Human Right 2 Water’s Launch Webinar on Emergency Responses to COVID-19

Photo credit to KEYSTONE/REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Human Right 2 Water made its official launch as an International NGO, Tuesday 3rd June 2020 with the first of a series of webinars linked to human rights to water and sanitation.

The focus on emergency response solutions, specifically during critical periods brought on by Corona pandemics (COVID-19) provided a platform for discussions around the need for strengthening the international standards in the human rights to water and sanitation.

Raya Stephan (Director, IWRA), Amanda Loeffen (CEO, HR2Water), Dhesigen Naidoo (President, HR2Water), Mariet Verhoef-Cohen (President, WfWP), Anand Chiplunkar (Former Director, ADB), Sharmila Murthy (Assoc. Professor Univ. Suffolk), Max Campos (Senior Chief IWRA, OAS), Rio Hada (OHCHR), Bruce Gordon (Head of WASH, WHO), Enrico Muratore (Technical Expert LNOB, WSSCC)

Repeatedly, national emergency plans overlook the vulnerable, yet they are the ones that are most affected during uncertain times such as these. Many of these people do not have the necessary and deserving access to clean water and sanitation. Already a significant issue as it is, this becomes increasingly dangerous during global pandemics that require access to WASH in order to contain infections. Therefore, guidance for governments on how to prioritise WASH facilities during the current pandemic is vital for defenceless members of society.

The webinar brought together perspectives from water and sanitation experts from Human Right 2 Water, OHCHR, WHO, IWRA and WSSCC.

As Dhesigen Naidoo, President of Human Right 2 Water, shared in his introduction,

“COVID-19 has fundamentally altered the world. It has become the unwelcome disrupter of the 21st century… it has emphasised the primacy of basic needs and resources, water being paramount among them.”

The current pandemic has brought a spotlight on the importance of achieving SDG6 (ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). Each of the panellists discussed the impact of COVID, and the steps that should be taken to protect people against current and future health pandemics. Importantly, the needs of the most vulnerable are always the most fragile, as Sharmila Murthy (Board Member of Human Right 2 Water) reminded us;

“The COVID crisis has underscored that we are all in this together… Those who have the least are suffering the most.”

Understandably, COVID-19 is having a significant impact in terms of health around the world. However, the global pandemic will have many additional repercussions as OHCHR’s Rio Hada makes clear;

“The impact of COVID is likely to further aggravate existing inequalities and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, culture and socioeconomic status, among others.”

For these reasons, it is essential that preventative measures are put in place in order to improve the people’s livelihoods, particularly during the current pandemic. When discussing emergency response solutions for COVID-19, World Health Organisation’s Bruce Gordon emphasised the absolute importance of water and sanitation;

“WASH is very much the whole foundation of infection prevention, and it always has been.”

Dissimilar to many government’s routine responses, of which tend to neglect marginalised groups, Enrico Muratore from the WSSCC (Water supply and sanitation collaborative council) stressed that the priorities must be amended;

“The focus must be on prioritising the groups that are left behind in terms of sanitation and hygiene.”

Although it is vital that the emergency responses during COVID-19 are inclusive for the those currently at risk, Raya Stephan from the International Water Resources Association makes the important point that in order to make long-term progress and to ensure that with any future health pandemics, the risk levels are significantly reduced for these vulnerable groups of people, it must be introduced into law;

“In December 2019, the general assembly adopted a resolution which specifies that one of the most important means to the realisation of human rights to water is the adoption of legislative measures.”

Interested people joined the webinar from countries around the globe, including attendees from Africa, Asia and the Americas:

The fast-paced webinar was moderated by Amanda Loeffen, CEO of Human Right 2 Water. Her concerns echo the fear that is resident in all of us:

“We need to support governments now to strengthen their policies for water and sanitation while we have this global health crisis, or we are overlooking a huge opportunity to protect the right to health for millions of people”.

If you were unable to join us, a recording of the webinar is available. The webinar for next month, dealing with another key topic strongly linked to human rights to water and sanitation will be announced shortly.