Women, WASH & COVID-19: the ‘burdens of’ and ‘opportunities for’ the vulnerable

Women, WASH & COVID-19: the ‘burdens of’ and ‘opportunities for’ the vulnerable

Originally posted by UNU-MERIT, July 15 2020
Authors: Zoha Anjum, University of Toronto; Nidhi Nagabhatla, Principal Researcher, Water Security (UNU-INWEH)

As water-bearers and care-providers, women and girls carry the burden of fulfilling water needs of their households. Water collection often exposes women to attacks from wild animals, sexual assault and severe health outcomes (Pommells et al., 2018). In 2017, more than 140 million people relied on contaminated surface water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs (World Health Organization & UNICEF, 2019). Contact with waterborne pathogens can lead to both acute (i.e., waterborne infections) and chronic (e.g., malnutrition and growth stunting) conditions for individuals (Pouramin et al., 2020).

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several public health interventions were implemented to mitigate the spread of the virus. Examples included partial/complete lockdowns, wide enforcement of physical distancing, and recommendations for facemasks use and frequent handwashing (World Health Organization, 2020). However, these recommendations were far from reality for communities that lack access to WASH and/or reside in overcrowded spaces, where clean water is a luxury and physical distancing is impossible. The impact of COVID-19 on individuals and communities has been unequal. The vulnerable are further burdened, not just economically, but for provisions essential for survival and good health.

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