Clean water and sanitation are essential for human life. Each person requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean water each day for drinking, cooking, and hygiene. Unfortunately, half of the world population still lacks access to clean water and sanitation. The more dire condition can be felt in conflict zones and extreme weather countries where water is more scarce, unpredictable, and polluted. As the world is in a water crisis and climate change is making it worse, thus, the World Water Day on 22 March this year was themed water and climate change. However, our focus is now shifting to the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading globally. Given circumstances, many events regarding the World Water Day should be changed or even canceled. The world leaders also seem preoccupied with tackling the virus without realizing the importance of clean water for people in cleaning and washing purposes with sanitary substances, such as washing hands with soap which is also important to slow down the transmission of the COVID-19. Then, how should countries, particularly Indonesia, commemorate the World Water Day amid this global pandemic?
As the major defense against COVID-19 and other diseases, clean water is crucial for people to wash their hands with soap. However, as the fourth most populous country in the world with the largest economy in Southeast Asia, nearly 28 million Indonesians lack of clean water and 71 million lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Take Tangerang regency in Banten as an example, people over there are suffering due to the shortage of clean water just like many other people across Indonesia, especially in the dry season. Ironically, even in its capital city, Jakarta, almost half of its groundwater is contaminated with fecal matter and 80% of Escherichia coli. With these circumstances, Indonesians are likely to get infected by viruses and other dangerous diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and hepatitis. Thousands of Indonesian have suffered and died from the latter mentioned diseases due to poor WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) practices.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report on 28 April 2020, there are 9,511 confirmed cases and 773 deaths related to COVID-19 in Indonesia. There have been several efforts by the Indonesian government in responding to COVID-19 such as providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, allocating US$ 8.1 billion to stimulate the economy, issuing a regulation of large-scale social restrictions (Indonesian: Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar or PSBB), including school closure and Work From Home policy, and also providing portable sinks in public areas. However, there is only 76.07% of the population has access to public hand-washing facilities and Papua recorded as the lowest with 35.55%.
The need for clean water is increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately for some unknown reason, those who have access to clean water have been wasting it every day, especially in Indonesia. As there are many campaign videos viral on the social media about people washing hands while singing their favourite songs, a general observation has proven that some of them let the water flows, they forget that they should shut the water faucet while using soap. The "hand-washing" campaign should be accompanied by the "water-saving" campaign to raise people's awareness about the importance of saving water to ensure its sustainability. The COVID-19 outbreak should make us be water stewards and reminds us of how important clean water and sanitation for health.
Therefore, it is important for Indonesia to celebrate the World Water Day by initiating a wider focus on clean water and sanitation for health as we are now facing the COVID-19, despite the theme for this year is water and climate change. The Indonesian government should also consider the access to healthy and safe water, adequate sanitation, and improved hygiene as Indonesia has put water and sanitation as targets on its long-term national development plan 2005-2025 (Indonesian: Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Panjang or RPJP) thus, Indonesia should work more on the SDGs 6 during this pandemic, considering that water, sanitation, and hygiene are critical for socio-economic development and a healthy environment. In addition to that, the SDG 6 also has a direct connection to the other SDGs. Last but not least, this approach also can be a suggestion for the rest of the world to commemorate the World Water Day 2020 amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
Written by Anisha Maulida, an International Relations Graduate of Brawijaya University to celebrate World Water Day 2020.