COVID-19: WASH in Vulnerable Communities

International Water Association WASH

Target Audience

NGO, Health workers, Researchers in community mobilisation, WASH practitioners


The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus has made practices such as social or physical distancing and regular hand washing an integral part of daily life. Globally, major health organisations advise washing hands more frequently (for at least 20 seconds) and the two-metre separation rule to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, these measures can be exceptionally difficult to put into practice in densely populated, informal urban settlements. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are challenges maintaining social distancing in such crowded locations, in addition to which there is a lack of provision of clean water for hand washing. This points to obvious limitations for the strategies that have been widely and successfully used elsewhere to combat the pandemic.

The high prevalence of on-site sanitation systems in these areas has also raised concerns about the possibility of infection via bio-aerosol formation during the emptying and maintenance of pits and septic tanks, presenting questions regarding the health and safety implications for sanitation workers undertaking such tasks.
The exclusion of any segment of the population from essential healthcare and water, sanitation and hygiene services not only puts these individuals at risk, but creates an unnecessary and unacceptable risk to the entire population by allowing highly communicable diseases like COVID-19 to spread more easily. Therefore, it is critical that policymakers implement alternative and innovative measures to prevent further outbreaks in these areas, which are home to millions of vulnerable and poor households.
The panel discussion will explore these alternative and innovative measures and will include panellists from major organisations that are present on the ground ramping up assistance. The panel will also highlight their activities related to providing new hand-washing facilities, implementing behavioural change programmes, training and capacity building, and community mobilisation.

Learning Objectives

1. How to implement the global preventative outbreak advice in informal settlements
2. What are effective measures, best practices, and good hand-washing technologies to implement in urban settlements


International Water Association


  • Eunice Ubomba-Jaswa Research Manager (Water Resources Quality & Management), Water Research Commission, South Africa
  • Puneet Kumar Srivastava Urban WASH Advisor (Utilities), WaterAid UK
  • Juste Hermann Nansi Country Director Burkina Faso for IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre
  • Maggie Montgomery Technical Officer, World Health Organization
  • Brian Arbogast (moderator) Director of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation