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 haven’t yet vanished as the problem of clean water, a vital ingredient in the fight against the pandemic, still surfaces regularly among Rwandans.
Maurice Kwizera ,Country Director Water Aid Rwanda
In recent Radio and TV Talk show “Urubuga rw’Itangazamakuru”which had incorporated different institutions and authorities in charge of hygiene and sanitation, water accessibility problems took more than 70 percent of the show’s timeline.
Citizens from different corners of the country have demonstrated that lack of water in their respective residential areas is one of the biggest hindrances against the implementation of government’s restrictions like staying home, social distancing and washing hands – restrictions that are recommended in a bid to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Citizens who have participated in the Talk show revealed how they are discomforted by limited or lack of clean water in their residential areas.
One of them said “They ask us to stay home whereas we don’t have clean water at home, now how can you stay at home instead of going out in search of water? They should be helping us and provide water to our homes otherwise they (restrictions) can’t work”.
Another citizen, resident of Muhoza sector in Musanze district added “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”.
Mukamunana Alphonsine, an expert in hygiene and sanitation, who represented the Ministry of Health in the Talk show, has said ” despite big effort to decentralize hand washing habits to strategically contain the spread of Covid-19; it would come to nothing if citizens don’t have clean water.”
She however added that they regularly argue Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) to distribute water all of over the country in accordance manners.
“In fact, there is a significant change in regard to washing hands habit, there are numerous water tanks to help us wash hands in places like markets and other big venues”, she said.
However, there has been an outcry of empty water tanks that disable people to wash their hands as due. There are also some water tanks with no soaps while they are meant to complement each other.
One of the callers said “There are places which prefer to use sanitizers but they hide them in order to avoid over-usage of such expensive products. 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”.
Sheikh Hassan Bahame, The Director General in Ministry of Local Governance, has argued shop owners to change their minds and refrain from endangering public health safety.“Why do shop owners feel the burden to wash all passers-by while the shoppers who enter their shops bring them money? If four or five people enter without washing their hands, as a seller who handles them, how secured is your safety?” he asked.
Miss Alphonsine Mukamunana from the Ministry of Health with Sheikh Hassan Bahame from the Ministry of Local Government talking about the role of Clean water, Hygiene and sanitation in preventing COVID19
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 organization specializing in hygiene and sanitation, has reiterated that some parts of the country do not have access to clear water, which implies that “to ask people to regularly wash their hands without clean water is difficult”.
He insisted that people are still quarreling for water sources across the country or lining long lines waiting for their turns to fetch.“We have seen people who enter markets but do not wash themselves, there are even health facilities that don’t have access to clean water”, he said.
Water Aid Boss in Rwanda has requested government to help the vulnerable households to access clean water especially within this complex period of COVID-19 pandemic.“WASAC should consider shrinking water bill prices in order to help poor families to afford water expenses”, he noted.
However, WASAC rejected the proposal, saying 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’ pipes.
Methode Rutangungira, Director of water distribution at WASAC, has clarified that it would be seriously tougher to halt water payment, insisting the payments aren’t even the reflective costs of water expenses in its supply chain.
He said “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 to find those materials”.
Water Aid has insisted on the importance of nation-wide advocacy on the proper usage of water to get maximum usage. They said to have already embarked on this campaign, focusing mainly on collaborating with media, which is a vital part of communication amid the COVID-29 restrictive measures that have trapped citizens in their respective homes.