The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided clear guidance on the most critical measure we can all take to protect human health and reduce the spread of COVID-19: “Hands should be washed with soap and water.” While clear and simple, this directive is far from attainable for the 3 billion people around the world who lack access to soap and safe water at home.
While we don’t yet know how many people will die from COVID-19, we do know that an estimated 842,000 people die every year from a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Most of these deaths are preventable, especially if we collectively take the extraordinary measures to solve the problem that we are taking now to fight COVID-19. This intersectionality—where these historic inequalities in access to basic services may accelerate the spread of COVID-19—deserves attention equal to our present emergency response. This is all the more important given that water insecurity is increasing globally, attributable in part to climate change.
In East Africa, the Drought Resilience Impact Platform (DRIP), supported by a trio of other USAID programs, is responding to the compound challenge of responding to disease, water insecurity, and climate change.