As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, the importance of access to scrub water and sanitation is reinforced.
However, the grim reality is that over 40% of the world’s population lacks adequate access to basic handwashing facilities. Most reside in Asia and Africa.
While the proportion of the population with handwashing facilities in Southeast Asia is more than in many places – between 66–86% – countries in South Asia lag way behind, with numbers starting from only 35–60%. Gross inequalities in water access persist between and within these countries, with rural areas and concrete slums trailing far behind.
Government inaction is too great
The Mekong Region is already experiencing one of all its worst droughts in decades. Last year’s below-average rainfall meant the foremostity|that almost all} of the major reservoirs, for instance in Thailand, are already at below 1/2 storage capacity. For several vulnerable and poor communities in the South and geographic area, summer will further exacerbate the water shortages.
In the short term, there’s an urgent need for governments across the region to require a stock of obtainable water from different sources to cater for the combined pandemic and drought situation, if it persists during the summer months.
Ongoing country lockdowns or limited restrictions put the onus squarely on governments to be the prime driver of proactive water resources to make sure that adequate water is on the market to vulnerable sections of society for domestic and increased hygiene needs. It’s time to forgo the standard reactive approach – the prices of state inaction are going to be too great for those that cannot cope.
The marginalized and poor lack access to water due to an absence of infrastructure and uneven and intermittent availability, and therefore the financial, technical, legal, institutional, and political reasons for this are complex. Within the short term, countries have the scope to expand how they assess water insecurity to reflect problems with rights, access, health, and hygiene that vulnerable communities face in both urban and rural settings. In the long run, there’s a necessity to maneuver beyond the purview of defining water insecurity as a mere “supply and demand” problem.
Slum areas highlight problem
This is very true for urban slum settlements. Large percentages of urban populations in South and Southeast Asia sleep in crowded slum settlements, starting from 22% in Indonesia to 63% in Afghanistan. Slum areas get only intermittent water supplies from multiple sources, meaning that folks living in them have limited access to scrub and safe drinkable. For example, after only some days of lockdown, cases from the national capital, Jakarta, and other cities across Asia have illustrated how the shortage of water for hygiene poses an enormous obstacle to countering the pandemic.
Recommendations for managing water during the pandemic
It is imperative that governments across Asia ensure equitable access to safe potable and hygiene facilities to attenuate Covid-19 infections among poor and vulnerable communities. Below are some recommendations for managing water resources within the pandemic:
- Immediately budget available water resources from different sources against priority need for the summer months.
- Initiate emergency measures, including tapping water from alternative sources like groundwater, supply through tankers that are also being cleaned by suppliers, and incentives for farmers to refrain from overusing water for agriculture.
- Identify hotspots of water insecurity in urban and rural areas to plan and implement contingency measures.
- In case of expected acute water shortages, plan alternative routes to support hand hygiene, like providing freedom sanitizer in unregulated colonies and slum areas.
- Adopt a policy decision to defer water utility bills until the pandemic crisis ends.
- Under lockdown, ensure vulnerable groups have adequate access to water, like women and girls facing heightened pressure to fetch water for increased hygiene needs, children, older people, and other people with disabilities.
- Communicate clearly in order that people use community handwashing facilities in an exceedingly way that minimizes crowding and speak to.