News.Dec 01, 2021

COVID-19 response to water, sanitation, and hygiene in different 84 countries

Since the start of the outbreak, those working to ensure water, sanitation, hygiene for all have actively employed a variety of response measures. A 2020 study has documented various interventions made in 84 countries, informing preparedness for future pandemics.

Ricard Gine (WASH)
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Ricard Giné, PhD
Advisor , Sustainable Services, Water and Sanitation,
Water and Sanitation
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Antoine Delepiere
Senior Programme Manager,
Water and Sanitation

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on handwashing as an inexpensive and widely applicable response measure. In consequence, most governments have taken action to promote access to water and sanitation services for all. A newly published paper, written in collaboration with SIWI and UNICEF, has documented initiatives and interventions from 84 countries implemented between March and August 2020 as a response to COVID-19. Initiatives were categorized into those that aimed at securing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all, and those that sought to provide technical and financial support to service providers.

The overarching aim of the paper was threefold: 

  1. Develop an analytical framework to assess WASH COVID-19 responses  
  2. Provide an overview of measuresfor COVID-19 by WASH stakeholders in 84 countries 
  3. Discusson identified aspects contributing to enhanced WASH services in future pandemics
World map showing total number of recommended response measures by country, initiated at local or national levels
World Map showing total number of recommended response measures by country, initiated at local or national levels

The pandemic has hit countries disproportionately. Accordingly, results of this paper reflect disparities in the response between and within regions, with the level of activity found in the countries varying largely in terms of ambition and scope.

Hygiene promotion and infection prevention and control was widely adopted – at least one response measure found in 94% of mapped countries, although not always matched in ambition with the assured availability of soap, water, and handwashing facilities.

Support to vulnerable households to promote basic access to WASH services was implemented at the national scale in 38% of the countries, and at the local scale in 25% of the countries. There is a need for parallel support to service providers or to households themselves in the form of cash transfers, to ensure the financial viability and the continuity of services.  

Lessons distilled from the pandemic can contribute to an enabling environment for WASH services in future emergencies. Areas of focus could include developing specific pandemic response strategies and plans; strengthening coordination; and establishing emergency financial support mechanisms for water operators, for example. The findings contribute to enhance current and future pandemics prevention, mitigation, and recovery.