As India faces a deadly second wave of Covid-19, international organisation WaterAid has launched an emergency appeal to bring vital water, toilet and hygiene facilities to health centres and vulnerable communities as well as urgent support to frontline sanitation workers to help protect lives.
The country is seeing more than 400,000 new cases every day and, with the exodus of people from the cities, this horrific wave has now spread to parts of rural India, threatening to overburden local health centres with weak infrastructure that are unprepared for such a crisis.
Dr Chandrashekhar Prasad from Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital in Gaya, Bihar, said:
“There is an overall lack of sanitisation across the hospital with no cleaning of wards and inadequate measures to dispose of bio-medical waste. As a result, a few sanitation workers tested positive for Covid-19 recently. Basic hand washing stations are missing at the vaccination and testing facilities, and patients are not displaying essential Covid-19 appropriate behaviours. By ensuring these gaps are addressed urgently, we can prevent the further spread of the disease among patients and staff.”
WaterAid is raising money to support its response work in 50 rural health centres to rapidly repair existing infrastructure and install new temporary facilities, such as water storage units, handwashing stations and additional mobile toilets.
Frequent handwashing with soap reduces the spread of coronaviruses (flu-like illnesses) by around a third (36%), so the work will help protect both frontline staff so they can care for patients safely and local citizens using these facilities.
With 1 in 4 homes in India lacking clean water on site and as the arrival of the summer season means many sources in rural areas will dry up, water supplies are urgently needed. WaterAid will bring emergency supplies to 125 vulnerable rural settlements, helping build resilience for 12,000 people.
Vital safety and hygiene support will also go to 2,000 sanitation workers and waste-pickers in urban areas, who are working on the frontline to help slow the spread of Covid-19 but do not have suitable protective equipment or safety nets to survive the impact of this pandemic.
WaterAid, which has been working in India for over 35 years, will also launch a new hygiene awareness campaign to reach 1 million people, building on its previous work to promote good hygiene habits and physical distancing, to help prevent the further spread of the virus to at-risk communities.
VK Madhavan, Chief Executive at WaterAid India, said:
“The pandemic has engulfed India. As our large cities start to survive this wave through lockdowns and improvements in health care infrastructure, the interest and attention to this issue will wane. Unfortunately, this disease has already spread to rural parts of the country, to areas where public health infrastructure was already limited and will not be able to withstand the surge. As the summer season is upon us, the situation will rapidly become more dire as access to a clean drinking water supply will become more difficult in water scarce areas.
“While the government’s primary focus is on critical life-saving equipment like oxygen, protective equipment and vaccines, our work will help ensure communities and healthcare workers have the basics of clean water and decent sanitation to help protect themselves from the spread of disease.”
As the latest wave of Covid-19 spreads to neighbouring countries, such as Nepal, with which India shares a long, porous border, the scope of the emergency work could also be extended.
To find out more and donate, please visit: https://www.wateraid.org/uk/donate/south-asia-covid-appeal.