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Availability of clean, adequate and affordable water services first line of defence against Covid-19

Health & Science
 Sanitation is as good as the provision of clean and adequate water. [Standard]

Water, sanitation and waste management are the first line of defence against Covid-19 as their interactions and counteraction play a critical, even catalytic, role in mitigating its impact on people and the environment thus reducing the viral transmission.

According to United Nations, the human rights to water and sanitation are placed under the direct obligations of governments through their water management companies to guarantee universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all. 

The Coronavirus pandemic compels water management companies to guarantee an uninterrupted supply of water to hospitals (including quarantine sites and holding areas for coronavirus patients and health personnel) and institutions.

 Covid-19 which is a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) disease, puts households and communities at a greater risk of contracting and transmitting the virus with the only counteractive measures being frequent hand washing. 

Investing in quality water, safe sanitation and facilities (handwashing facilities with soap and water) and hygiene provides households and communities protection from a future health crisis. Water service providers must ensure quality access to the drinking water supply with sufficient water points across the country to prevent overcrowding and enable social distancing. 

Alternatively, the collaborative efforts of the government and water management companies should urgently provide other sources of safe drinking water, such as safe boreholes and wells and advocate the adoption of good hygiene practices, community consultation/education and strong stakeholder engagement. 

The government directive to water management companies on suspending water shutoffs for households unable to afford their bills in the face of Covid-19 is a welcome relief to the vulnerable considering the inequalities and disadvantage that characterise water service provision. Tariff rationalization and subsidised tariffs to poor, marginalised and vulnerable households should be adopted in future.

 This will improve sanitation and wastewater management systems making vast improvements in public health and minimize future risks and vulnerability, and build resilience to absorb future disasters.  

Inversely, the water management companies are also impelled to levy monthly charges for water supply and waste management as this will provide economical service delivery and establish cost-recovery mechanisms for long-term sustainability. 

The tariff structure of 0-6 units at a flat rate of Sh200; being the first ‘block’ of water per cubic metre consumed is heavily subsidised for low-income households. It takes into account the households ability to pay, household size, poverty and water use. The water management companies subsequently provide economical service delivery and establish cost-recovery mechanisms for long-term sustainability. 

Socio-cultural, economic and institutional factors inversely affect access to better-quality water and improved sanitation services. Socio/cultural-economic factors encapsulate (less scary word) household and communities adequate access to improved water and sanitation services. 

The efficacy of Covid-19 mitigations is hampered by lack of dependability, equitable distribution of water, spatial inequality in service delivery. 

Water management companies and regulators should, therefore, formulate new policies on crisis management, water quality plan, health policies, environmental policies, water resources management policies, cost-cutting, labour maximisation and scheduling water supply.

 We need a charter on water rights. A memorandum of understanding with donors and the government should provide rapid and flexible funding to address sanitation and waste management issues in response to Covid-19.

It is imperative that prevailing policies, strategies, programmes, legislation and regulation at both the national and county levels are reviewed and a multi-sectoral approach adopted as water and sanitation issues cut across regions, counties and urban boundaries. 

In response to Covid-19 waste management and containment measures, water management companies and other stakeholders should educate and sensitize the community on preventive measures to reduce the spread of disease. That includes waste disposal. 

The water management companies should put in place efficient and effective quality standards for water quality and waste treatment. 

The companies should provide basic gloves, mask and boots and facilitate access to Personal Protective Equipment. Health care waste such as used masks, PPEs, and other wastes arising from Covid-19 patient management should be collected safely in designated containers and bags for treatment or incinerated. This will protect household and community exposure to the Covid-19 pathogens. 

In short, key stakeholders must play their part. Stakeholder participation in present-day unprecedented nature of this global emergency through concerted and coordinated efforts of governments, businesses, individuals, organizations or groups across the whole of society must pull together and implement a global solution to Covid-19. 

The sharing of common understanding and involvement increases ownership and cooperation among the stakeholder which helps in help flatten the Covid19 curve and accelerate global recovery for the future of sustainable development.

- Dr Njenga lectures at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and researchers with ACAL Covid-19 Think Tank

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