Along with the governments, SWA partners across different constituencies (such as Civil Society, Research and Learning, Private Sector and External Support Agencies) are also on the frontlines of helping their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when transparent and honest communication is of the utmost importance to keep all people safe and healthy, SWA partners are playing a key role in spreading awareness, supporting government efforts, upholding human rights to water and sanitation and building trust in the community.
Through this space, we will be sharing the stories of how SWA partners are working in different countries and contexts- their activities, challenges and good practices to face the pandemics like COVID-19.
South Africa Water Research Commission Response to COVID-19
The Research and Learning partner of SWA, Water Research Commission (WRC) has set up a COVID-19 committee to deal with governance, staff safety, ways of working and lessons learned. A brief update on the various activities being undertaken by WRC are as follows:
- WRC has strengthened its engagement with stakeholders and the public through the development of factsheets and infographics, videos and state of knowledge papers. The factsheets on Water Quality and Hygiene Management, maintaining good hand hygiene and maintaining hand and contact surface hygiene during COVID-19 outbreak. These have been widely distributed to our sector partners and the public. In addition, WRC has driven various conversations via social media like Twitter, Facebook, and influencers. In addition, WRC has hosted virtual dialogues on Water Quality, Sanitation and Hygiene in light of COVID-19 and will be embarking in a community radio series to bring water, sanitation, wastewater and community empowerment information to the people.
- For the Water Sector, WRC has produced an appropriate innovations report to assist in decision making for rural communities and informal settlements that do not have adequate sanitation and water supply. WRC has also held various engagements with its partners like African Academy of Sciences, Waternet, African Water Association and AMCOW to discuss challenges at this difficult time and share material like the factsheets, infographics and technical guidelines.
- WRC has launched an 'Expression of Interest' call to researchers to propose studies that will strengthen the knowledge of COVID-19 in the water, sanitation and wastewater fields.
DR Congo: Youth Mobilization in COVID-19 response
The SWA Civil Society partner in Democratic Republic of Congo, Peasant Association for Self Sufficiency in Food (APAA Congo) is mobilizing youth in the communities to respond to the challenges being posed by COVID-19 pandemic. APAA Congo’s slogan is "Vijana Tupambane na Corona" in Swahili, meaning ‘Young People fight against Corona’. Around 500 young people are working to achieve the following objectives:
- Awareness-raising and mobilization of local communities and organisations for procuring cheaper masks to limit the spread of the virus. Through APAA’s sewing centres, one qualified trainer and 12 trainees including 9 girls are making 500 masks/nose caches every day.
- Sensitize and mobilize young people to cultivate the vegetables next to their houses to feed the families. APAA has undertaken this activity to combat undernourishment and food dependency of communities (as 50% of food products are imported). With the support of young people, APAA is providing training on permaculture followed by free distribution of selected seeds.
- Spread awareness in communities on Covid-19 messaging such as handwashing and observing other related prevention measures
Somali National University: Taskforce for community awareness
The research and learning partner of Sanitation and Water For All, Somali National University has established a university-level taskforce to raise awareness on COVID-19 among the community. The doctors and medical students at the university are answering calls from the people who are contacting the national call centre for advice on symptoms and prevention of the virus.
Liberia CSOs: Community engagement and Budget Advocacy
In Liberia, the Civil Society Organizations working in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector have embarked on a massive awareness campaign on COVID-19 prevention and hygiene promotion at the community level. Learning from the Ebola crisis, CSOs are increasingly working with community dwellers to get them involved in the response. One of the key contributing factor during the Ebola crisis was denial about the existence of virus within communities. Today, the same behaviour of denial is still prevalent among many Liberians. For this purpose, the CSOs are vigorously engaging with communities on the importance of handwashing and other related health safety measures recommended by the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health in Liberia. The awareness campaign targets the poor and marginalized community dwellers, along with the distribution of hygiene promotion materials and food items.
In terms of national advocacy, CSOs are engaging with the national government through the Legislative WASH Caucus and the WASH Commission for budget allocation and provision of safe drinking water and hygiene services to the poor and marginalized groups in affected communities.
