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WASH: Pandemic and climate resiliency together

hands washing
Image courtesy Mélissa Jeanty on Unsplash

WASH: Pandemic and climate resiliency together

Why Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene?

In our prior post, we discussed why we are prioritizing funding to “dual-opportunity” organizations that will have both an effect on COVID-19 as well as provide the systems changes that will be necessary for future crises. We have decided to award a substantial number of our grants to organizations that implement clean water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs. This strategy is born out of an understanding that such programs will have both an immediate effect in slowing the transmission of COVID-19 and a longer-term effect of building the infrastructure needed for climate resilience. Our grantmaking and investment strategy enables us to respond to the immediate global health crisis and create a more resilient future.

The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential for protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, as noted by WHO in their recent technical guidance brief, WASH for COVID. This brief emphasizes that ensuring evidenced-based and consistently applied WASH and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces, and health-care facilities will help prevent human-to-human transmission. A World Bank brief, Wash Goes COVID, goes further and states that safely managed WASH services are critical during the recovery phase to mitigate secondary impacts on community livelihoods. However, many areas of the world currently lack sufficient access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. A sustained investment in WASH infrastructure and health education, particularly among frontline populations, is critical to addressing this pandemic. In addition to infrastructure, education and advocacy focused on shifting cultural norms to incorporate WASH best practices are needed.

Climate change and water are inexorably linked. As noted by the United Nations Synthesis report on SDG6, the primary effect of climate change will be experienced through changes in the hydrological cycle, including water availability, water quality and the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. Exacerbating this issue, many of the areas most at risk for floods and drought currently have limited access to water and sanitation. UNICEF notes that 60 million children living in these areas are extremely vulnerable. To effectively build resilience to climate change, we need to increase equitable access to sustainable water sources and improved sanitation. Investing in this critical infrastructure has the added benefit of preventing waterborne diseases.

During this turbulent time, Shockwave will work to ensure frontline communities have the infrastructure, hygiene education, and most importantly, sustainable clean water they need to slow the spread of COVID-19. This approach will enable us to remain committed to supporting organizations who are building a more adaptable and resilient world while we strengthen the collective response to the global pandemic.