5 Things that Make Us Realize the Inextricable Link Between WASH and COVID-19

Pallavi Bharadwaj Water Crisis 0 Comments

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This week, I had the fortune to attend the launch of the United Nations SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 6 Global Acceleration Framework. 

The event aimed to mobilize all sectors; UN agencies, governments, civil society, private, and all other stakeholders to drive progress in staying on track to reach the UN-SDG6 2030 Safe Water & Sanitation For All.  

Overall, three billion people do not have access to handwashing facilities in their homes, which makes the virus extremely difficult to contain, and the UN agencies, among other international bodies, are cognizant of this fact.

It also made me realize that in pre-COVID or "normal times", this launch event would have been like most others that the UN organizes and one attends thinking it's all in a day's work. However, the urgency shared by all the panelists makes one realize the inextricable link between the pandemic and the need for safe potable water and sanitation for all.

Here are a few of my takeaways from all that I have observed until July 2020 as a link between WASH and COVID-19:

1. It does not matter if you live in the rural or urban environments (or in between):

COVID-19 has proved to be an unfortunate reality check for the already vulnerable and fragile communities that were already facing a lack of water and sanitation services and products globally. 4.2 of the 8 billion people lack access to safe sanitation.

We are being recommended to wash our hands several times a day, however, 3 billion people lack basic handwashing facilities. I contributed to a recent study on Water, Climate and Migration Crisis- Facts, Hope and Planning. This study attempts to explain how to assess water-migration interlinkages as water and climate crisis are disproportionately impacting vulnerable individuals and groups dealing with precarious settings and challenges.

These may include: water pollution, availability and access issues of daily water needs, climate extremes, limited options to livelihood and income generation, especially for those who largely depend on land and water resources for survival. We witnessed this first-hand in the migration labor crisis in India.

2. Even the most basic services and products can help save millions of lives:

Setting up community handwashing stations, while observing social distancing, can help save millions of lives in the water parched areas, especially in Africa, Asia, remote reaches of Latin America and even for the at-risk communities in developed countries, such as the United States. Products as simple as tippy-tap can be set up with no excessive investment.

These can be combined with innovative hand-soap providing initiatives, such as Ecosoap Bank, who are trying to get handwashing soap to the vulnerable communities. These initiatives might not sound like much at first glance, however, they have the potential of scaling and replication in different settings that can lead to saving a lot of lives.

3. Healthcare facilities and schools are the ones that are also at most risk:

One of the wisest steps that the leaders across the globe took was to shut down all the schools and other educational institutions to prevent the spread of the pandemic and save lives.

It has been a very welcome move as 47% of schools in developing countries lack handwashing facilities with soap and clean water. However, it is easier to close the doors to schools, than for the healthcare facilities nearly half of which (43%) globally do not have basic handwashing facilities.

4. Nature-based solutions can help alleviate some of the damage caused by the pandemic:

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are disappearing at a faster rate than ever. 88% of aquatic megafauna populations are collapsing. Deforestation news is not uncommon these days.

However, it is worthwhile to note that globally the wetlands are disappearing three times faster than our forests. This collection of articles does a good job of explaining what COVID-19 has to do with nature.

5. WASH sector has jumped up into even more action than ever at this time:

While the news around the spread of the pandemic in countries like the United States, Brazil, India, and Mexico can sound fairly dismal, global WASH sector overall has been more active than ever to do their part. In urban settings, the revenues have gone down because of people's inability to pay their utilities. However, the service providers are taking steps to maintain services through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organizations such as ROCKBlue and the World Bank’s Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership are advising water utilities on their financial resilience. In the rural settings, most multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies in partnerships with national governments, and ultimately community-based leaders and groups, are trying their best to help the populations in need.

Wrapping up

No other sector has been exposed to the vulnerabilities because of COVID-19 crisis than the water, sanitation, and hygiene globally. However, there is still good news.

The systems-based approaches and collaboration of all the stakeholders can help us. Knowledge sharing, ideas exchange, and finding innovative financial mechanisms are only a few ways that the WASH sector players have been trying their best to do the part.

This article originally appeared on Engineering for Change's website titled Five Notes on the Inextricable Link Between WASH and COVID-19

Thank you for taking the time to read our article on WASH and COVID-19. We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.

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Pallavi is Engineering for Change's WASH Correspondent. When not writing for E4C, Pallavi is a program, grants and project manager, consultant, and global development professional living in New York City. Her interests range from environmental causes to education, and her personal pursuits include entrepreneurship, food, travel and yoga.

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