What a Year of COVID has Taught Us About the Value of Water

FSN Network
Mar 22 · 6 min read

World Water Day 2021: Valuing Water

By: Nicole Weber, PRO-WASH

Read this blog in French here.

Today we celebrate World Water Day under the theme Valuing Water. The timing is appropriate. Just recently, we somberly observed the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic declaration, and I think we all feel the value of water more than ever. A full year of intense handwashing, cleaning, and disinfection in our homes, workplaces, and healthcare settings has taught us all — as individuals, households, and communities — the critical role water plays in the fight against infectious diseases, such as COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic itself has put at risk some of the gains made in previous years towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All. As the pandemic paralyzed much of the world, food security activities were put on hold as well, including key WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) interventions. But not for long. Activities quickly found their footing again and came up with adaptations that made it possible to both continue pushing towards SDG 6 and respond to prevent and mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

In this blog, we will look at how three activities, all funded by the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, supported community WASH activities that resulted in greater resilience to prepare for and respond to major shocks, such as COVID-19. Join me to learn how the Victory Against Malnutrition Plus (ViMPlus) activity in Burkina Faso used existing platforms and relationships to rapidly ramp up social and behavior change activities to respond to COVID-19. In Zimbabwe, the Amalima activity finalized a study on understanding how lending, savings, and income-generating activities, combined with hygiene and sanitation promotion, can help move the mark on ending open defecation. Lastly, learn how SHOUHARDO III used human-centered design and market-based approaches to improve sanitation coverage in Bangladesh.

All three activities presented their findings and adaptations at the recent Colorado WASH Symposium. You will find links to all presentation materials throughout this blog.

Burkina Faso: Pivoting WASH activities to respond to COVID-19

A woman uses a tippy tap to wash hands with soap before visiting the well in Poulale village, Pissila commune. (Photo: DICKO Hama Hamidou)

Following the first confirmed case in the country on March 9, 2020, the ViMPlus activity rapidly modified programming to support the government’s COVID-19 response, primarily through adapting and increasing WASH behavior change activities.

Collaborating closely with the government and community actors, ViMPlus utilized existing platforms, including mother leader groups, radio campaigns, and Water User Associations to support community members to adopt and strengthen key behaviors like handwashing, social distancing, mask wearing, food hygiene and nutrition, and continuing exclusive breastfeeding. As COVID-19 was a new threat, interactive question-and-answer sessions were critical in dispelling common myths and ensuring accurate information was widely available. Water Users Associations set up hand-washing stations at each water point and held demonstration sessions on building handwashing stations using locally available materials.

Click here to view the poster

Following the demonstrations, community members made at least 1,000 local handwashing stations with their own funds. Six months after handwashing demonstrations, over 94% of the stations are being used for regular handwashing with soap and water. There was also an increase in households with a handwashing station that has soap and water.

Throughout the pandemic response, there has been a focus on the safety and protection of staff, volunteers, and community members through access to hygiene products and following hygiene guidance, including social distancing and mask wearing.

Zimbabwe: Does integrating savings, lending, and income-generating activities improve the uptake of latrines?

Pamela Ncuba-Murakwani gives a brief summary of the poster that Amalima presented at the Colorado WASH Symposium in March 2021.

In Zimbabwe, previous WASH programming under Amalima strengthened WASH infrastructure and social cohesion, which prepared vulnerable households to practice hygiene behaviors and also be more resilient to the impacts of COVID-19. The Amalima activity promoted hygiene and sanitation through the Community Health Clubs (CHCs), a cost-effective and participatory approach that supports the uptake of key WASH behaviors. Together, club members complete a curriculum over a few months and must make certain hygiene improvements within the home to “graduate.” However, the CHCs identified an important barrier for one of those improvements: the cost of building a latrine (paying builders and buying cement) was too high for most households in the project area.

Community Health Club members with a constructed latrine. (Photo: Amalima)

In response to this challenge, club members were encouraged by Amalima to diversify into village savings and loans (VSL) and income-generating activities (IGA). A number of CHCs decided to diversify and received training in group fund development, loans and loan appraisal, recordkeeping, etc. These clubs were called CHCs+. To understand if the addition of these VSL and IGA activities helped households overcome the barrier, the Amalima team undertook a qualitative study. The study showed that CHCs+ allowed for more stable and reliable sources of income and thus alleviated the financial burden of constructing a latrine, along with providing access to markets/products and local leader support for latrine construction. In addition, CHCs+ were successful in building social cohesion among community members and providing additional WASH resources to vulnerable households. This social cohesion continues to be valuable in offering resilience to the economic shocks that were caused by COVID-19.

Routine monitoring data indicated that there was a notable difference between CHCs+ (with VSL/IGA) and standard CHCs (without VSL/IGAs): 59% of CHCs+ members had latrines, whereas 32% of standard CHC members had latrines.

Click here to view the poster

Bangladesh: An innovative WASH solution using market-based sanitation

Women, and girls in particular, reported benefitting from SHOUHARDO III’s WASH interventions on dignity, convenience, and improved health. (Photo: Apel Pavel/CARE)

SHOUHARDO III works with hard-to-reach, vulnerable communities in rural Bangladesh, including the flood-prone northern regions. There is limited sanitation coverage in homes on the riverine islands and wetlands. Seasonal flooding also causes latrines to collapse, and fecal sludge contaminates the surrounding water. With the support of PRO-WASH, SHOUHARDO III (implemented by CARE) and International Development Enterprises (iDE) used a series of innovative human-centered design approaches to develop, pilot, and scale flood-resilient sanitation services (see report here).

Through the human-centered design approach, the activity was able to identify what consumers wanted and needed, which enabled the team to create:

  • three latrine designs (termed the ‘Nira Pod’),
  • a sustainable sanitation business and maintenance model, and
  • a culturally and contextually specific sanitation marketing strategy.
Click here to view the full presentation

These efforts to develop an affordable, flood-resilient, and desirable sanitation solution, which used a modified market-based sanitation (MBS) approach to reach the ultra-poor and hard-to-reach communities, are still ongoing. This sustainable sanitation business model, combined with the availability of desirable sanitation products on the market, will be important to mitigate secondary impacts on health and wellbeing. Learn more by listening to video interviews with:

(English captions available)

In a place that is under water for six months every year, how possible will it be to deliver sustainable latrine solutions to communities? This is the condition in the haor, the wetlands area in northern Bangladesh, where SHOUHARDO III works. (Photo: Apel Pavel/CARE)

What’s Next?

COVID-19 has increased food insecurity and resulted in long-lasting health and economic repercussions globally. Through their efforts in adapting to COVID-19 and leveraging market approaches, USAID/BHA implementing partners have continued to support progress towards clean water and sanitation for all, while quickly responding to prevent additional COVID-19 cases. It will be important for us, as a global WASH practitioners’ community, to take stock of the adaptations made in the last year and ask ourselves: what practices and lessons can we take forward, post-pandemic? And what have we learned that can be useful as we anticipate and prepare for future contagions? I look forward to these discussions as we continue working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Read this blog in French here.

FSN Network

Highlights, insights, and learnings from the food security and nutrition community

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store