Clean Water Essential to Curbing Spread of Disease in East Africa 

On World Water Day, the United Nations recognizes the critical and multidimensional role that water plays for individuals, households, communities, governments and businesses globally.  

Access to safe drinking water – a precious resource often taken for granted – is a human right. However, access to clean, affordable water remains a real challenge for many people in the East and Horn of Africa, with vulnerable groups being disproportionately affected. Beyond using it for personal consumption, water also plays an enormous role in preserving people's health. 

Extensive land borders, combined with intense trade and travel, facilitate the spread of infectious diseases across countries in the East African Community (EAC) region. The region has experienced frequent previous disease outbreaks in the past, such as cholera, measles, rift valley fever, yellow fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and COVID-19, among others.

Good water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices, that are consistently applied, can help to curb the spread of waterborne and other communicable diseases. This is especially important in areas that experience high levels of human mobility, particularly at border crossings and transportation corridors where local communities have a higher risk of infection. Consequently, these critical public health ‘hot spots’ should be targeted with timely health, hygiene promotion and access to safe water interventions.  

IOM demonstrates correct handwashing practices to community influencers in Kenya. Photo: IOM Kenya

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) aims to ensure universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water for those in need, complementing safe water provision with information about appropriate sanitation practices and the systematic promotion of good hygiene. 

Together with the EAC Secretariat, IOM is currently implementing a regional health project targeting more than 6 million migrants, border and host communities at 19 key points of entry (PoEs) and migration routes in the six EAC Partner States: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. This intervention is facilitated through the ‘Support to Pandemic Preparedness in the EAC Region (PanPrep)’ project which is implemented through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German government.  

The Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC provides for joint action towards the prevention and control of epidemics of communicable and vector-borne diseases, as well as pandemics, that might endanger the health and welfare of the residents of the Partner States. 

The EAC-IOM project aims to strengthen the capacity of governments in the region to prevent and address the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases of public health concern in the EAC region. The project is also establishing handwashing stations and providing access to water in up to three selected high-risk areas in each of the 6 Partner States. 

A training and capacity building session is delivered in Eastleigh, Kenya. Photo: IOM Kenya

Through the intervention, which runs from June 2021 to May 2022, IOM is connecting handwashing facilities with sustainable, clean and running water through context-adapted interventions, for example by building water systems in South Sudan and Uganda, and connecting them to existing national water systems that are usually located far from the PoEs, and by constructing a rainwater harvesting system in Rwanda.   

At Wau airport in South Sudan, a water yard with a fire extinguisher water collection point, sanitation facility and handwashing station were constructed.

"The airport administration is grateful for this intervention, as Wau airport is now the only airport in South Sudan with a reliable source of running water," said Honorable Mr. Stephen Kiju Youngule, Wau Airport Manager. "Before, the airport administration suffered from the lack of water, and had to hire water truckers and donkey carts to supply water to the airport. It would take 2 to 3 days to arrive at the airport, and in the meantime the airport was left without water for cleaning."

To date, more than 4.7 million people have been reached by behavior change interventions, including health and hygiene risk awareness activities and capacity building of key community influencers. Additionally, 31 fixed handwashing facilities, 3 water yards, 5 toilet/latrine blocks and 4 pipeline connections to a water source have been constructed across the 6 countries to improve access to clean water and hygiene services in high-volume migration areas.  

A water dispensing point established at Wau airport, South Sudan. Photo: IOM/ Aymen Jarboui

Despite this intervention, the need remains to scale up the preparedness and response capacity of the Partner States, ensuring access to clean and running water for the entire population, as well as hygiene services, knowledge and behavioral change interventions.    

 IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives throughout the East and Horn of Africa have included the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes and wells, water trucking, surface water treatment systems, latrine construction, hygiene promotion campaigns, and distribution of hygiene kits, among others. IOM is also working with communities and governments across the region to protect water resources. 

The Organization is committed to guaranteeing inclusion and fighting inequalities that principally affect women, girls, disabled people, refugees, and internally displaced people – who are more often the poorest and the most marginalized when it comes to their basic human rights to water. They should never be left behind. 

For more information, contact: Amber Christino, Media and Communications Officer at IOM Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa, Email: 

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation