By Gyan Pathak
Handwashing have been one of the most effective recommendations to prevent infection and spread of COVID-19. However, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not follow this recommendation during the pandemic because they did not have water in their homes to do that. They remained safe only because the pandemic could not reach them while their governments failed them in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programmes. The situation is now changing fast. COVID-19 is spreading and knocking at their doors, while the governments are still not willing to inject sufficient funds to provide even safe and sufficient quantity of water putting them at greatest risk not only from COVID-19, but also from several other infectious diseases.
The latest joint report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that the progress made so far is too little to effectively tackle the problem. The Joint Monitoring Programme report – Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000 – 2020 – has though mentioned a progress in availability of handwashing facilities with soap and water, it rose only from 67 to 71 per cent between 2016 and 2020. Availability of sanitizers an soaps in the households lacking even water to wash hands is may also be out of question.
The ‘WASH’ programmes as a whole thus needs special attention because lifesaving access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services is still not available for billions of people worldwide, and without urgent injection of cash, billions would be able to access them even by 2030. Between 2016 and 2000, the report showed that access to safely managed drinking water at home, increased from 70 to only 74 per cent, while sanitation services went from only 47 to 54 per cent. Rather than sewer connections, last year for the first time, more people used pit latrines, septic tanks, and other improved on-site sanitation to effectively contain and treat waste. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore has rightly said that “alarming and growing needs continue to outstrip our ability to respond”. The study has also made clear that if current trend persists, by 2030, billions of children and families would be left without life-saving WASH services.
The report has noted that still only 81 per cent of the world’s population would have access to safe drinking water at home, leaving 1.6 billion without; just 67 per cent would have safe sanitation services, leaving 2.8 billion in the lurch; and only 78 per cent would basic handwashing facilities, leaving 1.9 billion adrift. “Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene must be a global priority if we are to end this pandemic and build more resilient health systems,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.
The report has also noted the vast inequalities – with vulnerable children and families suffering the most. Situation in the least developed countries (LDCs) is more precarious, and if the world wants to them to access safely managed drinking water by 2030, there would need to be a ten-fold increase in the present level of investment.
Even before the pandemic, millions of children and families were suffering without clean water, safe sanitation, and a place to wash their hand. The time has come, said the UNICEF chief, to dramatically accelerate our efforts to provide every child and family with the most basic needs for their health and well-being, including fighting off infectious diseases like COVID-19.
In 2020, about 2 billion people lacked safely managed services, including 1.2 billion people with basic services, 282 million with limited services, 367 million using unimproved sources, and 122 million drinking surface water. Five out of eight SDG regions, and 138 countries had estimates for safely managed services, representing only 45 per cent of the global population. Eight out of ten people who still lacked even basic services lived in rural areas. Around half of them lived in least developed countries (LDCs). One in four people lacked safely managed drinking water services in 2020.
In the SDG region Central and Southern Asia, only 62 per cent have access to safely managed drinking water services while 29 per cent have access to only basic services. The rest nine per cent of population have access to only limited, unimproved, or surface water. The report had not specifically mentioned about the situation in India due to lack of sufficient data.
As for safely managed sanitation services, the report contains estimates for only 120 countries. It has estimated that nearly half of the world’s population lacked safely managed sanitation services in 2020. About 3.6 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation services, including 1.9 billion people with basic services, 580 million with limited services, and 494 million practicing open defecation. Two third of people who still lacked even basic services lived in rural areas, and nearly half of them lived in sub-Saharan Africa. About 92 per cent of the population practicing open defecation lived in rural areas.
As for the Eastern and Southern Asia, safely managed sanitation services were accessible in 2020 to only 47 per cent of the population, while 25 per cent have basic access. The rest 29 per cent of the population had limited or unimproved access or practicing open defecation (about 12 per cent). In India, open defecation dropped only by 14 per cent in the last five years (2015 – 2020) despite PM Narendra Modi’s open defecation free India programme. Open defecation in India have been highly variable regionally. Though the government mission dashboard declares over 99 per cent in rural household, and 100 per cent in urban buildings had toilets by January 2021, the UN report showed about 25 to 50 per cent people without access to safely managed sanitation depending on regional variation.
It is clear that the ‘WASH’ programmes in India also needs special attention from the government in providing access to safe water and sanitation services to prevent all sorts of infections including the COVID-19. (IPA Service)