|© UNICEF Somalia/2011/Hersi|
|Students use the new handwashing facilities at Sheik Bashir Primary School in Hargeisa, Somalia, on Global Handwashing Day.|
By Eva Gilliam
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 24 October 2011 – Last week, millions of people across the globe commemorated Global Handwashing Day by celebrating the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective, simple, and affordable way to prevent disease. In Somalia, UNICEF and partners marked the event with a week-long series of events, including the installation of handwashing facilities in numerous health centres and schools throughout the country.
Targeting IDP communities
In a country with endemic cholera and acute watery diarrhoea, the simple action of washing one’s hands can save lives. Unfortunately, finding water and soap in a region suffering from its worst drought in more than half a century is not always an easy task.
In several Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Mogadishu, for example, makeshift shelters are overcrowded with thousands of families who have come from all over the country in search of assistance. In such cramped quarters, diseases are quick to take advantage of poor hygiene.
One of UNICEF’s many partners in water and sanitation in Mogadishu, Somali Public Health Professionals Organisation (SOPHDA), worked specifically this year with the IDP communities. Organising handwashing demonstrations and distributing hygiene supplies in three sites, SOPHDA reached 1,200 students, 500 households and 700 individuals at local wet feeding centres.
At every event, handwashing with soap was stressed, particularly in three critical instances – before eating, after using the latrine, and before breastfeeding or preparing food for the family.
In several locations, soap, buckets and water purification tablets were distributed after demonstrations on proper handwashing.
“It seems like a small thing – but it is huge,” said Sahr M. Kemoh, UNICEF Somalia Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Manager. “This is even more critical as the rainy season starts in Somalia, bringing with it the risk of waterborne disease outbreak such as diarrhoea and cholera.”
Where water and soap is not available, ash can be uses as a viable substitute for handwashing. Rubbing one’s hands with the ash cleans bacteria and protects against infection.
Over 1,500,000 children and adults were directly reached across Somalia with key messages during the week-long campaign.