Water Currents: Emergency Response & Opportunities for Development

This issue of Water Currents focuses on the work of local governments, civil society organizations, and other partners as they continue strengthening water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems amidst COVID-19 and protracted emergency responses. The COVID-19 pandemic puts struggling WASH systems under further stress, and threatens to roll back progress made on expanding water access to the neediest.

In support of the broader public health effort, USAID is leveraging existing WASH programs and networks to help partner countries scale up hygiene promotion and keep water flowing during the pandemic and beyond. The accessibility of WASH at the institutional, community, and household levels is an important part of an effective, layered approach to reducing the spread of COVID-19. These approaches are detailed in the USAID WASH and COVID-19 Strategy.

Many resources in this issue from USAID, partners, and others provide an overview of WASH and COVID-19 emergency response approaches while others discuss systems strengthening in the context of a chronic crisis or in disaster-prone areas.

We would like to thank Agenda for Change members and staff for contributing content to this issue.

All resources are in English unless otherwise noted.

In Focus

USAID Community Meeting on Mitigating the Impacts of COVID-19 on Food, Nutrition & Water SecurityUSAID, July 2020. Presenters from Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, and the United States discuss how to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on global food, nutrition, and water security and how to improve coordination between humanitarian and development actors and actions.

Webinar handouts and related publications:

WHO Water, Sanitation, Hygiene, and Waste Management for SARS-CoV-2, the Virus that Causes COVID-19 World Health Organization, July 2020. This document, available in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish, summarizes WHO guidance on WASH and waste management relevant to viruses, including coronaviruses.

Gestión Sostenible de los Servicios de Agua y Saneamiento en Zonas Rurales: Escenario COVID-19Water For People, July 2020. This COVID-19 guide for rural communities in Latin America contains information on how the organization should continue to respond to COVID-19 and times of emergency (Spanish).

Health and Hygiene
Ready Initiative: WASH and COVID-19 in Humanitarian Settings: How Can We Improve Hygiene Behaviors? Ready Initiative, 2020. This webinar focuses on community-level preventative behaviors for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in crisis-affected settings. In particular, speakers from WASH’EM and the Hygiene Hub discuss handwashing promotion and physical distancing measures.

Summary Report on Handwashing and COVID-19COVID-19 Hygiene Hub, August 2020. To understand why handwashing is so effective in killing and removing COVID-19, it is necessary to understand how soap works at a microscopic level.

Summary Report on COVID-19 Programming in Camps and Camp-Like SettingsCOVID-19 Hygiene Hub, August 2020. Evidence suggests that these crisis-affected populations are at an increased risk of epidemic diseases. This is in part due to health risks associated with forced displacement, overcrowding, and inadequate access and coverage of WASH services.

Health Care Facilities
Project ECHO/CDC/WHO Global Webinar Series on IPC in COVID-19 Contexts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO, Infection prevention and control (IPC) professional societies, and Project ECHO hosted a weekly webinar series for IPC in health care settings from May 14 to August 6. Speakers from CDC, WHO, and IPC professional societies around the world focused on practical advice and implementation considerations for IPC related to COVID-19.

The Role of Stakeholder Coordination in Addressing Emerging WASH Problems: Kamwenge District, UgandaAgenda for Change, July 2020. Kamwenge District local government and Water For People coordinated various institutions and stakeholders to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic amidst challenges of inadequate WASH and health care infrastructure.

WASH Systems Strengthening
WASH Systems and Emergency ResponseAgenda for Change, June 2020. In this first Systems Learning Exchange discussion, speakers highlight the challenges of strengthening WASH systems in contexts where underlying chronic issues are often compounded by rapid onset crises, such as disease outbreaks or political and social instability. Speakers describe how they have applied a systems approach in fragile or emergency contexts.

Tiraque, el Municipio Boliviano que la Pandemia Encontró PreparadoWater For People, July 2020. A successful response to COVID-19 in the municipality of Tiraque in Bolivia, uses a systems strengthening approach (Spanish).

WASH Systems Amid Conflict, Fragility, and Humanitarian Action in the Central African RepublicPresented by Farel Ndango, partnerships manager, Water for Good. Water for Good operates as a proxy-private water services provider, aiming to strengthen the water systems at scale. This approach to building private sector service delivery capacity has had success in catalyzing systems-building in the Central African Republic, amidst conflict, fragility, and humanitarian action. 

Promouvoir L’approche Système WASH pour des Services Inclusifs Pérennes et le Nouveau Normal avec COVID-19. Agenda for Change, July 2020. Speakers from CARE and WaterAid, both members of the Rural Access to New Opportunities in WASH consortium, explain how the COVID-19 emergency has driven actors to adopt the behaviors required for a strong WASH system in Madagascar. Webinar in French, with English subtitles.

WASH System Strengthening Alongside COVID-19 Response in NepalAgenda for Change, July 2020. Helvetas Nepal is continuing its WASH systems strengthening initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increased focus on emergency response. These experiences are important to adapt its working modality to “the new normal.” 

Inclusion and Collaboration
Putting Equality, Inclusion and Rights at the Centre of a COVID-19 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene ResponseWaterAid, April 2020. Priya Nath and Louisa Gosling highlight how WaterAid’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic can mitigate new and existing vulnerabilities among people affected.

Enfoque de Redes: El Detonante para la Respuesta de Agua Potable, Saneamiento e Higiene al COVID-19 en HondurasAgenda for Change, July 2020.The networking approach facilitated by the Para Todos Por Siempre movement in Honduras enabled the rapid development of a coordinated response plan to the COVID-19 emergency (Webinar in Spanish, with English subtitles).

Agenda for Change ­– Agenda for Change is a collaboration of like-minded organizations that have adopted a set of common principles and approaches. It works collectively to advocate for and support national and local governments in strengthening the WASH systems required to deliver universal, sustained access as outlined under Sustainable Development Goal 6.

COVID-19 Hygiene Hub - The COVID-19 Hygiene Hub is a service to help individuals and organizations in low- and middle-income countries rapidly share, design, and adapt evidence-based hygiene interventions to combat COVID-19.

Wash’Em – This team of academics and WASH specialists has developed rapid assessment tools to provide tailored programming recommendations to improve hygiene promotion in emergency settings.

WHO COVID-19 Technical Resources – The World Health Organization has issued updated technical guidance on COVID-19 topics, including IPC/WASH.


Water Currents
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USAID Water Team