Water, sanitation and hygiene at the core of healthy resilience
The high-level segment of the sixth session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP6) to the Protocol on Water and Health focused on the central role of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in addressing 2 converging crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Around 300 delegates representing more than 47 countries, as well as several United Nations agencies and regional partners, gathered on 16–18 November in Geneva, Switzerland, to set priorities in the areas of WASH and health for the coming years in the pan-European region.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all the importance of WASH for basic public health, as hand hygiene was central to the response. Before the development of vaccines and treatment, hand hygiene was, along with physical distancing, the first effective and immediately available measure to reduce community transmission and protect health-care workers. Yet, efficient hand hygiene practice is fundamentally dependant on the provision of adequate WASH facilities.
“Safe water and adequate sanitation are prerequisites for human dignity, gender equality and inclusive development,” said United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova at MOP6. Yet, “climate change constitutes a major additional obstacle to fully realizing the human rights to water and sanitation for all,” she added.
Climate change is a threat multiplier; in the face of such threats water and sanitation services represent the backbone of resilience and security of communities and individuals. Efficient WASH services minimize the waste of a resource that has become increasingly precious in the light of water scarcity, while effective wastewater treatment and protection of water sources from pollution enable water re-use, so fundamental to the circular economy and sustainable agriculture practices. Safe and resilient WASH services can help countries tackle existing and emerging threats while also driving forward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Maintaining WASH services enables hospitals and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies.
The Protocol on Water and Health strives to implement the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, increase resilience to climate change and prepare for future pandemics while protecting human health, environment and water resources. As a forward-looking instrument, it provides reliable approaches and a successful multilateral regional platform for achieving the WASH-related SDGs and commitments made in 2017 at the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Ostrava, Czechia.