Promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in water systems across Africa


Promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in water systems across Africa


The International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health define disability as a limitation in a person’s functional domain resulting from the interplay of intrinsic capacity, environmental factors, and personal factors. Disabilities can be permanent or temporary, present from birth or acquired later in life, and can be visible or invisible.


Numerous factors contribute to disability, including malnutrition, diseases, environmental hazards, accidents, and conflicts. The number of people with disabilities continues to rise, posing challenges for individuals, especially in developing countries, when it comes to accessing water, sanitation, and hygiene.


Physical, institutional, social, and attitudinal barriers hinder their access, particularly those with severe disabilities. Moreover, individuals with disabilities in many countries are less likely to have access to improved water and sanitation facilities, as well as proper hygiene practices within their dwellings.


According to United Nations statistics, there are currently over 600 million persons with disabilities worldwide, with 400 million residing in developing countries and 80 million in Africa. The World Health Organization indicates that approximately 40% of Africa’s population comprises individuals with disabilities, including 10-15% of school-age children, translating to around 300 million people with disabilities in Africa.


In major African cities such as Accra, Lagos, and Lusaka, one can observe hundreds of people with disabilities begging for assistance by the roadside. The UN warns that aging populations, malnutrition, conflicts, and diseases are expected to further increase the number of disabled individuals shortly.


Unfortunately, the vast majority of Africans with disabilities face exclusion from education and employment opportunities, perpetuating their status as the most impoverished. Disabled individuals’ school enrollment is estimated to be no higher than 5-10%, and as many as 70-80% of working-age people with disabilities remain unemployed.


The social stigma associated with disability results in marginalization and isolation, often leading to begging as the sole means of survival.


The urgent need for disability inclusion in water systems is apparent. Disability does not mark the end of life, and it is crucial to prioritize the inclusion of disabled individuals, especially in Africa. Accessible water and sanitation infrastructure play a vital role in enabling education, employment, and community participation for individuals across the spectrum of disability.


Creating inclusive infrastructure not only reflects the right thing to do but also makes economic sense.  When people with disabilities can access water systems, it not only grants them a sense of freedom but also alleviates the burden on caregivers who have put their lives on hold to assist them. it is imperative to ensure that disabled individuals are not treated as an afterthought in water systems but are actively included, eliminating the need for constant assistance-seeking.


By doing so, they can avoid marginalization and contribute their talents and abilities to society, especially in the face of climate change.


SDG 6 plays a crucial role in empowering individuals with disabilities by promoting universal access to water and sanitation for health (WASH). It emphasizes the importance of ensuring that “no one is left behind” and highlights the need for disability-inclusive and disability-accessible WASH programs.


An example of this inclusive approach can be seen in Nigeria’s WASH program in Zamfara State at Bungudu Primary School, where accessible latrines and hand-washing stations were built to accommodate children with disabilities.


This initiative has not only improved sanitation but also eliminated barriers that previously hindered the accessibility of water and sanitation facilities for these children.


Similarly, in Madibunhana, central Mozambique, World Vision International has facilitated access to water for persons with disabilities through the rehabilitation and modernization of boreholes with incorporated ramps.


This initiative has allowed 220 households to independently access adequate water. Additionally, 70 inclusive wells and three water systems have been established to deliver clean and safe water to communities, along with material subsidies for the construction of inclusive latrines.


However, progress in achieving disability inclusion in water systems is not uniform across African countries. Some countries are yet to include persons with disabilities in their water systems, indicating the need for continued efforts and interventions in the water sector to ensure full and equal inclusion.


To ensure disability inclusion in Africa’s water systems, it is crucial to adhere to the principle ofNothing about us without us.” This principle emphasizes the active participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes regarding policies and programs that directly affect them.


Governments, development agencies, and community-based organizations responsible for water resources and delivery should develop inclusive policies and regulatory frameworks, along with accessibility standards, guidelines, specifications, and audits. This will facilitate effective coordination and partnerships to create inclusive water systems and infrastructure.


Furthermore, persons with disabilities should be involved in water resource management, stakeholder consultations, and outreach activities. Empowering individuals with disabilities to assume leadership and management positions at the community, local, and national levels will foster innovative water solutions.


In addition to providing accessible amenities and infrastructure, it is essential to establish sufficient water storage facilities to ensure water security and effectively manage hydrological variability, particularly for persons with disabilities. With rising water demand and the impact of climate change on water cycles in Africa, the need for adequate storage has become increasingly urgent.


Accessible water systems not only increase water availability for persons with disabilities but also support ancillary services such as hydropower and navigation through improved regulation of water flow and controls.


The World Bank recommends allocating adequate financial and physical resources to ensure fair and equal access to affordable water services and programs for persons with disabilities. These resources can encompass communal services like irrigation facilities and boreholes, public water taps, and public latrines.


Innovative fee structures, such as sliding-scale fees, loans, or grants to individuals or communities, can provide financial assistance or relief. It is essential to empower persons with disabilities to innovate and develop their own WASH solutions.


In conclusion, access to clean and safe water is a fundamental human right. However, millions of people in Africa, particularly those with disabilities, face significant challenges in accessing adequate water and sanitation facilities.


Promoting disability inclusion in water systems is crucial to ensure that every individual, regardless of their abilities, can enjoy their right to water and sanitation.

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