Bhubaneswar: The significance of water, sanitation and hygiene in public health has come into recognition after the outbreak of novel corona virus across the globe. While handwashing with soap and water is critical and the first line of defence against the spread of COVID19, ensuring reliable supply of clean water is equally predominant in preventing spread of virus. However, in many rural and urban areas people continue to struggle to access clean water even after the administration has taken several measures to ensure the availability of water to the populace.
The absence of clean water poses many risks such as poor personal hygiene and unhygienic surfaces in public areas, especially health centres, can exacerbate the pandemic. Menstrual hygiene needs are also at risk posing a threat to the health and wellbeing of millions of adolescent girls and women. Where access to water is from public water points or communal water facilities, the risk of contaminated surfaces, such as taps, hand pumps, and the lack of social distancing in the ques are potential risks for spread of COVID19. The burden of water collection is mostly on women and absence of social distancing at the water collection points or lack of personal hygiene poses an additional risk for women.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the Government of Odisha has kept no stones unturned in providing access to clean and adequate supply of water, keeping in view the importance of Water, sanitation and hygiene in fighting the pandemic.
Drinking Water Coverage in Urban & Rural Odisha
In Odisha, as per the Ministry of Jal Shkati (Department of Drinking Water & Sanitation; www.ejalshakti.gov.in) only about 9.31 percent of the households in the rural areas have drinking water facilities within the household premises. However, 47% of rural population have been covered with Piped Water Supply which means that a public water point was available in the habitation from where households must collect their water. This would require more than 90 percent of people in rural areas to step out of their house to get drinking water, which may create a risk of increased infection. As per available data, 4.79 Lakh spot sources (public water points) were available over 1.5 lakh sq. km of rural areas and it is expected a person did not have to travel more than 50 metres to fetch water from public stan-post/spot source/water point.
Government of Odisha’s dedicated program The Buxi Jagabandhu Assured Water Supply to Habitations (Basudha) scheme which started in 2017-18 has made several improvements in the drinking water supply situation in Odisha.
While the supply to urban areas is streamlined with around 90% of the total demand being met through supply to 114 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) benefiting a population of 64.78 lakh (approx.), water supply in more than 2000 slum pockets housing more than 2 lakh people, remains a challenge. With the lockdown situation, maintenance of hygiene and sanitation is a difficult task in these areas.
Government of Odisha interventions on WASH for COVID19:
As the coronavirus crisis continues to spread, Government of Odisha has initiated and put in place systems to enable urban and rural populations access essential services including water, sanitation and hygiene services and products.
The government’s multi-pronged approach includes the following components:
• Training of medical teams, community front line workers, SHGs on basics of COVID19 and specifically on Infection Prevention Control. Frontline workers ASHA, AWW and ANM are helping to monitor the situation at the community and household level.
• Extensive monitoring systems for surveillance as well as health facility management &services. Third party monitoring by Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) functionaries is also being conducted.
• An adequate number of well-equipped health facilities (infrastructure), and temporary quarantine centres including access to clean water and sanitation. As per data received on May 25 around 16,586 Temporary Medical Centers (TMC) have been set up in 6798 Gram Panchayats in Odisha. In all these Centres, a provision of 7,29,095 beds have been made. Basic Water and Sanitation facilities have been ensured in all the TMCs, it includes adequate Water Supply and, different toilets and bathrooms for women and men. The TMCs also stock Personal hygiene Kits including sanitary napkins for women and girls, soap for handwashing, drinking water and solid and liquid waste management.
• Sarpanches of Gram Panchayats have been given additional powers to manage the Temporary Medical Centers and the incoming migrants in their areas.
• Adequate finances placed with various authorities / organizations including with Gram Panchayats to ensure all required facilities are in place with specific reference to WASH
A strong network has been established with organizatios/institutions (private medical institutions) and Civil Society Organizations and international development partners such as UNICEF for extended support.
The State Government is building drinking water and hand-washing facilities in informal settlements, in public places and high-traffic areas as well as in health care facilities and Temporary medical camps located across all the Gram Panchayats of Odisha. In some of these initiatives, corporates have partnered with the state government. Advisory to all offices and public places has made it mandatory to make available water and hand washing facilities along with soaps as a non-negotiable preventive measure. Other advisories that have been issued pertain to:
• Ensure both Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWS&S) and Public Health Engineering Organisation (PHEO) maintain continuity of service with minimal disruption and continuity of service for vulnerable households / slums during the pandemic.
