Since March 14 when Covid-19 was first detected in Rwanda, different government authorities have taken their stance to protect and contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. The government has taken strict measures to prevent the prevalence of the pandemic but constraints such as lack of clean water, still surface in the Rwandan community.
In the recent weekly Radio and TV Talk show “Urubuga rw’Itangazamakuru” which brought different institutions and authorities in charge of hygiene and sanitation around the debating table, access-to-water related issues occupied the ¾ of the show.
All across the country, water scarcity, during the COVID-19 battle, has been one of the major hindrances in as far as implementation of preventive measures, namely staying home, social distancing and washing hands, is concerned.
Citizens who have participated in the Talk Show revealed how they are discomforted by limited or scarce clean water in their residential areas.
“We are asked to stay home when we don’t have clean water at home, now how can you stay at home instead of going out in search of water? Concerned authorities should be helping us and provide water close to our homes otherwise they (restrictions) cannot be effective”, yelled out a citizen on the phone as the show went on.
“It is difficult to protect ourselves at the well (source of water); we are normally about 20 people and we confront each other in order to fetch earlier and get home quickly”, added another citizen, resident of Muhoza sector in Musanze district.
Mukamunana Alphonsine, an expert in hygiene and sanitation, who represented the Ministry of Health in the Talk show, told us that despite big efforts to sensitize people on hand washing practice to strategically contain the spread of COVID-19; the awareness creation would bear no fruits, if citizens don’t have clean water.
She however added that Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) is doing its best to distribute water all over the country
“In fact, there is a significant change in regard to hand washing, there are numerous hand washing facilities in places like markets and other public places and big buildings”, she said.
However, there has been an outcry of empty water tanks for such facilities, which does not allow people to practice the preventive measures. For some other tanks might have water, but no soap provided.
One of the callers said “There are places which prefer to use hand sanitizers but they hide them when there is no one to monitor the practice, in order to avoid over-usage as such products are expensive. The problem is vitalized by dreadful mindsets of some shop owners, who say they can’t afford enough water and soaps to wash hands of all passers-by”.
During the show, Sheikh Hassan Bahame, The Director General in Ministry of Local Government, argued shop owners to change their minds and refrain from endangering public health safety.
“Why do shop owners feel the burden to wash all their customers when they are meant to bring them money? If four or five people enter without washing their hands, how safe are you when you are the shopkeeper?” he asked.
Bahame has requested the change of such mindsets, insisting the price of their safety and that of their clients is much higher than that of water and soaps.
Maurice Kwizera, Country Director of Water Aid, an International Non-Governmental Organization specializing in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), reiterated that some parts of the country do not have access to clean water, which implies that “asking people to regularly wash their hands without clean water is not enough in itself”.
He insisted that people are still queuing at water sources points especially in rural and slums areas, thus pausing a serious threat to proper social distancing. “We have seen marketplaces and health care facilities without connection to piped water. These kinds of institutions provide essential services and cannot close during the lockdown. They rely on fetching water or on harvested rain water. When water is not enough, proper and frequent hand washing is not practiced as required, he insisted.
Water Aid Country Director in Rwanda has requested government and partners to consider supporting vulnerable households in rural and slums to access clean and enough water among other emergent needs especially within this complex period of Covid-19 pandemic. “One of the supports to consider is also increasing their capacity to store water by distributing easy to maintain water tanks (1-2 cubic meters) to avoid relying on a 20-litre jerrycan that most poor households use to fetch water.
WASAC can also consider reducing water prices for that category of the population to help poor families afford water expenses”, he noted.
On this, WASAC said it has already started implementing different strategies that will help citizens to cope with rough consequences of Covid-19 restrictions. Among them is continuous distribution of water to households. They put on hold the practice of disconnecting the defaulters during this period of the COVID19 pandemic.
Methode Rutangungira, Director of water distribution at WASAC, clarified however that it would be seriously tougher to halt water payment, insisting that the payments are not even the reflective costs of water expenses in its supply chain.
“The money paid isn’t the cost of water. It’s just for service and purchases of essential materials to be used in order to supply clean water. If we stop collecting the money, it would be very hard for us to find those materials”, Methode explained
Water Aid alluded to the importance of nation-wide awareness on the efficient usage of water avoiding wastage to ensure most remote areas get water as well. They are said to have already embarked on this campaign, focusing mainly on collaborating with the media, which is a vital channel of communication amid the Covid-19 preventive measures.