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What legacy of COVID-19 do we want for the WASH sector?

Publicatiedatum: 24/06/2020

Our strategic systems responses to the pandemic and climate change.

Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) instructions for chlorine disinfection in Kabarole, Uganda
Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) instructions for chlorine disinfection in Kabarole, Uganda. Photo Martin Watsisi/IRC Uganda

“…is shining a bright light on the structural racism that plagues our laws, our institutions and our culture” 

Back in April, Joe Biden wasn’t talking about Black Lives Matter and the protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but about COVID. In the same online session, he went on to compare COVID-19 and climate change. It was one of the first reports in the media I read that made the link, with COVID said to be like ‘fast acting climate change’. 

We’ve been working hard like the rest of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in the past few months to adapt our programming to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. You will find updates on that work, illustrating how our teams and partners in countries like Ethiopia, India, Ghana and Uganda are responding on our COVID-19 page. While we have so few other defences to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, WASH and especially hand hygiene is more important than ever. And good hygiene brings other health benefits in addition to potentially reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission.   

IRCs strategic objectives in responding to COVID-19 are: 

  1. to ensure that water, sanitation and hygiene actions are adequately integrated into the public health sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly so that negative impacts on poor and marginalised communities are minimised; 
  2. to ensure that the longer-term WASH systems strengthening agenda - including the systemic measures needed to ensure provision of WASH services at schools and healthcare facilities and hygiene promotion – is pursued from the recovery phase onwards; and 
  3. to transform the positioning of WASH services in national and global development agendas – as a legacy of COVID-19 - towards a re-invigorated and better funded push to achieve the WASH SDG targets.

Improving WASH services, and the systems that lie behind those services, is also a critical no-regrets part of climate change adaptation. People with access to good WASH services are much less vulnerable to the different threats posed by climate change. Stronger systems will be more resilient in sustaining services in the face of multiple threats. Many are now identifying these parallels between COVID-19 and climate change.

After cancelling the original World Water Week scheduled for August, before realising that the water world can do some things without going to Stockholm, the organisers have brought COVID-19 and climate change together in the framing of a revised series of planned online WWWeek at home events. That’s got to be the right approach. You can compare COVID-19 and climate change and they both demand that we strengthen WASH systems. 

And as we respond to COVID-19 pandemic, its not only climate change that demands our wider attention. At IRC we’ve also been inspired by the Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States and around the world, and challenge ourselves to do better in tackling racism in the workplace and sector. You can read about how we commit to improving ourselves at the same time as improving WASH services in the statement by our CEO Patrick Moriarty. 

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