On 22 March, we celebrate all water workers, people who dedicate their careers to ensuring our access to the ‘source of all life’. The problem beyond their reach is that, according to UNICEF, 3 billion people cannot afford to wash their hands to protect themselves against the coronavirus.
For World Water Day 2020, the United Nations connects the climate crisis to water.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic, water workers have the additional task of ensuring the supply of water for handwashing, which is one of the key barriers to the spread of the Coronavirus. Governments and utilities must ensure availability in slums, refugee camps, prisons… all places where the virus could take hold and wreak havoc.
The problem is that according to UNICEF, 3 billion people (or 40% of the world's population) cannot afford to wash their hands to protect themselves against the coronavirus.
As the virus could live between 2 and 14 days in faeces, employers must guarantee that water and sanitation workers also have the requisite personal protective equipment.
Research on the related SARS virus epidemic in 2003 showed that the virus could live between 2 and 14 days in faeces, and there were some cases of sanitation workers infected with aerosolised matter in water treatment facilities.
Thus, employers must guarantee that water and sanitation workers have the requisite personal protective equipment and respect occupational health and safety measures consistent with WHO guidelines on workplace practices during the pandemic.
The positive news is that the coronavirus is easily killed by regular water purification practices, including chlorination.
With the climate crisis continuing unabated, governments can expect to face even more difficult challenges to ensuring the human right to water and sanitation.
The coronavirus pandemic reveals even more starkly the fragility of our globalised lifestyle and of our governance systems’ capacities to anticipate and protect. In this context, it is ever more important that we take measures to protect our already imperilled water resources, before it is too late.
The water sector must raise its voice in demanding comprehensive climate policies. PSI input to the 2019 climate summit (COP25) can help unions make the connections between local and global politics.
On World Water Day 2020, we must all pause to consider how much we owe to the dedicated professionals providing quality public water services. And we need to organise and mobilise to strengthen our collective public services, whether water or healthcare, or all of the other public services that improve our lives and our communities.