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World Water Day In the Era of Pandemic Pandemonium

Photo by Imani on Unsplash

Today is the United Nation’s observance day — World Water Day. And as we, a global community, sit in an unprecedented time of social-distancing, quarantine, uncertainty, and fear in light of the exponential social, health, and economic implications of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) — the significance of this day and the importance of safely managed and accessible global water, sanitation and hygiene (or WASH) is clearer than ever.

The need for clean and safe water connects us all, as it is a baseline for all living things on Earth. Beyond that, water is the lifeline for our societal systems and sectors — from healthcare and education to business and policy. Water is needed for organizations both large and small across the public and private sectors to sustain themselves and grow in both their reach and impact.

We also know that when combined with soap and 20 seconds of hand-scrubbing to the tune of a catchy song, water can be a strong and proven preventative measure in the face of global health uncertainties and pandemic pandemonium. In fact, there has been a significant global push towards improved handwashing practices in light of the WASH-related nature of Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been recently and frequently promoting the use of accurate handwashing and social distancing techniques to #flattenthecurve of the virus.

However, because of the pervasive inequities in our world, resource constrained communities and systems frequently lack access to safe and adequate WASH facilities. According to the World Health Organization’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Healthcare Facilities 2019 Practical Guide, “One in four healthcare facilities lack basic water services, and one in five have no sanitation service — impacting 2.0 and 1.5 billion people, respectively.” Additionally:

  • More than one in four healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa have no water service
  • One in 10 facilities have no water service in most of Asia, and
  • One in 20 healthcare facilities have no water service in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This lack of water on both a personal and health systems level acts as a massive barrier in combatting the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19.

Many people that live in densely populated areas or informal settlements or those that are fleeing from war or political, social, or climate-related unrest not only have limited access to clean water and healthcare facilities, but they also frequently lack the ability to effectively practice ‘social distancing’.

In the US, the general public has been inundated with public health messaging about the increased susceptibility of older adults and immunocompromised peoples of contracting Covid-19 (although this data is rapidly expanding).

In these ways, Covid-19 shines a light on the large scale societal implications of health inequities. The way that resources are allocated on both an individual and systemic level —in other words, social determinants of health — hinders many global minorities from helping flatten the curve of this pandemic.

Vigilant handwashing by those who have continued access to safe water and soap and social distancing by those who have homes in which they can safely remain is imperative for the protection of both our Earth and its diverse humanity.

Healthcare workers from around the world risk their lives on the frontlines of this pandemic and in some cases, as mentioned above, further risk their personal health and ability to provide comprehensive care due to the inadequate supply of clean water and soap in their healthcare facilities.

In light of this — and our rapidly evolving world — I urge you to join Global Water 2020, White Ribbon Alliance, and Global Health Council as we amplify the World Health Organization’s new Twitter campaign: The Safe Hands Challenge this month and beyond. This campaign seeks to call attention to this neglected crisis in healthcare and to act as a further call for collective action in this global fight against #Covid19.

Here’s how to join, in two easy steps:

  1. Use your phone to shoot a short video and photo of you washing your hands and post it.
  2. Use these hashtags when you post your video or photo on social media: #safehands #COVID19 #WorldWaterDay #WASHinHCF

Check out my Tweet here!

Jasmine Burton washing her hands as a part of the World Health Organization’s #SafeHands Campaign for #WorldWaterDay 2020

Those of you that can see the beauty and importance of water — its inextricable connection to the health of our world and its people, and its unparalleled power in combatting threats to our global health when combined with soap, robust hygiene practices, and adherence to public health messaging — y’all are truly the salt of the Earth. Because now is the time for collective selflessness. Happy World Water Day, everyone, and remember to wash your hands!

Jasmine Burton was a 2015–2016 Global Health Corps fellow in Zambia.

Global Health Corps (GHC) is a leadership development organization building the next generation of health equity leaders around the world. All GHC fellows, partners, and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. To learn more, visit our website and connect with us on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook.



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Jasmine Burton

Hybrid Professional | Serial Impact Entrepreneur | Nonprofit Founder | Board Member | Human Centered Designer | Social Innovation Consultant | SDG 3, 4, 5, 6