Sanitation in BotswanaBotswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. It has actively advocated and improved legislation for water access and sanitation since 1981 and continues to improve its Wash, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) conditions. Still, despite its growing economy, the country struggles to provide WASH services for some of its 2 million inhabitants. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Botswana.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Botswana

  1. Free Feminine Hygiene Products: As of 2017, girls enrolled in both public and private schools have access to free feminine products as part of their school supplies. One in 10 girls reported missing school during their period prior to this initiative. This often led to girls falling behind in their work, and in some cases, dropping out. To combat this problem and encourage more Botswanan girls to finish their education, the government began providing sanitary pads to enrolled students. Similar initiatives throughout Africa have improved school attendance by more than 40%.
  2. Free HIV Treatment: Botswana provides free antiretroviral treatment for HIV and was the first country to do so. Despite the free treatment, Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world with 20.3% of the population infected according to Avert. Botswana encourages condom use by making 85% of condoms free and by teaching people about their benefits. Botswana has also improved the prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) in all healthcare facilities. The country provides training to employees to combat this issue, decreasing the transmission to 2.1%.
  3. Hygiene in school: A study performed by The University of Botswana concluded many elementary schools have the proper infrastructure for hygiene, such as toilets, sinks and latrines, but they do not always have the resources to ensure that the infrastructure works properly. The study found that 80% of toilets did not flush properly and that there was limited access to handwashing supplies. The Botswanan government is working to ensure these situations are improved through additional funding and newer infrastructure.
  4. Education about hygiene and sanitation: Hygiene is taught to students in elementary schools, but there is still a greater need for implementation and proper hygiene practices. The Okavango Research Institute found only 70% of students said they “always wash their hands,” before eating and after going to the bathroom, if available.
  5. Toilets in Botswana: More than 88% have access to adequate toilets in Botswana in 2020. Most toilets in Botswana are Western flush style, though latrines are also prevalent. However, in rural areas, Western-style toilets are less common, and up to 32.62% of people are practicing open defecation.
  6. Access to water: Clean water in Botswana primarily comes from ground sources, such as rivers and dams. Rates of water access are relatively high in urban areas (99.5%) compared to 84.1% in rural areas. However, limited infrastructure to secure the water forces many women into the laborious and time-consuming task of retrieving the water. Women may spend up to five hours retrieving clean water on a given day.
  7.  Water Demand: With increased access comes increased demand, which is hampered by decreasing rainfall and the high cost of sanitation. This demand also puts pressure on infrastructure systems and threatens access to clean water. To resolve this demand, government agencies and schools have started water recycling facilities. One such facility started by the Ministry of Agriculture recycles water from the Gaborone city sewage. It uses this water for “gardening and brick making,” reducing the need for clean water for these activities.
  8. Disease Implications: Diarrheal diseases remain a prominent concern regarding sanitation in Botswana. Diarrhea is caused by contaminated drinking water, inadequate sanitation services and unsafe storage practices. Through a study published by the Journal of Health, research determined people in rural areas are drinking and using water “unsuitable for domestic use,” despite the apparent availability of clean water. The study also concluded that the lack of proper storage in a person’s home contributes to the contaminants in the water. The prevalence of diarrheal diseases is the third highest killer in Botswana. Such illnesses kill four times as many people as the global median as of 2017.
  9. Healthcare Facilities: A huge factor in improving sanitation in Botswana is healthcare. Botswana has 27 health districts that provide “almost free” healthcare to citizens. Since the Abuja Declaration of 2001, Botswana allocates 17% of its budget to healthcare. Despite this, hospitals struggle with “inexperienced staff” and a lack of bed access. Citizens who can afford it opt for private healthcare to receive better services. However, healthcare and safety are prioritized in Botswana, and because of this, the country has only 49 reported coronavirus cases. This is also due to the government’s early implementation of required masks and social distancing.
  10. Improvement to WASH Services: Botswana has government agencies dedicated to improving WASH conditions: the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services and The Ministry of Health. This Ministry has worked with the U.N. to participate in the Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation And Drinking Water (GLAAS) survey. Furthermore, since 2000, Botswana has improved basic sanitation by 25% according to UNICEF.

Botswana is continuing to make valiant strides in the public health arena and looks on track to provide a better overall quality of life to its citizens, despite limitations in funding and infrastructure.

Allison Caso
Photo: Flickr

Unsafe Water and Women

Access to clean water can be indicative of many things. For starters, it denotes socioeconomic statuses around the world. Communities are more likely to fall sick with waterborne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid if they only have access to unsafe water. As a result, they recurrently expend much of their income on health care fees. Moreover, these populations frequently miss work and school due to illness, all of which has negative effects on long-term economic productivity.


Rural communities are three times as likely to have to travel far distances for safe water. However, geography is not the only factor. In under-developed countries, lack of clean water access affects genders disproportionately as well. This means that the task of collecting clean water almost always falls on the shoulders of young women and girls.

According to UNICEF/WHO, 263 million people globally have access to water sources considered safe but are forced to spend at least 30 minutes traveling or waiting in line to collect it. UNICEF also estimates that women in sub-Saharan Africa spend 16 million hours collecting water each day, an astronomical sum. Not only is the task time-consuming, but it is also a huge physical burden. Carrying such heavy loads can put substantial strain on the body, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women.  

The daily expeditions can be numerous, meaning young girls are missing more school. This is especially detrimental to education, and eventual economic productivity in adult life. Overall, males have a higher literacy rate, as females account for 56 percent of the total illiterate youth population. A lack of access to sanitation makes the situation even direr, as girls often stop attending school after puberty, or miss school during their periods. According to UNICEF, of the 121 million children absent from school, 65 million are girls.

Unsafe Water and Women

Not only are these conditions detrimental to the future of women, but unsafe water is also killing girls or making them vulnerable to assault and violence. During their travels to collect water, young women are at particularly high risk for sexual and physical assault, kidnapping and death. They may also face conflict at water collection points. Women must commonly walk long distances for a home latrine or forced to manage their needs in the open, leaving them at high risk of violence and rape.

Access to safe water and sanitation is a monumental women’s rights issue. Clean water would protect women globally from physical, psychological and life-risking dangers. Moreover, it would mean that more girls will not miss school. People are less likely to force educated women into marriage, while they are also less likely to die from birth complications or have large families that are challenging to fiscally support. They are more likely to give birth to healthy babies and enroll their children in schools. When young women thrive, everyone wins.

The Future is Woman

These women fight daily for their own health, and for that of their communities; it is now the world’s turn to fight for them. UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is a promising initiative. Through this program, clean water and sanitation facilities in schools have been provided for more than 100 communities. In addition, is making an impact by partnering with individuals in communities to build and finance water and sanitation projects, such as wells. The health of a society is reflective of the health of its women. Through efforts like these, not only can women live safely, they can feel empowered.  

– Natalie Marie Abdou
Photo: Flickr