Beyond handwashing: Water insecurity undermines COVID-19 response in developing areas
Justin Stoler; Wendy Jepson; Amber Wutich
Published: May 2020
Journal: Journal of Global Health
Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) inequities are long-recognized as important contributors to the global burden of disease that inhibit sustainable development. Inadequate water quantity poses additional challenges for maintaining clean environments and sanitizing physical surfaces where COVID-19 can survive. But the problems associated with water insecurity extend well beyond issues of quantity and hygiene.
Social distancing can cause significant disruptions in people’s access to their most basic necessity. One of the most underappreciated coping strategies for dealing with water insecurity is water sharing between households. The ubiquitous, but often invisible, practice of household water sharing occurs in a variety of socio-cultural settings, and may serve as a transmission pathway for many communicable diseases.
Water insecurity also complicates people’s ability to participate in social distancing if they have to fetch their own water. About a billion people globally collect their own water from sources outside of their home such as public standpipes, wells, or surface water bodies, and often at great distances. Water fetching in groups contributes to building social capital among women and children, while offering a mechanism of protection from physical dangers like injuries, accidents, harassment, and assaults. Thus, when social distancing measures are in place, vulnerable groups (especially women and girls) experience greater risks by having to fetch water alone. Under-resourced regions that already suffer economic losses from lack of adequate water supplies are on the verge of an enormous additional burden from COVID-19.