The UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) released a new policy brief on Wednesday that said 74 million people in the Arab region are exposed to coronavirus infection due to lack of access to handwashing facilities.
"While it has been agreed worldwide that handwashing with soap and water is the best prevention against COVID-19 contagion, this simple act proves to be difficult in a region where 74 million people lack access to a basic handwashing facility," said the ESCWA.
The ESCWA highlighted in its policy brief the impact of the pandemic on the water-scarce Arab region saying that the water demand for handwashing alone is set to increase by 9 to 12 litres per person per day – not to mention laundry, cleaning and food washing demands.
"This amounts to an average daily increase of household water demand by 4 million to 5 million cubic metres. The situation is further exacerbated by insufficient piped water supply in 10 of the 22 Arab countries," the UN's regional commission said.
ESCWA is one of five UN's regional commissions and it supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
As about 87 million people in the region also lack access to an improved drinking water source in their homes, it says, they accordingly are exposed to a greater risk of contagion as they are forced to collect water daily from a public source.
Women and girls in rural, peri-urban areas and informal settlements, who usually undertake the water collection task, are thus put at a greater risk, the commission noted in its police brief.
ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti stressed that it is urgent to ensure access to clean water and sanitation services to everyone everywhere, at no cost for those who cannot afford it, in order to avoid further spread of the coronavirus.
"Indeed, several Governments and utility operators have taken extraordinary measures to reconnect services and waive tariffs for an interim period to alleviate economic hardship," said Dashti, adding that "this should be emulated in all Arab countries".
More than 2 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 129, have died, according to world meters website.
Dashti also shed the light on the refugees and people living in conflict areas or under occupation as they "bear an additional burden". "In the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, only 1 in 10 households has access to clean water," she said.
According to the policy brief, an estimated 26 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the region are also at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services.
“Access to water should not be used as a weapon of war,” further said Dashti, reiterating her call for an immediate humanitarian truce and a renewal of efforts to build lasting peace in the region. “Governments should prioritize and coordinate the provision of emergency clean water and handwashing facilities to all areas without coverage,” she concluded.
The ESCWA's policy brief is part of a series of impact assessments of COVID-19 undertaken by the regional commission to support Arab Governments in joining efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.