Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in times of COVID-19

5 May 2020

Safely managed Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services underpin the importance of decentralised pandemic strategies for prevention and protection of human health. The nationwide lockdown exasperates the need for these services across the country. The Scaling City Institutions for India (SCI-FI) initiative at CPR partnered with ThePrint India to bring you a series of articles examining WASH in COVID-19:

Highly dense settlements with a low density of services, slums possess unique vulnerabilities to  COVID-19. The government must initiate emergency action, through an expansive reading of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to proactively and compassionately arrest public health risks in these settlements.

The spread of COVID-19 in high-density vulnerable settlements like slums bears adverse implications for both the city- and nation-wide struggle against the pandemic. Learning from past disasters and mega events alike, the governments must provide emergency water and assistance in slums to avoid a ‘notified disaster’ from turning into a ‘multi-dimensional public health emergency’.

This piece acknowledges that communities act as the critical point of contact for collectivising the concerns, mobilising the resources and responding to pandemic crisis like COVID-19 at the local level. In that light, local leadership through community based organisations (CBOs) and local governance institutions have a big role to play to strategise efforts and initiate measures such as decentralised care, isolation and physical distancing to contain the spread and importantly, providing services, food and shelter to migrants.

Gender inequities during disasters and pandemics are often more pronounced as women shoulder the bulk of workload related to 'care roles'. The piece illustrates how the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown has increased domestic chores (of fetching water, cleaning, washing, disposing solid waste) and caring responsibilities (particularly of caring for children and ill family members) for women. To address this, there is a need to develop gender-responsive strategies based on gender analysis to mitigate social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

With increased penetration of smartphones and affordable internet packs, use of digital media has increased manifold, especially among the economically weaker section of the society. This piece centres around leveraging available information about usage and choices of digital platforms to design effective communication strategies for reaching the underserved, contain misinformation and enable behavioural changes necessary in fighting this pandemic.

The residential vulnerability is exacerbated by the lack of supply of well-serviced urban rental housing and remains an under-addressed component in housing policy. Unless we all target resolving the housing needs of the migrants in our cities, the phenomenon of exodus will emerge and re-emerge during crisis situations like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It is more important now than ever to re-envision and course-correct urban India's sanitation efforts vis-a-vis Swachh Bharat Mission–Urban (SBM-U) and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). To address the sanitation vulnerabilities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, the government must improve basic shared infrastructure and hygiene, expand waste treatment and protect sanitation workers. 

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.