The COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse by the day and has seriously exposed the lacunae in our water policies and service infrastructure. Inequalities in availability and distribution of freshwater are more starkly visible than ever before
Water is the first line of our defence against Coronavirus and many people simply lack the right to the resource and required facilities. Time, we fixed the gaps as fast as possible, as well as worked towards building a resilient and just water supply regime.
It is estimated that nearly 800 million people across the world do not have access to clean water close to their homes. The problem does not end there. Almost two billion people, that’s more than a quarter of the current global population, lack water service that is free from contamination. Having access to water is not enough. People need to have sufficient and safe water to be able to live a healthy life. And when it comes to pandemics such as the current one, the requirement of water grows manifold.
Hand hygiene is considered to be the primary protection against Coronavirus and experts are advising people to wash their hands frequently, each time for at least 20 to 30 seconds with soap and running tap water. Then, cleaning surfaces with water and disinfectants is also a major need to kill the virus. Handwashing with soap has always been recommended to effectively disrupt the transmission of respiratory diseases. Soap molecules disrupt SARS-CoV-2’s outer lipid membrane, thereby killing the microbe. Running water is recommended as it flushes away the viral fragments. It has been observed that locations around the globe, where people do not have the habit of washing their hands, have a much higher level of exposure to Coronavirus. On the other hand, people who do not have access to water, cannot imbibe the habit of handwashing frequently. So, they remain highly vulnerable to the virus.
40 percent people of the world at high risk
According to a factsheet shared by UNICEF, 3 billion people, that’s about 40 percent of the world’s population, do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. When it comes to the least developed countries, nearly three-quarters of the people lack basic handwashing facilities at home. More than half of the people in the world do not have safe sanitation facilities yet.
A just-published study in Environmental Health Perspectives, however, has found that in 2019, 2.02 billion people, that’s about 26.1 percent of the world population, lacked access to handwashing with available soap and water. The most acute shortages were found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In case of sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, the study found, more than 50 percent of the population were without access to handwashing in 2019.
According to this study conducted by Michael Brauer and others from the University of Washington, in 46 countries, more than half of the population lacked access, and in eight countries (India, Nigeria, China, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia) the population that was estimated to be without handwashing access was more than 50 million. In India alone, some 499 million people lacked access. That’s almost 36 percent of the total population. Even in wealthier countries some populations lack access to handwashing.
The urban problem
We often have the perception that urban areas are well off, because, water supply coverage is always comparatively better than the rural areas. Region-wise statistics available show how urban areas are also replete with gross inequalities. See box: Urban WASH inequalities in handwashing facilities