On 8th April, Sanitation and Water for All organized a ‘Partner Exchange Forum’ on COVID-19 emergency and response. Around 40 SWA partners, representing Civil Society, Private Sector, Research and Learning and External Support Agencies attended this online exchange forum.
Under the Chatham house rules, SWA partners used this platform as a safe space for an open exchange of information, experiences and challenges in their COVID-19 response and to explore the opportunities for cross constituency support and collaboration at the global and national level. The forum also provided an opportunity to understand how SWA framework and the Mutual Accountability Mechanism could be used to support partners during the crisis and in the recovery period.
Some of the key messages that came out of the Partner Exchange forum are as follows:
- The SWA partnership has been very active in pushing for global advocacy and awareness-raising around COVID-19 and its links with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, however, national or local joint action is crucial. There is a need for more in-country collaboration between the different SWA constituencies’ including the direct connection with the decision-makers in the country.
- The SWA partnership can usefully support existing networks at international and country-level as it has an important convening power.
- SWA partners offer solutions. SWA’s partners have ideas and answers, based on the knowledge, which can help in COVID-19 response now and in the future.
Other key issues and questions raised by the partners are as follows:
- Position water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as an important part of health interventions now and in future
SWA Partners discussed how there is an urgent need and opportunity to elevate the role of Water Sanitation and Hygiene, not just in terms of controlling the current COVID-19 and other infections but also in highlighting its role in building countries’ resilience, including solid health systems. It is, therefore, important to start considering the post-COVID world, especially to make sure that WASH becomes a ‘foundational investment’ for countries. This is also an opportunity for the Sector Minister in each country to ensure that governments (especially, the Ministers of Finance) prioritize WASH now and also in the future as we prepare to face other such pandemics.
- Bridging the gap between Science and Policy and Practice in emergencies
SWA Research and Learning partners spoke about the challenges in bridging the divide between research, policies and practices. It was noted, for instance, including the work on water contamination and disinfection in COVID-19 response, has shown a big gap in translating such evidence into actionable advice for policymakers. Their key concern is how to communicate what better behaviour looks like, how to help in improving disinfection practices with simple detergents and bleaching powder as the primary area of intervention, and how to communicate this evidence in the form that policymakers can understand.
- Mobilizing action at the local level to reach the most marginalized
- Localizing best practices: SWA Partners believe that a lot has been done in terms of global advocacy and awareness creation, but localized action is needed more than ever. Partners also raised questions on how to ensure an accurate and continuous flow of information on public hygiene and awareness, especially in the areas of poor internet connectivity.
- Reaching the weakest link: There is an urgent need to identify who are the most marginalized, where are they and how to reach them during times of lockdown and related challenges. Additionally, how to ensure the right data from the right people reaches the government.
- Need for coordinated financing: Given the low funding to the sector, CSOs have urged other SWA partners across constituencies to facilitate action on the ground by channelling and supporting financing in a coordinated way and using joint coordination platforms with governments.
- Learnings from Ebola: SWA Civil Society partners, the Liberia Wash Network, shared how the Governments have reactivated the mechanism that was put in place during the Ebola crisis which helped in bringing together all stakeholders for a quick response to COVID-19 pandemic.
- Private Sector Interventions: SWA Private Sector Partners highlighted their role in providing quick innovative solutions on the ground (such as designing contactless handwashing facilities). Other private sector partners are working with the informal sanitation workers – distributing food to them, conducting a study on the effect of COVID-19 on this group who are at once very vulnerable and are at the frontline of the response to COVID-19.
- Ensuring the effectiveness of networks at country level
Several partners appreciated the importance of partnerships like SWA, saying that such crises are the moments when the value added by these networks becomes clear. SWA Partners insisted that in countries there is a greater need to work with the existing networks or coordination mechanisms rather than creating new ones– these networks must react quickly to make sure that WASH is an integral part of plans to tackle this and future pandemics.
The SWA Partner Exchange Forum will be a regular platform for continued exchange of information and experiences but also for identification of areas for cross constitutional support and collective action among the SWA partners globally and in SWA countries.