August 06, 2020
The World Health Organization recommends washing our hands regularly with soap and running water as one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this is difficult for millions of people, given that although substantial progress has been made in expanding access to drinking water and sanitation, there are billions (mainly in rural areas) that still lack these basic services.
Worldwide, one out of three people does not have access to safe drinking water, two out of five don´t have a basic facility for washing hands with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still defecate outdoors.
In the Region of the Americas, millions of people still lack an adequate source of drinking water and safe facilities for the disposal and elimination of feces. In this region, as of 2017, 28 million people still lacked access to an improved water source, 83 million people did not have access to improved sanitation facilities, and 15.6 million were still practicing outdoors defecation (Joint Monitoring Program, JMP).
Taking into account the data collected by the IPUMS-International protocols application, we can contrast the inequality factors that currently exist regarding access to water and sanitation services on: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Both maps show that there are great disparities between the countries analyzed, as well as inequality levels. With regard to access to water supply services, Haiti presented the highest relative inequality of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Regarding access to sanitation services, Nicaragua was the one with the highest inequality factor (45.5%) and Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay and Peru showed values above 20 percentage points.
The UN explicitly recognized, on July 28, 2010, water and sanitation as human rights. On the 10th anniversary of this measure, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, said that the pandemic “has taught us to leave behind the people who need the most. Water and sanitation services can lead to a humanitarian tragedy”. He added that in the next decade it must be a priority to ensure that the entire population has these services to “build fair and humane societies” and that “the commitments of the 2030 Agenda are an incentive for no one to be left behind, but this will not be enough if the countries approach the targets and objectives in a purely quantitative way, leaving aside human rights on water and sanitation”.
The World Health Organization established that the provision of safe water, sanitation, and waste management and hygienic conditions is essential to prevent and protect human health during all outbreaks of infectious diseases, including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Ensuring evidence-based and applied WASH and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, markets, and healthcare facilities will help prevent person-to-person transmission of pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Pan American Health Organization stated that: “Those responsible for water and sanitation have a relevant role in the prevention and control of COVID-19, so it is important that water, sanitation and hygiene services are managed safely, ensuring compliance with national regulations”.
Thus we can conclude that access to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene services has important consequences for ensuring the well-being or illness of a population. Compliance with SDG 6, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, is essential to fight against COVID-19.
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