Sanitation in MaliOne of the largest countries in Africa, the Republic of Mali sits landlocked in the northwestern chunk of the continent. While it is known more recently as one of the most impoverished and unstable countries, thousands of years ago Mali was a cultural epicenter. The Niger and Senegal rivers that cross through the country made Mali one of the richest countries due to a flourishing trans-Saharan trade economy. With goods came literature, art, music and discovery, transforming the Malian city of Timbuktu into a vital center for scholarship. Though Timbuktu’s cultural reputation and Mali’s musical achievements have continued, the country as a whole faces many challenges. About half of Mali’s total population lives in poverty, facing exceedingly unhealthy circumstances as a result, partially due to poor sanitation. Mali’s journey toward achieving proper hygiene and sanitation is detailed in the following facts.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Mali

  1. In 2017, the WHO and UNICEF discovered 52% of Malian households nationally have access to basic hygienic facilities, just below the global average of 60%. In rural areas though, access to facilities drops down to just 39%. These averages are higher than other African countries, like Ethiopia and Burundi, that have less than 10% access to facilities in rural areas.
  2. UNICEF also found about 7% of Malians still practice open defecation, causing preventable illnesses connected to improper sanitation. Diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria unequally affect children, producing some of the highest child and infant mortality rates in the world. However, in 2018, UNICEF, USAID and its partner organization JIGI implemented Community-Led Total Sanitation models (CLTS) as a way to decrease open defecation in rural communities. CLTS helped more than 3,500 villages eradicate open defecation, improving the lives of almost three million people due to increased awareness of personal hygiene and sanitation.
  3. Thanks to humanitarian aid from various organizations, 80% of Mali’s national population has access to safe drinking water and in rural areas, 70% have access. In 2019, UNICEF and its partners provided water supply services to more than 194,500 people, including water points and latrines in 95 schools and 61 health centers.
  4. In 2018, a Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study discovered diarrheal diseases stood as the third-highest cause of death in Mali, beaten by neonatal diseases and malaria. However, it is worth noting that due to sanitation improvement measures, the rate of death from diarrheal diseases declined by almost 9% between 2008 and 2017.
  5. Currently, 52%of the population does not have access to a handwashing facility, weakening how Malians can effectively combat diseases. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has begun distributing handwashing devices with the goal of sending up to 4,000. In a joint report with UNICEF and the WHO published in April concerning COVID-19, they specified that “frequent and correct hand hygiene is one of the most important measures to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus”. They also recommend proper water sanitation and waste management to mitigate the spread of the virus.
  6. About 50% of schools have improved water access, though only 20% have working, gender-separated latrines. Due to the coronavirus, more than 1,000 schools have closed for the time being, cutting off access to what could be a child’s only functioning toilet.
  7. Since 2012, armed conflicts have resulted in the displacement of thousands of people in addition to violence and abuse of children. This instability has created a decrease in the successful delivery of humanitarian aid, which the country largely relies on for assistance with sanitation needs. The coronavirus pandemic has also slowed the services usually given to Mali.
  8. In April, the World Bank approved a $25.8 million grant to support Mali’s response to the coronavirus. The money contributes to health care services, screening and treatment of patients. The initial funding will focus on Mali’s response to the virus and the country’s ability to handle the health and economic impacts to come with an already fragile health system. The grant will also allow Mali to continue essential services like clean water and education.
  9. The humanitarian organization World Vision joined the Mali Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (MIWASH) to construct 208 new water points in 2019, allowing more than 100,000 people access to sanitation facilities while increasing hygiene education. World Vision has also implemented numerous latrine stalls, handwashing kits and hygienic education services through its additional projects, reaching 15,400 children in 51 schools.
  10. In 2016, UNESCO, U.N.-Women, UNFPA and KOICA implemented the “Empowering Girls and Young Women through Education in Mali” project to help girls and young women seek better living conditions through equitable education. The project involves educating girls about feminine hygiene and their reproductive rights to decrease the rates at which young girls drop out of school, have children and marry while still children themselves. One aspect of the project involves access to clean water and sanitation facilities. One of the many achievements the project has made since its creation includes the construction and mending of 137 latrines suitable for girls in Bamako.

Poor sanitation is not the only problem plaguing Mali but it does create a tidal wave of other preventable issues that Malians have to struggle with. Disease, higher mortality rates and malnutrition result from improper sanitation of water and toilet facilities. However, continued investments by the Malian government along with support from international players will help with country to improve sanitation in Mali for its citizens going forward. 

Maria Marabito
Photo: Flickr