WATER WEEK – Nearly 9000 cases of cholera, 145 of which were fatal, were recorded in the former province of Katanga during 2016. A lack of access to drinking water and poor storage of the same, as well as ignorance about good hygiene practices, are the main causes of this illness which even today can kill.
A campaign was organised from 1st – 30th April 2017 by the Katanga water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster, with a view to preventing the spread of cholera in Haut-Katanga province in 2017. Thanks to this campaign, more than 70,000 people from the town of Lubumbashi and the surrounding area were made aware of the importance of consuming drinking or treated water.
The decision was made on the eve of the celebration of World Water Day on the 22nd March 2017, to run this large-scale campaign in order to raise awareness amongst the populations of the Kampemba and Mumbunda health zones – the areas worst affected by the cholera epidemic during 2016 – of the risks posed by consuming non-drinkable water.
Widespread, active engagement
“We wanted to mark the celebration of World Water Day in Lubumbashi in a special way, by raising awareness across the whole community”, emphasised Richard Manda, Head of Emergencies at the hygiene office of the provincial health division. This initiative was realised with contributions from every member of the WASH cluster: with a subscription of 50 American dollars (USD) per member and the support of certain water treatment companies in Lubumbashi, more than 5,000 USD was collected. These funds served to finance the awareness-raising agents, the organisation of the ceremony to celebrate World Water Day 2017 and the launch of the “Let’s all drink clean water” information campaign.
What is more, UNICEF lent its technical expertise by developing the skills of the awareness-raising agents and by providing tools such as image boxes, posters, leaflets and reporting and monitoring forms. Besides raising awareness about hygiene measures, the campaign also introduced the benefits of chlorination. Chlorinated products were distributed in areas where the water is particularly fetid. Sonyi, a representative of ADAM – a local NGO which is a member of the WASH cluster – hopes that the community will continue to put into practice for as long as possible the knowledge that has been shared.
“Straight off, 50USD didn’t seem significant […] but by pooling our efforts, we were able to reach a large number of people.” Sonyi
An awareness-raising marathon to fight cholera
Image boxes and megaphones in hand, dressed in green gilets marked ‘Community representative’, around thirty awareness-raising and mobilising agents went from house to house during thirty days of targeted campaigning in order to spread awareness amongst the population and demonstrate how to maintain good hygiene and clean water. We crossed paths with Perpétue Mahanda after a full morning of work, data collection sheet in hand, reporting to her supervisors in Munua health centre.
“I took the message to twenty households today, which comprised 109 people: 20 men, 34 women and 55 young people.” Like Perpétue, many other community representatives have made families aware of the need to drink water which is either treated or from a clean source, and of steps to promote hygiene, by visiting schools, churches and markets.
A campaign which is bearing fruit
The chief doctor of Kampemba zone would like such initiatives to be organised on a regular basis: “I am delighted with this awareness-raising campaign as it is preventative. All our previous campaigns have been conducted at the height of an epidemic. This time, at least, we think that it will make an effective contribution to reducing risk”.
And indeed no cases of cholera have been recorded in the two targeted health zones since March 2017. Although this result cannot be attributed solely to the awareness-raising campaign, there is no doubt that it made a significant contribution. Thanks to the goodwill and hard work of these brave volunteers, the local population – notably the children – have not since been exposed to the risks of cholera.
As is inscribed in the Convention relating to the rights of the child, all children have the right to access to clean water and basic sanitation. The ultimate goal of UNICEF’s work in the WASH sector is to ensure that all children can benefit from the realisation of this right, and that no child should fall by the wayside.
Translated from French by Julia Bayton
Nickey Mputu est Chargée de communication, plaidoyer et communication pour le développement (C4D) pour le programme Eau, hygiène et assainissement du bureau de Zone Sud de l'UNICEF RDC, basé à Lubumbashi.
Nickey Mputu is Communication, Advocacy and Communication for Development (C4D) Officer for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme of UNICEF DRC's Southern zone office, based in Lubumbashi.
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