New partnership providing handwashing facilities in disadvantaged communities

12th June 2020 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Business for South Africa’s (B4SA’s) Water Working Group and the National Business Initiative (NBI), in collaboration with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), have teamed up to deliver an emergency water response focused on supporting safe, effective handwashing.

With limited or no access to sufficient handwashing facilities and practical difficulties experienced in physical distancing, citizens in South Africa’s high-density informal settlements are facing a higher risk of Covid-19 transmissions.

The DWS previously identified about 2 000 communities with no water services to facilitate handwashing, which will assist in reducing the risk of infection, and has implemented a programme of action to fast-track the provision of rudimentary water systems.

Water, sanitation and hygiene, or ‘Wash’, are deemed the first line of defence against the spread of Covid-19.

In line with this, B4SA Water and the NBI established an emergency water response in March and are now providing handwashing facilities in prioritised informal settlements, hostels and social housing.

The DWS-aligned partnership’s water response focuses on the deployment of foot-operated handwashing facilities that can be implemented at scale at communal sites such as taxi ranks, schools, informal settlements and clinics, as well as affordable in-house handwashing units, comprising a 2 𝓵 plastic bottle with a self-closing valve and a soap dish holder.

The foot-operated handwashing facility, which has been designed to be tamperproof to prevent vandalism or theft, can be connected to a water tank, a communal tap or municipal water supply.

The small, portable and affordable in-house handwashing units are well suited to informal settlement conditions and can potentially be deployed in rural areas.

The partners started the deployment in May with the distribution of foot-operated handwashing facilities and plastic bottle handwashing units in Ekurhuleni, along with R1.2-million worth of food parcels and other donations, sponsored by NBI member AECI.

Currently, the units are being distributed, as part of the first phase, among vulnerable communities in identified hots pots within the Ekurhuleni municipality, including Daveyton, Germiston, Katlehong, Thokoza, Tembisa and the Angelo informal settlement, in Boksburg.

The partners distributed 5 000 of the 2 𝓵 plastic bottle in-home handwashing units across the city’s informal settlements, in collaboration with communities and city officials.

About 90 foot-operated, communal handwashing facilities, also sponsored by AECI, will be rolled out this month by the City of Ekurhuleni, working closely with the project team.

Ekurhuleni was selected as the first targeted region, given the predominance of several infection hot spots in the densely populated informal settlements located in the city.

There are over 160 000 people living in informal settlements in the Ekurhuleni municipality alone, explains NBI water lead Alex McNamara.

As part of a national initiative, the DWS is providing oversight, facilitating collaboration with its regional offices, as required, and, in particular, providing water tanks to support enhanced community water access in the region.

“The City of Ekurhuleni was central in testing the initial prototype and will now facilitate the installation process in strategic sites across the municipality’s informal settlement areas,” adds B4SA Covid-19 water and sanitation lead Jane Malony.

The initiative has the potential to be deployed nationally in response to curbing the spread of Covid-19, with early-stage discussions under way for potential expansion into the Western Cape.

The NBI and B4SA are also working closely with the DWS on improved groundwater development in Limpopo, focusing on areas where there is sufficient groundwater for the installation or refurbishment of boreholes, in support of community water access.

The organisations highlight the urgent need for access to safe handwashing facilities across the country.

The B4SA and the NBI continue to appeal for companies with applicable technology or that have identified communities they wish to support to come forward and help make a difference in flattening the Covid-19 curve.

Every R187 000 donation provides 1 000 impoverished households with hygienic water access and a handwashing facility.

All donations are managed by the NBI under a separate water emergency fund and are entitled to a Section 18A tax deduction.

“AECI is the main sponsor at present. We have, however, just signed an agreement with Astron Energy to expand the project, starting with scaling up the work in Ekurhuleni,” they conclude.