Human rights advocates warn that we are far from achieving UN Sustainable development Goal 6, access to water and sanitation for all, and the global health pandemic is making things worse, hindering efforts to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) worldwide, informs The Telegraph.
The COVID-19 pandemic, together with the latest cholera and Ebola outbreaks remind us of how important sanitation and hygiene is, said James Wicken, from the global Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council: “At the moment, the SDG targets on sanitation will only be realised in the next century”.
As a result of the pandemic, community outreach programmes have come to a halt, and resources and investments in utilities have been redirected to other needs.
For example, in densely populated El Salvador, water scarcity was an issue before the pandemic started. Furthermore, tropical storm Amanda caused significant damages when it hit the country on May 31 and killed 27 people. Now the country has to struggle with the storm’s aftermath as well as the pandemic.
Worldwide, more than 3 billion people do not have clean water and soap at home to wash their hands and protect themselves from disease. Providing access to WASH services to people in vulnerable communities is difficult during the pandemic. It is not just a problem of developing countries. From the struggle for water access of residents in Detroit to First Nations in Canada, or to homeless people and travellers in the UK who depend on public toilets and water stations, developed countries have yet to end water poverty.
With just a decade before the 2030 target of universal access to safe water and sanitation, there is a long way to go to meet these human rights. While in some parts of the world the authorities have mandated a temporary moratorium on water services disconnections, in the longer term, a lot of people will not be able to pay for their water bills because of the economic downturn. Utilities may struggle financially and collapse as a result. Countries are investing in health and employment, but must not forget the need to ensure universal access to water and sanitation. The stakes are too high.
The United Nations has recognised it: achieving SDG 6 is crucial to the three UN pillars: peace and security, human rights and development, and has launched the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework to help solve the global water and sanitation crisis. “This is the time to invest in building back better and faster to response to COVID-19 and to accelerate progress towards meeting the SDGs”, said top UN official Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu.