The latest OA Ambassador Spotlight Blog is here!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

Kator is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Explore Kator's previous blog posts here, or connect with him on LinkedIn!

According to the United Nations, an estimated 80 million people are living with disabilities in Africa. This represents about 10% of the continent’s population. The prevalence of disability varies from country to country but is generally higher in countries with lower levels of development. The most common types of disabilities in Africa include visual impairment, hearing impairment, and physical impairments.

Water infrastructures designed and implemented in a disability-inclusive manner ensure that people living with disabilities can access, use, and benefit from water services on an equal basis with others. This approach involves integrating accessibility features and considering the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities in the planning, design, construction, and management of water projects.

Disability inclusivity in water infrastructure design is crucial for promoting social equity, human rights, and sustainable development. When water facilities are accessible to all, regardless of their abilities, it fosters greater independence, dignity, and participation for people with disabilities. Moreover, disability inclusivity aligns with international commitments, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which emphasize leaving no one behind.

The Impact of Water Access Challenges on People with Disabilities

The lack of disability-inclusive water infrastructures has severe consequences on their lives. It limits the ability of individuals with mobility impairments to independently collect water, making them more dependent on others for assistance. Inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities may also expose individuals with disabilities to health risks and waterborne diseases, especially if they are unable to maintain proper hygiene. Without accessible water facilities, people with disabilities may face difficulties in participating in community life and social activities, leading to social isolation. It may hinder educational and economic opportunities for them, as they may struggle to attend school or engage in income-generating activities.

Existing Water Infrastructure Disparities for Individuals with Disabilities

Despite the progress in water infrastructure development in some regions of Africa, such as the incorporation of ramps in boreholes by World Vision International in Mozambique, there are significant disparities in accessibility for people with disabilities. According to the UN, students in Kenya with disabilities are not able to enrol in the Kenya Water Institute programmes aimed at building plumbing knowledge among youths. Many existing water facilities lack basic accommodations for individuals with mobility, sensory, or cognitive impairments. Disparities include:

Inaccessible water points: Traditional water sources such as wells and taps may not have ramps or handrails, making it difficult for people with mobility impairments to reach them.

Lack of information in multiple formats: Signage and communication materials at water facilities are often not available in multiple formats (e.g., Braille, audio) to cater to people with visual or hearing impairments.

Unavailability of assistive technologies: Water facilities do not provide assistive devices, such as grab bars or hearing aid-compatible communication systems, further limiting accessibility.

Non-consideration of cognitive disabilities: Water infrastructure planning does not account for individuals with cognitive disabilities, leading to confusion and disorientation at water points.

However, there are still barriers to implementing disability-inclusive water infrastructures in Africa. These include:

Social and Cultural Stigmas

Misconceptions and stereotypes: Social stigmas and stereotypes surrounding disability can lead to discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities, including in the design and implementation of water infrastructures.

Underestimating capabilities: There is often a lack of recognition of the capabilities and contributions of individuals with disabilities, leading to their needs being overlooked in water infrastructure planning.

Lack of community support: In some societies, there is a lack of community support for disability-inclusive initiatives, making it challenging to implement changes in water infrastructure design.

Policy and Legal Gaps

Lack of disability-inclusive policies: Water policies and regulations in some African countries may not adequately address the rights and needs of people with disabilities, resulting in exclusion from decision-making processes.

Non-compliance with international standards: Some countries may not fully align their water infrastructure projects with international frameworks such as the CRPD and the SDGs, leading to a lack of focus on disability inclusivity.

Inconsistent implementation: Even when disability-inclusive policies exist, there may be a gap between policy formulation and effective implementation on the ground.

Lack of Awareness and Education about Disability Inclusivity

Limited knowledge among stakeholders: Engineers, architects, and policymakers may have limited awareness of disability-related issues and may not know how to integrate inclusivity into water infrastructure projects.

Absence of training and capacity building: Professionals involved in water infrastructure development may not receive sufficient training on disability inclusivity, hindering the incorporation of inclusive design practices.

Public awareness and sensitization: Public awareness about the importance of disability inclusivity in water infrastructures may be lacking, leading to insufficient advocacy and community support for such initiatives.

Addressing these barriers requires a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder approach that involves raising awareness, improving policies, building capacity, and fostering a culture of inclusivity in the planning and implementation of water projects in Africa.

Disability inclusivity in water infrastructure design is not just a matter of compliance; it is a fundamental human right and a pathway to sustainable development. By integrating accessibility features and considering the diverse needs of individuals with disabilities, African countries can ensure equitable access to water services and promote social inclusion. Disability-inclusive water infrastructures align with international frameworks, such as the UN CRPD and the SDGs, and contribute to leaving no one behind in the pursuit of social equity and human rights.

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