COVID-19: The situation in Africa is worse than it seems

Millions across Africa spend six hours each day collecting contaminated water. The lack of access to water and hygiene puts these communities at the greatest risk, if COVID-19 reaches their villages.

Sivan Ya'air (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sivan Ya'air
(photo credit: Courtesy)

COVID-19 has put one-third of the world’s population on lockdown, but what happens when the pandemic reaches developing nations and rural African villages whose health systems and basic infrastructure are insufficient, even without a global pandemic? 

How will they prevent the spread of the virus by washing their hands with clean water and soap, when they have no access to either?
Millions across Africa spend an average of six hours each day collecting contaminated water. The lack of access to clean water and basic hygiene puts these communities at the greatest risk, if COVID-19 reaches their villages. 
I have been working in Africa for over 20 years and I have never felt more concerned than I feel today for the survival of millions of people across Africa. Their situation is dire. They will have no way to fight the Coronavirus pandemic once it reaches their villages. This is due to the simple fact that they have no access to clean water. Not in their villages and not in their medical centers. 
But the situation in Africa is not hopeless – there is plenty of clean water beneath their feet in the aquifer. All that is lacking is the energy required to pump the water up to the ground. By installing just a few solar panels, it is possible to power a solar water pump to pump clean water up and distribute it to thousands of people throughout the villages. The solution can be simple. Innovation: Africa has brought clean water and light to over 1.8 million people across 10 African countries, using Israeli solar and water technologies, but there are still over 450 million people in Africa relying on contaminated open sources of water for drinking, cooking and washing.  
As this global pandemic fast approaches the developing world, I fear for the already vulnerable communities across Africa. Quarantining these villages and encouraging communities to increase their hygiene is close to impossible. 
On March 18, there were 577 recorded COVID-19 cases and over 10 confirmed deaths related to the virus in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. One week later the number of cases across Africa was over 2,000, with 700 cases in South Africa alone. South Africa declared a state of emergency, and began a 21-day lockdown on March 26th. People in urban and rural areas of many African countries live in conditions that make practicing social distancing and the WHO’s recommended hygiene precautions unviable. 
It is not only an issue of water. Only 34 percent of medical centers across rural Africa have access to energy. Without access to energy, the medical centers do not have proper medical-related equipment, light to work at night, or refrigeration for medicines and vaccines. 
What was an already difficult situation has just become even more life-threatening. It is now time to increase worldwide efforts to help each other. Innovation: Africa has committed to double its efforts to provide clean water, as well as light and refrigeration for vaccines and related equipment to medical centers serving these remote villages, and aims to complete 200 water and solar projects this year across Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Cameroon, and South Africa.  
Innovation: Africa operates in areas, which the governments of the country do not reach. It is these areas that are in desperate need of support. These are places where COVID-19 could wipe out entire villages. If we do not work now to slow the spread and provide vital resources, such as clean water and electricity, the death toll in Africa will be much steeper.
In a time of social isolation and looming uncertainty, I am certain of one thing – this is the time to stick together and support one another from afar. At Innovation: Africa, it has always been our mission to share Israeli know-how and technology with those who can benefit most from it, and now more than ever, sharing our expertise and technology is crucial. Our teams are on the ground drilling and constructing solar water-pumping systems now. We aim to move faster and hope for the best.

The writer is CEO and Founder of Innovation: Africa