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WAE | Logo
13 Aug
By WAE on "Environment"

The importance of water access and hygiene in times of COVID-19

In January, the World Economic Forum published its annual “Global Risks Report,” which ranked risks from Water, infectious disease, and food security issues. In 2020 itself, there will likely be places where we see all three at once.

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COVID-19 outbreak is both a demonstration of a fragility, total failure or breakdown of the system that underpins our Globalised world or a ‘Natural experiment’ offering a new insight into disease transmission to minimize the adverse impacts of future shocks. As researchers and scientists worldwide are analyzing data to understand the implications of the pandemic, it’s abundantly clear that Water is central not only to these systems but also to our ability to respond to COVID-19, restore growth and build resilience in a post-pandemic world.

The World Health Organization (WHO), In its 2019 report “Safer Water, Better Health,” states that improving Water, sanitation, and hygiene could reduce at least 4.6% of global disease rates and 3.3% of all deaths. But still, 4.2 billion people lack adequate sanitation, and 3 billion do not have access to needed handwashing facilities. In the current circumstances, where handwashing is limited and waterborne illness is already familiar, the lethality of COVID-19 could be amplified.

In the third world, Gender risk is also glaring; women and girls spend hours fetching Water or waiting in crowded queues for water vendors, potentially getting exposed to the virus. If they struggle to bring Water because they are ill or have to care for the sick, their health and water security could be further compromised. To compound the issue, restrictions on movement may lessen the ability to access Water at all.

Governments and international agencies must prioritize safe and reliable water supply and sanitation. This includes emergency provision for underserved communities and protecting individuals responsible for fetching Water from exposure to the virus. We also need to study how municipal or rural water infrastructure is coping with spikes in demand because of the COVID Virus to avoid shortages, likely to impact the most vulnerable.


In the post-pandemic era, we must use what we are learning about the dynamics of global, interconnected systems to “build back better.” Public and private sector both must invest in water infrastructure to provide clean and safe Water devoid of pathogens create greater resilience to climate, health, and food system shocks, and to improve management of water-related risks.

While there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through Water or wastewater, we know that respiratory secretions or droplets expelled by infected individuals can contaminate surfaces and objects, creating fomites (contaminated surfaces). Viable SARS-CoV-2 virus and RNA detected by RT-PCR can be found on those surfaces for periods ranging from hours to days, depending on the ambient environment (including temperature and humidity) and the type of surface. Therefore, the transmission may also occur indirectly through touching surfaces in the immediate environment or objects contaminated with virus from an infected person (e.g., Doorknobs, Water ,Taps, Water coolers /dispensing taps , Water Jars, Soap, and Sanitiser Dispensers, Phones, etc.), followed by touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

It is vital not to lose sight that COVID 19 transmission, irrespective of the rich or poor world, may occur through a simple touch of infected humans and surfaces and requires adequate protection from such fomites. The safety net of epidemic security in a working environment, be it offices, schools, or public utilities, can only be developed by adopting effective touchless strategies, technologies, and infrastructure.

In addition to contactless dispensing technologies, it’s right to focus on the point of use of water purification and drinking stations, drinking water fountains, etc. in place of water jars and water bottles. Water Jars/containers, as mostly used out of home, are possible fomites. From the factory to the point of use, they pass through a hostile environment, including open trucks, dingy warehouses, and numerous human contacts. The Water is further dispensed through cheap dispensers provided free of cost by bottled Water manufacturing companies with no provision for sanitization. The entire supply chain involved in the water jar/bottle system requires disinfection at multiple points, neither feasible nor viable. Point of use purification and touchless dispensing system are viable alternatives for modern workplaces, schools, and public utilities.

Water is at the center of nature, health & food systems, climate change, energy, and finance. The safety net of water security can only be created by effectively knitting together effective governance, investment in emerging technologies, infrastructure, and services. To survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world, it's imperative to strengthen each of these components and ensure they are used in concert to reinforce resilience.

“Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The  health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” – Luna Leopold



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