India: CSOs focusing on reaching the most marginalized
Amidst COVID-19, the added layer of socio-economic inequality has raised the level of complexity in responding to the pandemic. The daily wage earners, street-based vendors, artisanal groups, migrant workers are compelled to forego their livelihoods. Currently, these vulnerable groups and homeless like beggars, rag pickers and pavement dwellers are provided temporary shelters in places where there is a huge scarcity of basic amenities.
In the above unfolding crisis, there is a lot that Civil Society can do and Governments have appealed for CSOs support to and supplement the governments in providing relief, awareness promotion and implementing the COVID-19 control measures.
The SWA CSO partner, Modern Architects of India (MARI) has taken immediate steps to engage in relief activities in the city of Hyderabad in the state of Telangana, India. In coordination with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and local authorities, CSOs have responded to the emergency needs of three categories of vulnerable groups which includes:
- Sanitation and personal hygiene needs of the 500 homeless persons living in temporary shelters
- Essential hygiene material needs of the 1000 Frontline sanitation workers mainly working as casual and or contractual labour in solid waste and sewerage management.
- Providing essential food commodities and personal hygiene material to needed by 1300 families from poorest and marginalized groups living in slums or informal settlements where the inhabitants are predominantly waste collectors, rag pickers, daily wage labour, vendors, etc.
Uganda CSO Network: Mobilizing resources to combat COVID-19
The Uganda Water and Sanitation Network (UWASNET), a civil society network, is mobilizing support towards initiatives aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda. The UWASNET Secretariat is working in collaboration with the National Hand Washing Secretariat and is mobilizing its membership towards this cause. UWASNET recognizes that the COVID19 pandemic impresses upon cooperation among government, donors and non-state actors including citizens to strengthen health systems and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to safe water and improved standards of sanitation and hygiene.
For UWASNET, this is an opportunity to reiterate what WASH sector stakeholders have been advocating all this while, "... handwashing with soap can prevent the spread of diseases like COVID-19, in addition, to slow down the spread of diseases like Ebola, diarrheal, cholera, pneumonia and intestinal worms". UWASNET’s efforts are also aimed at advocating for the prioritization of the sector in national planning and budgeting having seen the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and other sectors. Through the coordination of its members, UWASNET will also share lessons learnt towards effective management of future WASH-related disease outbreaks in Uganda.
Click on the image below to read the newsletter by UWASNET Secretariat.
EWP: Global Call to realize Sanitation Workers' rights
For some people, working from home isn’t an option. Every day water and sanitation workers risk their lives to earn a living.
We are repeatedly told that handwashing is the best way to protect ourselves from contracting COVID-19. Yet our ability to do so must not come at the expense of workers’ rights. In some countries, the majority of those on the frontline of the outbreak - cleaners, water supply workers and sanitation workers - are without proper safety equipment or basic handwashing facilities.
From Lahore to London, the violation of workers’ rights is a pandemic that could significantly compromise global efforts to contain coronavirus. End Water Poverty, its members, and Public Services International urge governments worldwide to introduce emergency measures to realise people’s human rights to “just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” by:
- Introducing sick pay that covers workers’ essential costs (i.e. rent, food, water etc.)
- Equipping workers with personal protection equipment.
- Guaranteeing permanent contracts and universal income.
Once introduced, governments should enshrine these policies in national law to proactively protect workers - and society - against future public health risks.
Click here to sign their statement.
Sierra Leone: Community Education and tackling misinformation
The SWA Civil Society focal point in Sierra Leone, Musa Ansumana Soko from WASHNet is focusing all his organisation's effort on the eradication of misinformation, and disseminating messages of prevention and awareness to communities on COVID-19. This is done through WhatsApp messaging which is proving to be one of the most convenient channels right now.
In Sierra Leone, CSOs are involved in the process of monitoring and reporting on actions at the local level. To uphold the issue of equity and inclusion, CSOs are influencing the service delivery space within the government. Read WASHNet's full statement to the media.