Giné-Garriga R, Delepiere A, Ward R, Alvarez-Sala J, Alvarez-Murillo I, Mariezcurrena V, Sandberg HG, Saikia P, Avello P, Thakar K, Ibrahim E, Nouvellon A, El Hattab O, Hutton G, Jiménez A
Sci Total Environ 795 (-) 148789 [2021-11-15; online 2021-07-03]
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on handwashing as an inexpensive, widely applicable response measure. In consequence, most governments have taken action to promote access to water and sanitation services for all. This paper documents an overview of initiatives and interventions that countries have implemented during the first months of the COVID-19 response. Initiatives have been identified across 84 countries worldwide, and categorized into those that aimed at securing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all, and those that sought to provide technical and financial support to service providers. The pandemic has not hit countries in the same way. Accordingly, results show disparities in the response between and within regions, with the level of activity found in the countries varying largely in terms of ambition and scope. Hygiene promotion and infection prevention and control (IPC) has been widely adopted - at least one response measure found in 94% of mapped countries -, although not always matched in ambition with the assured availability of soap, water, and handwashing facilities. Support to vulnerable households to promote basic access to WASH services at scale was weak (38% of countries) or implemented locally (25%), and requiring additional focus, particularly in rural areas and small towns. In addition, parallel support needs to be extended to service providers or to households themselves in the form of cash transfers, in order to ensure the financial viability and the continuity of services. All lessons learned distilled from the pandemic should help strengthen the enabling environment for more resilient services in future emergencies. Areas for focus could include developing specific pandemic response strategies and plans; strengthening coordination; and establishing emergency financial support mechanisms for water operators, for example. Overall, findings presented herein contribute to enhance current and future pandemics prevention, mitigation, and recovery.