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Virus Risk In Arab Countries Exacerbated By Inadequate Water, Sanitation Systems

BEIRUT, Lebanon

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has warned that inadequate acccess to water for hand-washing and drinking exacerbates risk of coronavirus infection in many Arab countries. In a 16 April policy brief the agency described an urgency “to ensure access to clean water and sanitation services to everyone everywhere, at no cost for those who cannot afford it, in order to avoid further spread of the coronavirus".

ESCWA predicts that demand on water for handwashing will increase by 9 to 12 litres per person per day if the universally recommended preventive measure against COVID-19 is followed, commenting "The situation is further exacerbated by insufficient piped water supply in 10 of the 22 Arab countries". The study suggests that over 85 million people in the region are at greater risk of infection because they also lack access to an improved drinking water source in their homes. In some areas water is collected daily from a public source.

An efficient and effective public sector is the first line of defence in addressing systemic risks. To mitigate the mounting threat of COVID-19, people across the region must work together to limit transmissions and fatalities by thinking of and protecting others, especially the most vulnerable.

Some governments and utility operators have waived tariffs for an interim period; some have reconnected services. The study calls for such extraordinary measures to be applied across the region and highlighted the plight of refugees and people living in conflict zones and/or under occupation.

"In the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, only 1 in 10 households has access to clean water. An estimated 26 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the region are also at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services," the study says.

“Access to water should not be used as a weapon of war,” said ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti, reiterating her call for an immediate humanitarian truce and a renewal of efforts to build lasting peace in the region. “Governments should prioritize and coordinate the provision of emergency clean water and handwashing facilities to all areas without coverage,” she concluded.