Coronavirus: 3 billion people without access to drinking water in Latin America and the world

Elvis Vidaurre is aware that he, his wife, and their four children must wash their hands more frequently due to the outbreak of the coronavirus that is keeping the world on edge.


People need access to drinking water and to frequently wash their hands. According to the 2019 United Nations World Report on the Development of Water Resources, more than 3,000 million people in the world do not have access to water distribution networks.
Coronavirus: 3 billion people without access to drinking water in Latin America and the world
The health (and even the life) of his family is at stake and so he redoubles his efforts to ensure that the water reaches their need. Not only for vital consumption, sanitary use and cooking, but also for frequent cleaning, which can be essential to avoid contagion.
‘In my neighborhood we share two batteries (taps) and with hoses we fill our tanks to have water. When it's finished, we have to wait for our turn to refill,’ Elvis said, who lives in the El Manantial neighborhood of the city ​​of Tarija, in the south of Bolivia.
The Vidaurre family manages to survive up to three days with 900 liters of water.
Water distribution trucks circulate in many of the main Latin American cities.
It may sound like enough, but the daily consumption per person recommended by international organizations is 100 liters and the members of the Elvis family only have 50 per day. The average in Latin American capitals exceeds 250 liters each day.

A global concern

According to the 2019 United Nations World Report on the Development of Water Resources, more than 3,000 million people in the world do not have access to water distribution networks.
It is a problem that international agencies have warned for more than ten years and whose magnitude is being exposed by the coronavirus outbreak.
For the UN, that almost a third of the world population does not have access to safe drinking services is not only a health problem, but ‘it can alter food and energy security to economic development and environmental sustainability.’
And given the number of coronavirus infections that continue to grow globally, water has become one of the pillars of the United Nations' humanitarian plan of US $ 2,000 to combat the pandemic in the most vulnerable countries.
This was announced on March 25 by UN Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.
‘As you know, handwashing with soap is essential in the fight against covid-19. However, 40% of the world's population, or 3 billion people, do not have at home a facility to wash their hands with water and soap,‘ Lowcock said.
Almost half of the people who drink water from unprotected sources live in sub-Saharan Africa and six out of ten people do not have access to safe sanitation services.

In Latin America

Regarding Latin America, the United Nations report points out that ‘many people without access to clean water are concentrated in peri-urban areas, mainly in the poverty belts that arise on the periphery of many of the cities in the region.’
Richard Connor, editor-in-chief of the UN report, points out that although Latin America has better conditions than regions such as Africa or Southeast Asia, the problem of access to sanitation and safe water is present at different levels throughout the region.

Different methods, such as the distribution of water tanks, are used in the region and the world in the face of the pandemic.

He explains that the scarcity of the resource as such is not the big problem, as in other parts of the world, although he notes that there are regions in Chile or Peru that do suffer from this difficulty.
‘It is not about scarcity, but the ability to invest and create infrastructure to bring safe water and sanitation to the population,’ says the expert.
Connor highlights that in the last decade Latin American governments have invested in funds and subsidies to bring the resource to populations that are not connected to distribution networks.
However, this effort has not yet reached the most impoverished populations.
‘The upper and middle classes do benefit from these subsidies and in their neighborhoods, they have water connections, but the poorest areas that cannot pay for this service are lagging far behind,’ he explains.
The expert indicates that it is therefore a key issue both in countries with high standards of living standards, such as Costa Rica, and in others with serious economic problems, such as Venezuela.
 Countries should duplicate their sanitation efforts, UNICEF believes.

A case that is repeated in the region

One of the ‘poverty belts’ of which the United Nations speaks is located in the vicinity of the Quebrada Limas, a small tributary of the aquifer that passes through Ciudad Bolívar, in the south of Bogotá.
There, where the settlements intermingle with the rural landscape, there are hundreds of people who do not have access to drinking water and improvise every day to get supplies.
Clandestine pipes, transfer in buckets and neighborhood distribution are some of the methods of the inhabitants of the area to access the resource.
‘There was informal or illegal growth. Many people who have no way to pay rent in more central places go there and build their houses,’ José Quebradas, a social leader from Ciudad Bolívar who knows the vicissitudes that his neighbors are going through, he said.
Growth has been ‘exorbitant’ since 2012 and there are at least 15 neighborhoods in that area that have this problem.

More water

With the crisis, a greater need for water is becoming evident.
In Costa Rica, for example, daily use went from 250 liters per person to more than 400, indicates the executive president of the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers, Yamileth Astorga.
‘Consumption has skyrocketed,’ he says.
Costa Rican authorities ask the population to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth or lathering their hands and to refrain from using the resource in cases such as car washing.
‘Although we like to have beautiful bushes (plants), in the midst of these moments of pandemic we require the use of water for vital uses, consumption and hygiene,’ asks the official.

The lessons of the covid-19

For Richard Connor it is necessary to recognize the crucial role of water in the development of society, not only socially but economically.
The expert maintains that the distribution of water resources and health services should be considered as important in development as education, well-being and health.
‘Many governments around the world don't give it that importance,’ he says.
‘If we do not recognize that access to water and sanitation must be assumed as a true human right, the pandemics will continue. It is most likely, because we will not be able to wash our hands and we will not be able to wash vegetables before cooking them,’ he concludes.
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