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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Unicef, partners look to ensure water safety for vulnerable Gambians

By Olimatou Coker

Unicef Gambia last Tuesday donated emergency washing materials to the Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS).

The items are for contingency pre-positioning to GRCS emergency response services in The Gambia.

Speaking at the handing over event at the GRCS head office in Kanifing, Chabai Saidy, director, Department of Water Resources (DWR), said the donation will go a long way to improving the lives of vulnerable children and women in The Gambia.

Director Saidy explained that under the Government of The Gambia and Unicef Country Programe of Cooperation, DWR is one of the partners that implements programmes and activities in terms of chlorination of water points including the training of communities on the operation and maintenance of boreholes in schools and health facilities.

“DWR also implemented the programmes and activities for the construction and rehabilitation of water supply systems and sanitation facilities for schools and health facilities across the five administrative regions of the country. During the year 2019 to 2021, the programme has constructed and rehabilitated more than 30 water supply systems for schools and health facilitates, and constructed more than 20 sanitary facilities for schools and health facilities across the five administrative regions of the country,” director Saidy stated.

Lamin Dampha, permanent secretarty, Ministry of Health, said the main objectives of wash programmes in disasters is to reduce the transmission of faeco-oral diseases and exposure to disease-bearing vectors through the promotion of good hygiene practices, provision of safe drinking water, reduction of environmental health risks and conditions to enable people live in good health, dignity, comfort and security.

Mr Dampha said everyone must endeavour to strengthen hygiene promotion and to use other’s knowledge, practices and resources supported by sound health promotion techniques.

“Effective hygiene promotion is based on dialogue and partnership with affected communities,” Mr Dampha emphasised.

He thanked Unicef for the “laudable initiative” and assured them of government’s “commitment” for a continuous partnership particularly on activities that affect women and children.

Gordon Jonathan Lewis, the Unicef county rep, said: “These items were secured with funding from the government of Denmark as part of the Covid-19 response support in The Gambia. Therefore, our profound gratitude to the people and government of Denmark for this support which goes a long way to strengthen national capacities to deliver lifesaving interventions for the children of The Gambia”.

He said the unavailability of a safe water supply system in health facilities makes childbirth unsafe, exposing mother, child, and even health service providers to infections. “A major cause of death among newborns (0-28-day-old in The Gambia is sepsis, arising from infections after birth. Therefore, improving the availability of running water in health facilities will reduce infections and improve neonatal survival rates in The Gambia.”

According to Mr Lewis, climate change and rapid environmental degradation are threats to ensuring water safety especially in communities practising open defecation.

“Efforts to address public health emergencies are therefore imperative for saving lives and ensuring long-term development,” said Lewis.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that emergencies are often characterised by limited access to adequate safe water, sanitation, and food as well as by disruptions in health and nutrition services thereby constraining the ability to protect, promote and support optimal infant and young child feeding.

“WASH, nutrition, and public health interventions are crucial to reduce the risks and impact of disasters on the most vulnerable groups such as children, women, those with different abilities, and the elderly,” Mr Lewis said.

He said the provision of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities and supplies before, during, and after emergencies contribute greatly to the reduction of public health risks such as diarrhea, cholera, and Covid-19 and other outbreaks.

Turning to the partnership between his office and the GRCS, he said it has been time-tested, especially in the provision of support to emergency affected populations, with the support to GRCS to preposition critical WASH supplies during the 2016 Ebola outbreak. These supplies were later used for windstorm emergency-affected people in Central River Region and Upper River Region in 2020 and more recently for displaced households in Sanyang.

He reminded that in 2020, WASH supplies included 420 buckets, 420 sprayers, 420 waste bags, 840 surgical masks, 420 surgical gowns, and 1,680 chlorine, 2,520 packets of soap were distributed to 167 health centres and clinics, including general hospitals across the country.”

He expressed his appreciation of the GRCS management and staff, praising their professionalism, diligence and hard work especially in the current pandemic.

Alasan Senghore, secretary general, GRCS, said the beginning of the rainy season has brought many humanitarian challenges, particularly in the rural areas.

He said issues like water supply, sanitation and hygiene continue to persist in communities.

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