Updated: May 16, 2020
If you come from a hot country – or one where water is not always something you get from a tap in your home – you know bottled water doesn’t last very long. People in many countries in the world still do not have access to widespread potable tap-water. In such countries, having water fountains in public spaces such as schools, parks and metro stations used to be a big deal and a respite for many people.
However, many public spaces have turned off water fountains amid coronavirus concerns. Even though this step comes as a necessary evil in these times, shutting down water fountains has also brought continued free public access to water into question, as well as the main benefits to be derived from it.
Having to walk several kilometers to fetch clean water from public places is still a common routine for many countries. The Gwembe Valley in Zambia, Africa, for instance, has been deeply affected by the drought for the past two years. In many other water-scarce parts of the world, free access to water is not only a basic necessity – it is a luxury. As the world combats coronavirus, the pandemic has only accentuated the lack of clean water and sanitation in developing countries.
“You want us to wash our hands?” asked Fadi Mesaher, the Idlib director for the Maram Foundation for Relief and Development. “Some people can’t wash their kids for a week. They are living outdoors.”
Refugee camps and slums remain in a uniquely dangerous environment during the coronavirus pandemic, not only because of living in close proximity in cramped spaces, but also due to the lack of ready access to clean water – especially needed to follow recommended measures such as washing hands.
UNICEF is currently supporting rehabilitation and drilling of 60 boreholes to enforce hand washing at distribution points. This has also enabled access to clean water in many places.
But while giving ready access to water is vital, it is crucial to avoid such public water stations from becoming a breeding ground for coronavirus. Therefore, maintaining measures to implement social distancing and sanitation is all the more necessary in such water-scarce countries.
Shutting down water fountains has also hindered efforts to help the environment in some developed countries, such as the UK. In many places, it means going back to depending on water bottles, most of which are made of plastic. Learn more about it more in the next blog post.
Author: Chetna Krishna
Editor: Kirk Beahm