they desperately need.