With the world drowned in misery caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the World Water Day 2020, marked on March 22, passed by faintly without many people even realising its significance.
Access to water underpins public health and is critical to sustainable development and a stable world.
Regular hand washing is a key tool in combating COVID-19, and it is comforting that the UN and its partners are taking steps to ensure people living in informal settlements have access to running water at this critical time, as affirmed by the agency working to achieve more sustainable cities.
UN-Habitat says the impact of the new coronavirus disease could be considerably higher on the urban poor living in slums, where overcrowding also makes it difficult to follow other recommended measures such as social distancing and self-isolation.
UN-Habitat is based in Nairobi, home to the Kibera slum, where people live hand-to-mouth and water access points are hard to find. They are even harder to get to when movement restrictions are in place, in the hope of preventing spread of the disease.
As one resident Anna Nyokabi put it: “We don’t have enough water to drink and cook our food, so where will we get water to wash our hands frequently?”
UN officials are right when they insist that if the international community is to beat back COVID-19, then governments must provide Nyobaki — and the more than two billion people worldwide like her — with continuous access to sufficient water.
The opinion expressed by 10 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva deserves serious attention. “People living in informal settlements, those who are homeless, rural populations, women, children, older persons, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees and all other groups vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic need to have continuous access to sufficient and affordable water.”
It is comforting to note that UN agencies, programmes and other entities are doing their best to put emergency safe drinking water and handwashing facilities in key locations in informal settlements and high-density public places such as markets, and bus stations.
Population and economic growth have placed unprecedented pressures on water, with water scarcity affecting over 40 per cent of the world’s people.
The Middle East and North Africa is the most water-scarce region in the world, with over 60 per cent of the region’s population living in areas with high or very high surface water stress, compared with a global average of about 35 per cent, as earlier pointed out by Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of the Dubai Electricity and water Authority (DEWA).
Citizens and residents of the UAE are fortunate as the wise leadership attaches great importance to water security, which is one of the seven strategic sectors of the National Innovation Strategy.
In 2010, the UN recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. Regulatory and legal frameworks must recognise the right to water for all.
Water issues call for global solidarity and joint measures. What is essential is commitment. All members of society should conserve natural resources, especially water.
Governments and relevant organisations should coordinate to provide sustainable solutions to use water more efficiently and raise awareness about its challenges. All measures should be taken to ensure water security for future generations.