• Reduce the risk of COVID19 transmission at the communal water facilities, community toilets, health facility, temporary Medical centers through encouraging social distancing measures, staggered timings of water collection, use of masks etc.
• Enforcing use of Safety measures specially for the front-line functionaries such as sanitary workers, swachhagrahi, plumbers, mason etc. who help with the provisioning of water and sanitation services.
• Prepare a plan for school hygiene to keep students safe when they return to school.
• Continue to push at state / district / Block / Urban Local Bodies / Gram Panchayat for stronger WASH systems to ensure right leadership, governance, coordination and financing.
Reinforcing WASH Supplies at community level
• Temporary Medical Centers and quarantine centers have been given the provision of water tanks of 2000 liter capacity for 50 persons. In areas where piped water supply is available, a dedicated line has been provided to these TMCs. In addition, in some centers water purifying systems have also been installed. Handwashing stations with water soap and provision for bucket and mug have also been made.
• Steps have been taken to repair community water taps and tube wells to ensure continuity of water supply.
• Supply of Personal hygiene kit ensured to all the migrant workers coming to the state is being made. Third party monitoring through OLM functionaries are keeping a check on this.
Area of Focus & Priority by Government
• Government along with development partners / Civil Society Organizations are jointly involved to identify and prioritise poorly served areas and healthcare facilities, temporary medical camps.
• Promoting ways to maintain social distancing at communal water facilities. This is especially necessary in areas where there are large queues at the facilities.
• To ensure RWS&S / PHEO maintain water supplies for households suffering from loss of income and provide water to low-income, poorly served areas and healthcare facilities.
• Identify hotspots of water insecurity in urban and rural areas to plan and implement contingency measures.
Building Capacity and involving Youth Volunteers
From the onset of the crisis, the Government of Odisha has focussed on communication and community awareness creation better case detection, contact tracing and prevention of spread of infection. UNICEF Odisha has worked closely with the state government to strengthen these efforts. With UNICEF’s support, the following are some key measures undertaken:
I. Development of advisories, surveillance & trainings of different level of field functionaries
II. Development of contextualised thematic training material on Infection, Prevention and control
III. Providing hand holding support to different stakeholders within Government Dept. so that they can understand the importance of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene in managing COVID-19
IV. Orientation of a cadre of youth volunteers through the ‘youth4water’ campaign to fight against COVID. Over 1000 youth from different areas of Odisha joined and contributed in awareness generation trough social media and community mobilization activities in communities.
The Road Ahead – What more needs to be done
Water security is an issue that needs collective action. There is no more urgent a time to address the water security / water safety planning than now, when people are constantly being reminded to use water and improve personal hygiene to combat the spread of the virus.
More emphasis is needed on risk informed planning/ contingency planning to ensure continuity of water and sanitation hygiene services with adequate access to clean water not only to tackle COVID 19 but also natural disasters (heat waves, drought, flood and cyclone) that Odisha faces frequently.
A preparedness plan at the village level will be needed to make villages self sufficient and able to deal with water management and COVID prevention and response actions.
More training and capacity building needed for Sanitary workers, mechanics, mason’s and others potential stakeholders who are in the ground and part of continuity of essential WASH services.
Promotion of rainwater harvesting system is the need of the hour. This can help to make water sources sustainable and ease scarcity in water scarce areas.
In the present context of COVID 19, needs of women and girls can be easily overlooked. There is a need to ensure the supply of sanitary pads through frontline workers. This is especially important since schools are closed and girl students no longer have access to sanitary pads supplied from schools. There is also a need to ensure toilets for girls in schools have dustbins and running water available to enable girls to maintain menstrual hygiene and ensure they have privacy.
UNICEF, Chief of Field Office, Odisha, Monika Nielsen said, “Odisha is a disaster prone state. Along with two cyclones, between last year’s Fani and the recent Amphan, we are also grappling with the COVID 19 pandemic. Water and sanitation services are the basic need of every person and the state government has taken many steps to ensure continuity of services to the most deprived and vulnerable communities, underprivileged areas and to the migrants who have returned home. Many parts of the state also face severe summer months which further compound the challenges of water availability and sustainability of water sources. As a partner of the Odisha Government, UNICEF remains committed to support all initiatives to address equity, water security and resilient planning to ensure safe and adequate water for everyone.”