The UN General Assembly declared 2018 to 2028 as the Water Action Decade to ensure water sustainability and address water scarcity worldwide. This pandemic has intensified these concerns.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a UN summit. The SDGs aim to address a myriad of topics, with the overarching goal of building a peaceful and sustainable future for the world. SDG 6 is pertinent: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, of which a central component is the promotion and supply of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). In the current COVID-19 crisis, WASH initiatives and activities are essential.

WASH and Disease: An Example

WASH programs work in regions with WASH deficiencies, where viral hot spots are likely. An example is Yemen. Here, WASH providers are waging a two-front battle to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 while addressing the risk of another outbreak of cholera, a waterborne disease that has repeatedly plagued the country, with two million suspected cases since 2016.

Agency Actions

International agencies are increasing vital WASH activities under emergency measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Among these are the following:

  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been increasing the number of water access points and hygiene measures throughout its operational areas.
  • The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner made a global appeal to governments on March 23rd 2020 to ensure water supply to communities. They specifically called on governments to prohibit water cuts to those unable to pay their bills and to provide free water for the duration of the crisis to those in poverty and to those experiencing virus-related economic hardship. They also asked that governments take further steps to enforce these measures with public and private water suppliers.
  • WaterAid has scaled up their activities in over 30 countries by installing public handwashing stations, launching a “Fight Corona United” social media campaign to provide accurate prevention information, and by producing hygiene-related television advertisements aimed at rural populations.
  • UN-Habitat is working with partner agencies in informal settlements to increase access to running water and promote good hygiene practices such as handwashing.[11]

There many other initiatives competing for funding.

In Closing

The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable many communities are to contagious diseases and greater urgency for the expansion of WASH activities and support. Enabling communities to practice adequate prevention methods and increase resources helps to control the spread of the COVID-19 and reduce the spread of contagious diseases promoting a more sustainable future.

By Jessie Karlovich

A contributor and member of the Public Health Pathways team

26 May 2020

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