The global COVID-19 pandemic has pushed millions of people back into poverty and exposed unacceptable gaps between the rich and the poor. One in three people are still not able to wash their hands with soap and water at home.
Close to 100 million people have fallen into poverty as a result of COVID-19, according to the World Bank. The pandemic has also made existing inequalities even more glaring. While handwashing campaigns became all the rage across the world during the pandemic, one in three people still did not have access to clean water in their homes. Even one in four health care facilities lack adequate water services.
A fundamental lesson from COVID-19 is that the world needs to increase investments in the provision of basic water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH) in the coming years, not least since the progress that has been made so far is now threatened by climate change and rising poverty levels.
Many countries have invested in WASH services during the pandemic, seeing it as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease. It is especially important to prioritise low-income households, vulnerable groups and access to sanitation in public spaces, including hospitals, prisons and schools. Progress has so far been mixed, according to the assessments carried out by SIWI and UNICEF. In many places, marginalized groups are still not getting the same access to safe water and sanitation as others.
Another important challenge to address is the long-term financial sustainability of water utilities. For many of them, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to both rising costs and falling incomes. At the same time, they should be investing in climate-proofing their services since climate-induced weather extremes are putting them under growing pressure.
In coming years, the water sector will need more investments as well as improved governance and regulatory frameworks. Though the global pandemic is the most profound shock to the global WASH systems to date, it is likely to be followed by even graver threats that we need to prepare for.
The unexpected consequences of COVID-19
From agriculture to sanitation, water has played a key role in how countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has profoundly impacted our lives. Watch Xanani Baloyi from SIWI’s office in South Africa and Lourdes Álvarez from the Colombia office as they share perspectives and lessons learnt from the pandemic in their regions.
This is an episode of SIWI Corner, a talk show during World Water Week 2021 where host Georgette Mrakadeh-Keane invited interesting guests to explore some of the world’s most important water topics.