Countries with water shortages face significant challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving people unable to wash their hands at regular intervals to reduce the risk of infection and health care systems without the required supply needed to care for patients.
As of April 5, there were more than 1.2 million confirmed cases of infection globally and about 68,000 deaths linked to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, with the number of cases from China being vastly underreported. While hand-washing with soap at regular intervals is a basic protective measure against the infection, some life situations make that impossible.
Only 19 percent of the people in the world have the luxury to wash hands with soap after using the toilet, while 1 in 6 health care facilities don’t have handwashing facilities, according to Water Aid, an international charity that works to make clean water, reliable toilets, and good hygiene—particularly handwashing—available in 32 countries.
Mamata Dash, an expert who has worked on the water crisis in several countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific region, told The Epoch Times that every nation has a vulnerable population when it comes to the water supply.
“High-density population or not, those living in the margins and vulnerable across geographies face tremendous challenges to keep them afloat in a situation like this,” Dash wrote in an email.
Dash is concerned because 1 billion people—1 out of every 8 in the world—live in slums, according to the U.N.-Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Program. In addition to that, there are 100 million homeless worldwide, calculated by the Homeless World Cup Foundation.
Dash gives the example of Nairobi, Kenya—a popular destination for tourists and non-tourists, and many people from central and east Africa seek out its hospitals for treatment. But the city has a limited supply of water, and on a normal day, is unpredictable.
“As a normal practice, people (resourced) store water to wade through no-water supply time. In a pandemic like this with more need of water for handwashing, it is not known how the city will be able to manage the additional water requirement,” Dash said.
The capital of Kenya is currently under partial lockdown from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.; Dash said it will go into a complete lockdown as the number of cases of infection surge.
“People in many parts of Africa face water scarcity in normal times and very often, people have to shell out money to ensure the most minimum amount of water that would sustain them for a day,” she said.
“Poverty and hunger, multiplied with a scarcity of access to most basic needs such as water, are something that people are already struggling with and it is beyond one’s imagination as to how they will be able to have access to adequate water to ensure their safety from catching the virus.”
Realities of Poverty, Migration
Amnesty International has raised concerns about the lack of protective measures, particularly food and water for people under lockdown in various parts of South Asia and the Middle East.
The organizations say there’s a substantial population of displaced people in war-torn Afghanistan that live in scattered camps in difficult-to-access areas who are forced to travel long distances to search for food and water.
“For people displaced by conflict, social distancing is not an option, health care is not easily available, and basic necessities are a daily struggle. States have an obligation to not just ensure they are included in the response to the COVID-19 crisis but to address their particular needs,” Biraj Patnaik, the South Asia director at Amnesty International, said in a statement on March 26.
In communities under lockdown facing water scarcity, people have already begun to innovate.
In New Delhi, which is under complete lockdown until April 14, a group in the slum dwelling of Lal Gumbad—with a population of 5,000—barricaded their colony and created two exits. At each exit, they set up a handwashing station, making it mandatory for anyone leaving or entering the colony to wash their hands.
“We used a normal water dispenser used at homes at each point. We contributed 20to 50 rupees (26 to 65 cents) and collected 2,000 rupees ($26) and used that to buy soaps, glycerin, and antiseptic,” Sanjay Pradhan, 31, the leader of the group, told The Epoch Times over the phone. “We are poor. We don’t have any other way to protect ourselves.”
Now, about 10 days since India imposed a three-week nationwide lockdown to control the CCP virus outbreak, community workers worry about the migrant labor class who have been stranded in various cities, saying that hunger and chaos may kill more people than the infection. Most of those workers are daily wage laborers who migrate from their villages to cities in search of work.
With businesses shutting and no change in sight, the laborers were left to fend for themselves, and many started to walk extremely long distances to their homes. Dash describes it as the “longest walk home with no food, water.”
Sunil Kumar Aledia, who has been working with the homeless population of Delhi for two decades, is supporting poor people stranded on the roads due to the lockdown in the capital through his organization, the Centre for Holistic Development. He told The Epoch Times that he saw individual volunteers and charity organizations distributing small water packets to stranded people only once during almost 10 days working on the streets.
“Water for handwashing is a privilege. Sanitizer is even beyond that,” he said in a telephone interview, noting that when that many laborers have lost their jobs and are in a hurry to get back to their villages, social distancing is also a challenge.
Similar reports are coming out from other parts of the world, Dash says.
“Countries where migrant laborers are left high and dry with complete or partial shutdowns—water remains a critical resource at present for these people as it is for everyone else. With the global water crisis and the ever more demand for availability of water to ensure hand hygiene, situations like this do not particularly provide a hopeful picture,” she said.
Amnesty International has raised similar concerns over the migrant workers in labor camps in the Middle East. In response to reports about stranded workers in Qatar’s industrial area in Doha amid the lockdown due to the CCP virus pandemic, the organization has urged the Qatar government to make sure the workers have access to health care and preventive care.
“Labor accommodation camps are notoriously overcrowded, and lack adequate water and sanitation meaning that workers are inevitably less able to protect themselves from the virus,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy director of global issues, said in a release on March 20.