More than 40 percent of the world’s population lacks access to adequate handwashing facilities, even though handwashing is an effective way to help prevent spreading COVID-19. In Asian countries many people lack access to clean water or handwashing facilities, although it varies by country and region within countries.
Southeast Asia has more handwashing facilities than many places at 66 to 86 percent, but South Asian countries lag behind at only 35 to 60 percent availability. As in many places around the world, rural areas and urban slums trailing far behind the locations that prioritize adequate infrastructure and good hygiene. Gross inequalities exist between and within these countries “because of a lack of infrastructure and uneven and intermittent availability, and the financial, technical, legal, institutional and political reasons for this are complex.”
According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, there are seven measures that Asian countries can take now to ensure equitable access to safe drinking water and handwashing facilities during the pandemic:
- Immediately budget available water resources from different sources against priority needs for the summer months.
- Initiate emergency measures, including tapping water from alternative sources such as groundwater, supply through tankers, and incentives for farmers to refrain from overusing water for agriculture.
- Identify hotspots of water insecurity in urban and rural areas to plan and implement contingency measures.
- In case of expected acute water shortages, plan alternative ways to support hand hygiene, such as providing free hand sanitizer in unregulated colonies and slum areas.
- Adopt a policy decision to defer water utility bills until the pandemic crisis ends.
- Under lockdown, ensure vulnerable groups have adequate access to water, such as women and girls facing heightened pressure to fetch water for increased hygiene needs, children, older people, and people with disabilities.
- Communicate clearly so that people use community handwashing facilities in a way that minimizes crowding and contact.