COVID-19: A WASH response is a health response


Now, more than ever, the importance of inclusive, accessible and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is clear.

As the first line of defence against COVID-19, as a key first response when natural disaster strikes, and always in maintaining healthy and resilient communities.


As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold around the world, it has been fantastic to see the commitment and adaptability of our Water for Women partner organisations to respond to the needs of the communities where they are working in the face of this unprecedented challenge.


Through Water for Women, Australia has supported innovative and adaptive approaches that are having immediate impact in helping many communities combat the risk of COVID-19, whilst also ensuring that we reach the most marginalised and leave no one behind.


The strength of the networks of our Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has enabled Water for Women to respond quickly, efficiently and in a coordinated manner, quickly mobilising local partners, governments and the communities themselves to meet this challenge, and in some cases, multiple challenges, such as Tropical Cyclone Harold that impacted many countries in the Pacific in early April. 


 “I have been inspired by the drive of our partners to adapt and respond to ensure they support local communities minimise their exposure to COVID-19,” says Dr Alison Baker, Water for Women Fund Manager. “CSOs have been active partners within local coordination efforts, and in many cases, are leading the way in working with governments and their local partners to maximise and mobilise their response strategies.  It has been fantastic to support all of our partners to implement such comprehensive responses across Asia and the Pacific.”


All Fund partners acted quickly to redirect funds within their programs to respond to COVID-19, whilst ensuring our collective commitment to inclusiveness and sustainability held strong in all activities. Water for Women developed a set of response principles as a way of guiding activities but allowing for flexibility in approaches across the region, and the result has been inspiring! With inclusive WASH at the core of project delivery, CSOs were in an excellent position to support the fact that accessible WASH facilities are at the front line of defence against COVID-19.


By working closely with governments to communicate government-led messaging around hand hygiene and behaviour change, CSOs were able to quickly scale up their activities and leverage well established networks and trusted partnerships to distribute locally adapted materials and messaging that was in line with internationally agreed approaches developed by WHO and UNICEF.


CSOs have been busy developing innovative, creative and locally appropriate ways of communicating the importance of hand hygiene and other prevention measures to more people, particularly accessing marginalised and hard to reach communities.

Some of these initiatives include:


  • Radio and loud speaker campaigns
  • Video campaigns with local celebrities in Lao PDR
  • Training of trainers to spread awareness to communities
  • Mobilising farmer and faith leader networks to spread awareness
  • Clever awareness messaging on handwashing stations, fans and hygiene kits
  • Prevention poster creation with children in India
  • Social media campaigns
  • Leveraging government food distribution programs to emphasise hygiene awareness
  • Social distancing measures in public places
  • A focus on installing handwashing stations at public facilities such as bus stations, schools, kindergartens and health care facilities to ensure that everyone in the community has access.
  • Follow along on the latest postcards and stories via our website and the #WASHvsCOVID hashtag on social media


The strong link between health and WASH outcomes has become much clearer during this crisis.  Our work in improving WASH facilities and hygiene practices in health care facilities has seen WASH and health practitioners working side-by-side. 


As has been emphasised by many during this time, a WASH response IS a health response.


Our partner’s responses have demonstrated the true value of working together – National and Local Governments, development partners, donors, international CSOs, research organisations, private sector, local partners and of course the communities themselves.   There are some amazing stories of collaboration emerging that we will continue to share


Support to rights holder organisations such as women’s groups and Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) to identify livelihood activities (i.e. making masks, handmade soap) that support the response has been a critical element of many responses. Throughout the region, the need for ongoing economic activity despite severe lock down scenarios has been recognised.


In these challenging times, those most vulnerable in communities are even more at risk.


“Leaving no one behind” has remained a core element of all COVID-19 responses, as it is within all Fund activities. Our partners have  made sure that marginalised groups within communities, such as women, people with disabilities and , sexual and gender minorities had access to water facilities, handwashing kits, and were aware of referral pathways to support mechanisms in the case of domestic violence.


There are many positives and much learning to take away from this (still evolving) experience. We look forward to sharing more of our work throughout the month of May and beyond.


Pictured: Handing over and O&M training (SNV Bhutan/Ugyen Rinzin)

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