Alarm at second Covid-19 wave in Southern Africa puts focus back on essential hygiene.

Posted by
Jonathan Chapman
25 January 2021
WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

A second wave of the Covid-19 virus appears to be rapidly taking hold once more particularly in the southern Africa region.

The latest statistics show growing numbers of active cases across a region with patchy testing, limited intensive care provision and with an uncertain waiting period for vaccine delivery.

According to the World Health Organisation on Monday (Jan 25th), Malawi had reported over 1000 cases in the last 24 hours which is the equivalent of nearly 6% of the national total of more than 18000 cases it has reported so far since April. The latest figures from Zambia showed nearly 3% of its total number of more than 44,000 cases had been reported within the last 24 hours to Monday. * South Africa’s figures in the last 24 hours are even more alarming with over 8000 news cases, adding to total cases over 1.4m  reported so far and a death tally of nearly 41,000!

Elijah Adera, Regional Programme Manager for WaterAid Southern Africa, said:

“WaterAid Southern Africa is deeply concerned to see a renewed rise in the cases of the Covid-19 virus in the countries of the region where we work.”

The emerging second wave puts the focus once again on how essential good hygiene practices are to public health and in preventing the virus spreading. Regular hand-washing with soap and water remains one of the practical habits that need urgent reinforcement to help contain the virus and act as the first line of defence.

“It once again puts the priority on reinforcing the need to follow basic hygiene measures to slow the spread, including handwashing with soap and water together with social distancing and wearing a mask in all public places. And it demonstrates the vital need for our governments to ensure all citizens in the region have access to clean water at home, in schools and healthcare facilities as the first line of defense from contracting the virus,” said Mr Adera.

Indeed the most recent data (see below) shows that in Zambia, for example, 58% of homes do not have handwashing facilities**. WaterAid has responded to the Covid crisis by providing some public handwashing facilities in markets, schools, health care facilities and bus stations to help prevent spread of the virus. This work has been accompanied by a behaviour change campaign encouraging people to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently with soap, clean surfaces and keep their distance from each other.

The inability to effectively and frequently wash hands with soap and consistently practice physical distancing in crowded urban areas and informal settlements with limited water and sanitation infrastructure makes tackling the spread of the virus more challenging.  More alarming are the overcrowded schools and health care facilities where workers are stretched to the limit with no capacity to cope with the number of Covid-19 patients!

For more information, please contact:

Jonathan Chapman, Senior Specialist, Global Media [email protected] or Maureen Nkandu, Southern Africa Regional Communications Manager [email protected]. Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage



WaterAid Southern Africa, based out of Pretoria, has projects in South Africa, e-Swatini, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar.

*WHO Covid cases dashboard:

**JMP (WHO-Unicef) statistics for those without handwashing facilities at home (2017): Malawi: 15%; eSwatini 44%; South Africa 12%; Zambia 58%