Poor Water Infrastructure Putting More People At Risk In Coronavirus Crisis, Experts Say

As the United Nations marked World Water Day on Sunday, March 22, experts have spoken out about the relationship between poor water infrastructure and coronavirus risk, according to The Guardian.

More than half the world's population lacks access to clean water and properly managed sanitation systems. As a result, the people living in these countries do not have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water, which is the first defense against disease. This puts them at a higher risk of contracting deadly illnesses, including COVID-19.

Tim Wainwright, chief executive of the charity WaterAid, commented on the issue, revealing that one-third of healthcare facilities and hospitals in developing countries do not have access to clean water.

"It's really obvious that in Africa and parts of Asia we should be very fearful of what is to come. The coronavirus crisis highlights how vulnerable the world is."
A report published on Sunday, called "U.N. World Water Development," outlined the risks of insufficient clean water and proper sanitation systems, pointing out how many water infrastructures around the world are underfunded. Editor-in-chief of the report Richard Connor commented that investment in proper water infrastructure is often overlooked as it isn't seen as essential from an economic standpoint.
"One of the reasons underlying the investment gap in water and sanitation is that these services are perceived mainly as a social — and in some cases environmental — issue, rather than an economic one, like energy."

A young girl fills a bottle at a water pump station at a camp for internally displaced people on October 29, 2017 in Ain Issa, Syria.
Getty Images | Chris McGrath

Connor pointed out that despite this, the economic costs of an outbreak are enormous for national economies and stock markets. A significant decline in household revenue would also affect people unable to work due to illness or lockdowns. He added that if water and sanitation are finally seen as economically important, this would provide an additional catalyst for greater investment.

Despite not being valued, Connor says that the return on investment on clean water and sanitation can be high. The global average benefit-cost ratio would be 5.5 for improved sanitation systems and 2.0 for improved drinking water.

The U.N. report adds that a possible source for renewed investment in water infrastructures could come about through understanding the links between the climate crisis and water issues.

Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, agrees that water does not have to be a problem if it is used as part of the solution to the climate crisis, in terms of supporting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Water needs good governance. That is usually what is missing. The world is not running out of water, but there is water stress. There is competition for water resources, but making sure that the people who need water get it is a good investment."