COVID-19 highlights the need for access to clean water

July 9, 2020

As healthcare workers across the globe unanimously promoted frequent handwashing as the most effective element in preventing COVID-19, Viloyat Valieva, a 48-year-old teacher from Laboba, Khatlon, grew more concerned about hers and her fellow-villagers’ disproportionate vulnerability to the disease due to lack of access to clean water.

Valieva is among the 400 women to have been trained under the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project School Sanitation Campaign and is now using the skills to teach schoolchildren to correctly practice hygiene and to protect water resources. Yet, it is the knowledge she has acquired and the importance of personal hygiene at times of the pandemics that have made her think more critically of the feasibility of the acquired skills, where there is little access to water.

Until recently, Laboba served a vivid example of the piped, drinking water shortage that 51,4% of the people in water-rich Tajikistan face. The 315 households living in Laboba used to fetch water in buckets from the five water points in the village.

The small gatherings they had around the water points were to an extent entertaining and, for many, a way to socialize with other fetchers. However, the heavy and lengthy workload, most often the responsibility of women and children, was too burdensome, forcing families to limit their daily water consumption to spare the need for collecting more water. To top it up, physical distancing, another important behavioral trait to prevent COVID-19, was rarely observed when neighbors gather around the public water pipes.

To address the issue of clean water shortage that has been resulting in frequent water borne diseases, UNDP has included Laboba in the list of target communities to use newly introduced sustainable drinking water supply system within WASH project, funded by Global Water Challenge, thus providing nearly two and a half thousands people with regular access to water.

Aiming for equitable access to clean water and increased daily intake within the target community, UNDP installed the new water supply systems along with mechanisms to protect the water source from contamination, including public awareness and capacity building on water protection.

When the new water supply system was launched at the end of June 2020 as one of the key factors to respond to COVID-19, providing each household with access to piped drinking water in their own yards, Viloyat felt more at ease. “The knowledge that we, the women here, had received on improved WASH practices decreased wastewater and water contamination, which will surely reduce the risk of possible waterborne illnesses, but now I my heart is in the right place knowing also that people can stay at home more, while also having sufficient amount of water to practice required hygiene norms during the pandemic,” she says.