According to USAID, “nearly half the population of Angola (49.3%) lacks access to clean drinking water and (54.7%) of households do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities.” As a result, many Angolans face a high risk of exposure to waterborne illnesses, further burdening the nation’s existing health care infrastructure, worsening malnutrition and negatively impacting the economy.
Moreover, the southern regions of Angola are currently experiencing a prolonged drought, which has gravely impacted the nation’s health, sanitation, water access and also education services. More than 1.2 million Angolans face water scarcity due to the drought. In the Cunene province, the drought has caused “serious disruptions” to school access for nearly 70% of students.
Impacts on Public Health
The lack of access to sanitation and clean water has had devastating consequences for public health and children are the most vulnerable demographic. In Angola, half of the children under 5 are anemic, while another third are estimated to have stunted growth and one-fifth are underweight.
Diarrheal diseases that originate from contaminated drinking water, including cholera, are a leading cause of death in Angola. In 2018, UNICEF reported 1,038 suspected cases of cholera and 17 deaths in the Angolan cities of Uige, Cabina and Luanda.
The World Bank’s Plans to Improve Angola’s Water Quality
Despite the scale of this issue, agencies like the World Bank are taking important measures alongside Angola’s government to improve water quality, in hopes of achieving universal access to WASH services by 2030. Between 2013 and 2016, Angola’s government created 16 provincial water and sanitation utilities aimed at improving water access in urban areas by utilizing independent service providers. In May 2021, Angola’s Ministry of Energy and Water launched a new reform program for the WASH sector.
The World Bank, through this reform program, is evaluating the progress of the Ministry’s working groups, looking at five key opportunities for improvement. These indicators include the significant population growth in Angola that has slowed WASH sector progress, the high rate of susceptibility by poor and malnourished children to WASH-related diarrheal diseases and mortality, the ways in which Angola can invest more effectively in the WASH sector, insufficient institutional and bureaucratic resources to achieve success and inadequate data on the effectiveness of WASH sector improvements.
UNICEF’s Efforts to Aid Angola
In addition, UNICEF is leading an initiative to support Angola by establishing child-centered hubs, known as “safe havens” that support vulnerable communities by concentrating integrated health, sanitation and water services within the same communities. Projections have indicated that these interventions will assist an estimated 341,565 children.
These efforts, which the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) funded, also encompass a supply of 30 5,000-liter water tanks that will end up in drought-affected communities in Cunene province. These tanks will reduce the distances community members travel to acquire water.
UNICEF’s initiative will assist 96,000 women in regions that the nation’s severe drought affected, and projections have stated that 135,000 people will receive WASH sector assistance. Additionally, the initiative will see a shipment of around 12 tonnes of therapeutic milk (used to treat severe acute malnutrition in children) and tablets for water purification delivered to the Cunene and Huila provinces. This relief package is a critical step forward in reducing malnutrition in Angola.
Looking Towards a Brighter Future
The efforts to improve access to water and sanitation in Angola will have transformative effects on not only public health but also education and economic development. Having access to clean water and adequate sanitation greatly reduces children’s risk of contracting waterborne illnesses, allowing them to stay in school. Improving hygiene and sanitation in Angolan communities and schools will spur greater social development, and in turn, reduce poverty.
– Oliver De Jonghe