• 08 September 2020

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    Washing your hands, a lesson as simple as it is impossible

    On World Development Worker Day, a FIIAPP technician tells us about the challenge faced by millions of people in accessing drinking water

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    On World Development Worker Day, David Rodríguez Soane shares his thoughts with us on the importance of development workers continuing with their work. A vital and necessary task, especially during the pandemic. In a difficult context like this, David focuses on the need to guarantee access to safe water and hygiene, as universal rights and a key action against the spread of the virus.

    Washing your hands with soap and water is a simple gesture that today more than ever, in the middle of the Covid era, helps save lives. With the first days of September already passing by, governments and educational centres are debating about reopening their facilities and the most appropriate teaching models to adapt during this pandemic. However, in 43% of schools around the world it is not possible to wash your hands, a key defence mechanism in the fight to reduce the transmission of the virus. In fact, in less developed countries, 7 out of 10 schools lack basic facilities.

    In mid-August, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF published a joint report, Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools (WASH), in which it was revealed that around 818 million children in the world lack basic facilities to wash their hands in their schools, which puts them at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and other communicable diseases. More than a third (295 million) live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Once again, water proves essential for life. But so are sanitation and hygiene. A simple example is enough: without toilets, natural water sources are polluted; without clean water, basic hygiene practices are not possible. Among them, washing your hands.

    The cooperation perspective

    The world of cooperation has an important role to play in ensuring that the right to drinking water and sanitation is just that, a right for everyone. Indeed, this summer, the international community discussed water at great length. In the last week of August, for example, numerous actors, from governments to civil society organisations, gathered at two important events.

    On the one hand, from 24 to 28 August, Water World Week – WWWeek took place virtually. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) promotes this multilateral Agora every year which, for almost 30 years, has become the most influential event in the world for tackling the greatest challenges relating to water. On the other hand and also in the same week, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) organised five days of conferences dedicated exclusively to water from the perspective of development. This year, the Week on Water for Development (WW4D) started with a motto which is clearly part of today’s world: “Every drop counts, water in exceptional times.”

    Also this summer, in July, and with a strong presence from Spanish Cooperation through the Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation (FCAS), the XXI Conference of Ibero-American Water Directors (CODIA) took place, which is the main platform for political dialogue, technical collaboration and cooperation on water in Ibero-America. Within this framework, the two technical dialogues that dominated the debate were the relationship between water and biodiversity and the integration of sanitation and treatment in the framework of integrated water resources management.

    As we can see, there are plenty of spaces for the exchange of experiences and for multi-stakeholder coordination in order to achieve SDG 6, clean water and sanitation for all. The achievements of the past should serve as a spur to strengthen the firm steps being taken by multilateralism to reach 2030 in the best possible position. Global mobilisation after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lead to the fact that in 2015, 2.1 billion people had access to improved sanitation and that 147 countries reached the goal for accessing sources of drinking water (MDG Report 2015, UNDP). Now, the SDGs, after being with us for five years, open a new window of opportunity to follow the same path of progress and consolidation of rights. However, the figures in the SDG Report 2020 on SDG6 are not as good as one would expect and the emergence of Covid-19 has only made the situation worse. This is why we require solutions, we need answers.

    In this context, Spanish Cooperation, has the tools to contribute to global objectives and these must be emphasised. From data for 2018, it has been estimated that the FCAS has benefited more than 2.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, 2.2 million Latin Americans have had access to new or rehabilitated drinking water services and 1.1 million to sanitation services. Also the AECID and FIIAPP, through its participation in the EUROCLIMA+ project, which is the EU’s flagship programme on environmental sustainability and climate change with Latin America, devote enormous efforts to managing water in order to ensure the availability of water resources and strengthen institutional capacities and governance of the sector in beneficiary countries. In turn, numerous NGDOs, such as Manos Unidas, Oxfam Intermón and Acción Contra el Hambre, to name just a few, also carry out important specialised intervention actions regarding the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene in the countries in which they operate. They are examples of actors in our development work, but there are more, also among the autonomous communities, universities and other agents that are part of the system.

    Thoughts from the pandemic

    We have been looking at the issue from the perspective of cooperation, but the pandemic that has taken up and conditioned our lives for months provides us with some thoughts: the interconnection of essential elements such as dignity, people, prosperity, the planet, justice and partnerships. We are already familiar with the image being reflected back at us, but it also invites us to reflect once again. Global health, quality education and access to water and sanitation. SDGs 3, 4 and 6. All of these are interconnected rights, objectives and challenges that intersect throughout the world in a familiar scene in early September: the beginning of the school year. The equation is more complex in times of pandemic. And practically impossible to solve, for those girls and boys living in countries where washing their hands with soap and water is still a luxury within the reach of only a handful of people.

    On 8 September each year we celebrate Development Worker Day. It is a day to honour all the people who contribute their work, their knowledge and their sweat to build a world which is more just. But it will also be a day to remember that, according to the Hand Hygiene For All initiative, three billion people, 40% of the world’s population, cannot wash their hands with soap and water at home. Three-quarters of them live in the poorest countries in the world. Simply because they lack basic facilities to wash their hands, millions of people are at immediate risk of contracting Covid-19 or other diseases.

    The challenge is enormous, but we must make a start at sometime and in some place. So let’s start this September and let’s start with schools. Let’s learn a lesson as a society: simple gestures should not be impossible.

    Author: David R. Seoane, Communication and Knowledge Management Technician for the Spanish Cooperation programme “Transparency, Communication and Knowledge Management”

    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the sole responsibility of the person who write them.