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.