Covid-19: 3 billion people don’t have soap and water at home, says report

New Delhi (NVI): Basic hand hygiene has become one of the fundamental principles to prevent coronavirus from spreading. A critical element of successful virus containment must include frequent handwashing with soap and water.

However, in some parts of the world, the deadly virus threatens the life of millions of people, just for a lack of soap and clean water.

As per the latest estimates by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, three billion people don’t have soap and water at home, 900 million children don’t have soap and water at school, and 40 percent of health care facilities were not equipped to practice hand hygiene.

It is well established that a major vector for transmission is human to human contact as well as human contact with infected surfaces.

According to a report published by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), based on WHO/UNICEF estimates, there are large inequalities between and within countries with some populations having extremely low coverage of this basic, and vital amenity.

“More than 400 million people in rural India have limited household hygiene facilities while 40 million people in rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo have no hygiene facilities at all; 100 percent of rural Gambians have no household hygiene facilities. Globally, 36 percent of schools have no hygiene services; in Yemen, it’s 84 percent,” says the report.

However this lack of access to basic hand hygiene didn’t emerge in the wake of the current pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, these gaps in access to hygiene services and safely managed drinking water and sanitation services were causing massive harm to people’s health, education, and economic opportunities in many of the world’s developing nations, says the report.

The lack leads to increased incidences of water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhea which killed 829,000 people in 2016.

Diseases like these also keep millions of children out of school and diminish women’s opportunities to create new economic enterprises. Overall, it’s estimated that even before COVID-19, inadequate hand hygiene resulted in nearly 300,000 deaths annually, with the majority of deaths being among children younger than five.

Even before COVID-19, the World Health Organization estimated that universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by about 10 percent.

The report further states that in urban areas, for every USD 1 invested in basic sanitation, the return in saved medical costs and increased productivity is USD 2.5 while in rural areas, each USD 1 invested returns on average more than USD 5.

Through programmes such as GoAL-WaSH and its Climate Change Adaptation portfolio, UNDP is playing an active role in helping countries improve access to safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene.

GoAL-WaSH has supported the post-conflict government in Liberia to set up a national regulatory body for the water supply and sanitation sectors.

In the Maldives, a project financed by the Green Climate Fund will bring safe drinking water to more than 100,000 people across 49 of the Outer Islands.