November 6, 2020

Water is PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]

"Pure water is the world's first and foremost medicine." - Slovakian proverb

How can you avoid COVID-19, when you lack safe water with which to clean your hands or surfaces? Communities around the world are seriously grappling with this question as the COVID-19 pandemic imperils global water supplies and nurtures a growing humanitarian crisis in populations who lack consistent access to water as well as sanitation.

Concerned with this tangential crisis, MCD is partnering with other leading organizations from the water sector such as ROCKBlue, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Global Water 2020, and, to raise awareness about this issue and advocate for additional resources for water supply in a new "Water is PPE" campaign.

The strategy behind “Water is PPE” is to spotlight the importance of water supply in the fight against COVID-19. The campaign seeks to ensure that people residing in lower income countries have the water needed to wash their hands regularly, and that health facilities and schools have water to clean and disinfect their premises and to ensure that their staff and patients/students can wash their hands regularly. The campaign focuses particular attention on the critical role that public water service providers (WSPs), health facilities and schools play in responding to and mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Together WSP’s, health facilities and schools can play a major role in flattening viral curves. “Protecting and expanding water services is a critical part of the support needed for the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19,” MCD CEO Chris Schwabe said, and therefore “resources need to be allocated not just to sustain water supply but to expand it to areas with inadequate supply like health facilities and schools."

Before the pandemic, unfortunately, WSPs were already beset with struggles that left about 35% of the global population without reliable access to clean water. In fact, according to Global Water 2020’s John Oldfield, about “1-in-4 health care facilities across the globe lack basic water services" and "1-in-5 health care facilities across the globe lack sanitation services.” Now as the virus’ spread increases demand, disrupts supply chains, and decreases WSP plant productivity, the number of those without reliable access to clean water is likely to skyrocket.

The “Water is PPE” campaign not only raises awareness about this growing humanitarian crisis, but also offers an array of solutions. Aid agencies, foundations, and development-finance institutions, ROCKBlue founder Peter Macy suggests, can secure “the funds and facilities for water service providers.” Governments, Macy adds, can “quickly reprogram budgets and/or secure loans so emergency water funds are made available to water service providers,” while regulators can “temporarily modify regulations to enable those water providers to function and survive.” Other solutions the “Water is PPE” campaign proposes include:

  • Extending temporary relief assistance to water service providers (WSPs) as part of governments’ COVID response efforts.

  • Enabling WSPs to defer payments on outstanding debts.

  • Supporting a large, global finance facility (similar to what was established after the Indian Ocean Tsunami). This could include TA/turnaround funds (e.g., GIZ Urban Water Catalyst), capital facilities and project preparation resources to demonstrate bankable WSS investments, blended finance facilities to attract private capital and leverage limited public resources, and ensure utilities are part of longer-term public health responses to pandemics like this.

  • Where feasible, offering short-term, renewable loans or letters of credit to address cash flow gaps.

  • Providing technical assistance to help WSPs help manage their cash flows and finances.

  • Extending grace periods for people who need water services but are unable to pay their bills.

  • Expanding handwashing facilities

  • Expanding hygiene education and handwashing outreach to help people protect themselves.

The desired outcome of this initiative is to educate key decision makers on the importance water, sanitation, and hygiene holds in containing as well as mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the hundreds of millions of people residing in water supply-deficient communities including urban communities served by WSPs. Curbing COVID-19 requires everyone to do his or her part - including water service providers - because in the end, according to actor Matt Damon, a founder of “Water is PPE and should be treated as such.”

For more information on the “Water is PPE” campaign, explore the leading organizations on social media at: Medical Care Development (Facebook, Medical Care Development Public Health Twitter, Medical Care Development International Twitter, MCD CEO Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube), American Water Works Association (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), Global Water 2020 (Twitter and LinkedIn), (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), and ROCKBlue (Facebook and LinkedIn).

Matthew S. Lynch is the Assistant Communications Officer at Medical Care Development International (MCDI) Maryland, USA, office

Peter Macy during his video public service announcement about the 'Water is PPE' campaign

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