The past few months have been intense with the rapid global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Observing basic hygiene and sanitation in particular washing hands has been one of the key messages from the World Health Organisation to curb the spread of the pandemic. However, across the world, access to clean, safe water and sanitation remains a challenge for many.
The United Nations Development Programme estimates that about three billion people do not have access to safe, drinking water, 884 million lack access to an improved water source, 2.6 billion do not have access to improved sanitation while 1.1 billion still practise open defecation.
The number of countries experiencing water stress is increasing with each passing day, worsening these trends. And with the increasing temperatures due to the impacts of climate change, we may see more people lack access to clean water and sanitation.
By 2050, we may have at least one in four people suffer recurring water shortages.
In Kenya, close to 21 million people especially in rural and urban slums lack access to clean, safe water leaving them to rely on unimproved water sources. Besides, 35.5 million Kenyans use unimproved sanitation solutions.
With only a few water service providers able to provide constant water supply, the majority of Kenyans are left to buy from secondary vendors whose sources may be contaminated.
These facts and figures are unsettling.
As the world marked World Water Day on March 22, under the theme ‘Water and Climate Change’, it is a time for both the public and private sectors to reflect on how to scale up access to this crucial resource to ensure no one is left behind.
The Sustainable Development Goals, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, have set a clear path and target for us. Goal Six seeks to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all in the next 10 years.
With a growing global population, the demand for water remains high hence it is time for us to rethink our strategies and investments.
We can achieve this through investment insufficient infrastructure, protecting and restoring our water sources such as forests, protecting carbon sinks such as oceans and wetlands, adopting climate-smart agricultural techniques, and increasing the safe reuse of wastewater.
Studies show that for every dollar invested in water, there is a return of between $5 and $28.
We also need more public and private partnerships to ensure that water resources and the environment are protected. Why? Because the world is a system. The decisions that were made many years ago, are affecting us today, therefore, the policies we endorse today will also greatly impact future generations.
With careful planning, investment in capacity building, effective management of water catchment areas, improved efficiency of water management and consumption, we will be able to deliver both immediate and long-term benefits to Kenyans, Africa and indeed the entire world.
At Safaricom, we are keen to restore water ecosystems by investing in their rehabilitation. We have committed to growing five million trees to restore forests to regenerate rain and increase access to water.
The writer is chairman, Safaricom Foundation.