Water insecurity and the coronavirus crisis

Given the importance of hand-washing to the fight against COVID-19, what are the implications for people who do not have access to sufficient safe water to support this critical activity?

That is the question posed by a new article published by Water International this month.

Public health authorities are repeatedly reminding people that frequent and thorough hand-washing with soap and water is one of the best ways of limiting transmission of COVID-19. But according to WHO and UNICEF, as many as one-third of the world’s population do not have access to safe and reliable water services, and 3 billion people across the world do not have basic handwashing facilities (soap and water) in their home.

Household water insecurity may exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Problems of water insecurity are not restricted to the Global South, however, but extend into higher-income countries as well. In 2015, an estimated 57 million people in Europe and North America lacked piped water at home. Other often overlooked populations, including the homeless, refugees, undocumented migrants and displaced people, are also at risk. There are an estimated 70 million displaced people around the world, many living in overcrowded refugee camps.

A recent World Bank study estimated that meeting Sustainable Development Goal 6 (‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’) could cost $US116 billion per year through to 2030, which is only a fraction of the amount wealthy countries have already pledged to invest in their own recoveries from the COVID-19 pandemic. The article asks: will the current pandemic change the collective view of universal access to safe and clean water from something that would be nice to have to something that it is imperative to achieve?

  • C. Staddon, M. Everard, J. Mytton, T. Octavianti, W. Powell, N. Quinn, S.M.N. Uddin, S. L. Young, J. D. Miller. J. Budds, J. Geere, K. Meehan, K. Charles, E.G.J. Stevenson, J. Vonk, J. Miziniak (2020). Water Insecurity Compounds the Global Coronavirus Crisis. Water International. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2020.1769345