“The world cannot afford a lost generation of youth, their lives set back by COVID-19 and their voices stifled by a lack of participation… Let us do far more to tap their talents as we tackle the pandemic and chart a recovery that leads to a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable future for all”
- António Guterres, UN- Secretary General
In spite of the current unprecedented challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people across the globe are putting their communities ahead of themselves– not only to prevent and reduce the risk of transmission but also helping those most in need. The current crisis has highlighted our interconnectedness and taught us that the health and well-being of others affect our own- none of us is safe unless we all are. Access to safe water and sanitation services– a prerequisite to fighting COVID-19 is hindered for many, including young people. Additionally, the closure of schools, colleges and universities continue to impact the education and well-being of young people.
Yet, determined to change the world, young people have continued to demonstrate their boundless energy, solidarity and ability to make the change. To borrow the words of UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, “youth have understood that solidarity is the name of the game”. As shown during Ebola response, young people are not only resilient but innovative in community response and participation, whether on the field or through digital spaces. Through their commitment and actions, young people are staying informed, volunteering their time online and offline to flatten the curve, and most importantly – creating awareness in their community. Here are some youth activities in COVID-19 response, for example:
- Reaching out to and supporting vulnerable groups of people, including people with disabilities, marginalized groups, people living in informal settlements or remote areas by supplying essential items (such as soaps, sanitizers, and food items), building DIY handwashing stations, using skills to make low-cost or free masks and even training the communities to grow food for self-reliance
- Running behaviour change communication campaigns on radio, social media and on the field about the importance of handwashing and other health-related information
- Fighting xenophobia and tackling misinformation on COVID-19 through online platforms to share correct information and recommendations to dispel common myths and raise awareness
- Hosting online youth meetings, workshops, sharing experiences and concerns, creating interactive stories and games for youth as well as communities
- Ensuring that information about the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services reach the decision-makers so that they get accurate information and are held accountable
The good news is that through the youth participation and inclusion in COVID-19 response, we can ensure a transformational and equitable change not only during the pandemic but also in recovery and reconstruction. As youth advocates for the right to water, sanitation and hygiene, we call on governments to renew their commitment and make this sector a political and financial priority during COVID-19 and beyond.
Through Sanitation and Water for All platform, we call specifically on:
• Ensuring increased youth engagement and participation in water, sanitation and hygiene policy and programmes: Participation is declared as a human right in the Universal Declaration of human rights. All young people have a right to participate in the conduct of public affairs, whether its formal participation in national processes or informal participation in communities or digital spaces. Governments should work more closely with youth organizations and networks to ensure their voices are heard and opportunities are provided for them to advocate for safe water and sanitation, participate in the implementation of the SDGs, communicate with local communities, civil society and policy-makers and hold their governments accountable to their promises.
• Governments to set ambitious targets for and beyond COVID-19, displaying strong political leadership, will for increased investments in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and strengthening national accountability and review processes to ensure eliminating inequalities and leaving no one behind.
• Donors to increase their investments and support in the sector, while development partners to continue to foster government leadership, strengthening local capacities, gathering evidence, increasing coordination among sector actors, tailoring approaches to the context, and adapt constantly
The world needs your commitment now and we as youth are standing by you.
Here’s a snapshot of what other youth organisations are saying:
"Periods don’t stop for pandemics. The crisis such as COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing inequalities, especially for girls and women. Lack of availability, accessibility and affordability of menstrual hygiene products is a big concern. It is during such times of crises, young people like us need to review the WASH policy and frameworks and ask partners and stakeholders to commit and invest in Menstrual hygiene Management, hence guaranteeing enabling environments that are dedicated to improving menstrual experiences of women and girls.”
— Karanja Daniel, WSSCC member and Founding Director, Community Socioeconomic Development Initiatives (COSEDI), Kenya
“Coronavirus is hitting us hard but the infodemic that comes with it is hitting harder. If allowed to spread, it would create distrust amongst people. Fighting fake news goes beyond putting red flags, it is ensuring that the right information gets to the people at all times. At Know COVID-19 Nigeria, we share relevant, reliable and relatable information, provide precautionary, health and safety tips using quality data and infographics, and encourage youth involvement and participation through volunteering and stakeholders engagement. Our effort is having impacts in local communities and we are helping them to build trust in government response programmes, thereby, contributing our quota in flattening the curve”,
— Abdulhakeem Abdulkareem, Co-Founder, Know COVID-19 Nigeria
“…the decisions we take today will shape the world we inhabit post-COVID-19. The world cannot afford the consequences of leaving the youths behind in making today’s decisions for better tomorrow. To sustainably drive the recovery process after COVID-19, youth should be part of today’s decision making and COVID-19 response implementation”,
— Temple Oraeki, Hope Spring Water Charity Foundation, Nigeria
“In many countries, key institutions and emergency response systems have been put to the test with the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, most have only gone to show great weaknesses and even failed in responding rapidly to curb the spread of the virus. Despite the escalating situation in most parts of the world, young people have proved to be dynamic in joining in the fight against the virus. We have witnessed a spike in innovative ideas and actions across the globe that go only to prove the massive potential in the youth- which remains untapped to a large extent. The next few months will be challenging for most people, governments and other stakeholders need to ensure that the youth are engaged as part of the solution in addressing this pandemic as well as prepare communities for a resilient future”,
— Sena Alouka, Executive Director, Young Volunteers for the Environment (Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnnement), Togo
"Young people in the Central American region are aware of the importance of improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene in our countries. COVID-19 has greatly affected our daily activities, but also restrictions to the free movement of people and trade have reminded us how interconnected we are. To get out of this pandemic, we require that all countries in the region prioritize the health and well-being by providing access to WASH to everyone, everywhere. During this pandemic, we have used virtual meetings and digital advocacy to share information and experiences that could support youth and their communities to fight COVID-19. This is a challenging situation which has made us think about the tools that can be used in the present and future in leading projects that help communities to be more resilient to any such health crisis. However, we cannot forget that adequate hygiene, access to water and sanitation save lives and allow us as a whole to become a healthier and more prosperous region."
— Kenneth Alfaro and Geisel Sánchez, Youth Network for Water Central America
"COVID-19 has claimed the lives of thousands and many more are threatened. As WASH is the first line of defence to coronavirus- this crisis has exposed the challenges we face in the sector and has shone the light on what young people are doing around the world, especially spreading valid preventive and educative measures to slow the spread. Until the government realise that young people are key players in society, we will have a slow development pace in the WASH sector, especially in reaching out to the most vulnerable in society."
— Wilson Atumeyi, Founder and CEO, Water With Development [WaterWide],Nigeria
About the author:
Clinton Ikechukwu Ezeigwe is a Campaign Manager with the Christian Fellowship and Care Foundation in Nigeria. He has more than 7 years of experience in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector as a youth advocate. Clinton has received SWA Youth Reporter Scholarship for 2020.