Ten years after the United Nations recognized water and sanitation as human rights, the world is reeling from the devastating toll of COVID-19, a virus against which hand washing and hygiene are the most common first lines of defense.
One of the most important lessons we have learned from this pandemic is that we are as healthy as the most vulnerable members of our societies, and today huge sections of the world’s population are still left behind in their access to water, sanitation and hygiene. .
On this World Health Day, our interconnectivity makes it more imperative than ever that we make sure everyone on the planet has access to water and sanitation – for a safer, healthier future for all.
Before the pandemic hit, 40 percent of the world’s population already had no access to basic hand washing facilities at home, and children in almost half of the world’s schools did not have access to basic hand washing facilities. soap and water. While many governments have increased the provision of public handwashing stations during the pandemic, the economic fallout from COVID-19 has only exacerbated what was already urgently needed in homes, schools and institutions. health care centers around the world. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic could contribute to the first increase in global poverty in more than 20 years, and by 2021, 150 million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty.
One in four health facilities in the world do not have basic water services, one in 10 does not have a sanitation service, and one in three does not have hand hygiene facilities at points of access. care. Data has shown that even where there is WASHING facilities, frontline healthcare workers were 12 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than individuals in the general community.
Insufficient access to water and sanitation not only risks millions of lives, especially those of women and children, but also affects many other development goals, including gender equality, climate resilience, peace and education.
In fact, most – if not all – of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depend in some way on people’s access to sufficient and safe water and sanitation. If we factor in additional stressors such as climate change, drought and the looming financial crisis, the situation looks even worse.
Lack of access to water and sanitation does not exist in isolation. It is part of a web of systemic challenges and inequalities, intensified by a lack of political will and chronic under and misdirected investments in the sector. Even before the pandemic broke, there was a decrease in donor aid money, and it is now expected to continue to decline with increasing domestic pressure for domestic spending.
Germany and Spain were two of the countries most affected by COVID-19, but maintained their international aid. Faced with the threat of COVID-19, Germany has refocused its international development assistance to comprehensively address preventive measures to preserve health and reduce risks through the BMZ One Health strategy. Through its Water and Sanitation Cooperation Fund, Spain has stressed the need to provide drinking water and sanitation in vulnerable neighborhoods or rural areas, has promoted measures to hygiene and handwashing and appropriate hygiene and handwashing campaigns.
And it is not only the donor countries that are mobilizing. In Zimbabwe, the government has committed $ 1.38 million to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene, and in Malawi, the country’s Minister of Education has committed part of ” a $ 6 million fund to reopen schools, drill wells and buy soap.
COVID-19 is not the first epidemic we face and will not be the last. Resilience to future crises depends on actions taken now. So how can we build a more resilient and fairer world in the aftermath of this crisis?
Getting out of the pandemic is an opportunity to do things better, an opportunity that we must seize without delay. Businesses and schools are reinventing the way they work and we believe the water, sanitation and hygiene sector can also find new ways to build better. To be successful, we must build political will at the highest level for water, sanitation and hygiene; improve multi-stakeholder engagement in countries; and strengthen good governance and finance. Good governance and the realization of human rights are certainly the right things to do. But they are also catalysts for countries to attract more finance, absorb it and invest in sustainable solutions.
The human rights to water and sanitation will only be achievable if governments seize this moment to reduce health risks, strengthen health systems and prevent future pandemics. We must act now to ensure that we accelerate progress, despite – or even because of – COVID-19, in the full realization of these basic human rights.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.