The current coronavirus pandemic is greatly exacerbated by the global water crisis and adds urgency to the fight for the human right to water.
Even before COVID-19 struck, the United Nations called water scarcity “the scourge of the earth.” At current rates of depletion and pollution, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in water-stressed areas. Every day, more than two billion people around the world are forced to drink contaminated water. Diarrhea caused by contaminated water and poor sanitation kills a child under five years old every two minutes.
And the harm is not confined to the poor countries of the global South. More than two million people in the United States lack running water and basic indoor plumbing, and a report by Food and Water Watch found that 15 million Americans had their water shut off in just one recent year due to an inability to pay mounting water bills.
Enter the pandemic. According to health experts, one of the most important things we can all do to stop the spread of the coronavirus is washing our hands often, and well, with soap and hot water and keep our surroundings clean. But more than half the global population lacks access to somewhere to wash with soap and warm water. Three-quarters of households, as well as nearly half of health-care facilities in developing countries, lack access to clean water on site.
The charity WaterAid says that the coronavirus pandemic exposes the vulnerability of people without access to water and warns that we should be fearful of what is to come in Africa and parts of Asia with this double crisis. Eighty percent of the seven million residents of Dharavi, Asia’s largest urban slum located in Mumbai, India, have no running water. Human rights groups report that 36 million people in Mexico do not have regular access to water. The people of the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, share one pit latrine with as many as 150 others.
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