With the world’s second-largest population, the non-availability of clean water could prove disastrous for the strong efforts done by the Indian government to check the spread of the COVID-19. So far, the government has been able to keep a lid on community transmission of the virus by restricting the movement of the people. It was established that washing hands with clean water for 20 seconds is the first line of defence against this virus.
The administration, with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, has fervently broadcasted messages about washing hands and maintaining social distance. But, they ignored the fact that around 163 million people in India still do not have access to clean water and lives in densely populated areas.
As per a report published by the World Resource Institute in their Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, they ranked India 13, under the category ‘extremely high water risk’ among 189 countries. Almost 33% of India’s districts are already experiencing droughts or drought-like situations even before summer. Last year, India’s sixth-largest city Chennai; faced severe drought and ran out of water. This will be disastrous for the efforts taken by the government if they don’t have access to water.
In slum and unauthorised colonies of India, the situation is not favourable to allow people to follow the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and Indian Government. Public health depends on the secure sustainable water source to the most vulnerable.
Hundreds of people line up every day to get a bucket of water for their daily needs. It seems impractical to keep washing hands every time with a limited amount of water besides managing daily water needs. Maintaining social distance is vague in these hostile situations. And with the starting of summer, the condition is going to get worse due to a decreasing groundwater table.
The scarcity of amenities and resources makes these people more vulnerable to diseases rather than the affluent people who have piped water supply or even can buy water in case of emergency.
Though the situation is not favourable, it is a call to strongly implement the guidelines issued by UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG) which ensures availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. India showed an appreciable strong response to previous disease outbreaks in past years. It developed good protocols to contain human to human transmission at the time of Ebola (2014) and Nipah (2018) outbreak. Containing the Coronavirus is relatively more complicated than responding to previous viruses as it requires a more ‘sophisticated’ response from every section of the society.
The administration should ensure the regular supply of clean water to the most vulnerable sections of society. Decentralised distribution of water in dense areas can reduce the chances of virus transmission. Distribution and guiding about the proper use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer where water supply is not feasible regularly can help. The government and civil societies are doing their every bit of effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.
In the long term approach, the administration must put their focus to create a resilient community by addressing the root cause problem of water security and personal hygiene. The policies drafted by NITI Aayog to meet UN SDG 6, must be implemented with the seriousness of reaching out to the last mile. The pandemic-like situation cannot be won in isolation, it demands a holistic approach from the government, civil societies, and the citizens.