Coronavirus and access to clean water

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Lack of access to clean water has during the coronavirus crisis been highlighted in developed countries like the United States in ways not previously noticed.

In general, water poverty is deadly. During the pandemic, it is only worsening.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of living — from the smallest moments like grocery shopping to the bigger dilemmas like clean water.

As a global health crisis, the coronavirus has reached every continent except for Antarctica. Similarly, access to clean water is another global health crisis. Both crises similarly affect millions of people.

The problem of clean water, though, has had a slower build — which means it has not had the same prominent presence that COVID-19 currently does. However, the pandemic has exposed the overlap between the two.


Access to water, in general, is necessary. Access to clean water, however, is an additional issue that requires urgent global attention. Both issues are prevalent throughout the world and are now being affected by the pandemic, harming communities and individuals alike.

Water crises did not arrive with the pandemic — they have been ongoing for decades. In fact, globally, one in three people do not have access to clean drinking water. With such a drastic discrepancy in availability, water crises exist all over the world.

In the United States, Flint, Michigan, has been the center of attention in terms of its water crisis.

For years, the city has had lead contaminating its water supply, with few solutions to reverse the situation. Residents have had to boil water, obtain filters or use bottled water instead.

Newark, New Jersey, has its own water crisis. In 2016, 30 public schools tested positive for lead contamination, which exposed the inadequate infrastructure within the city. A lack of government and legislative action caused a significant delay in taking action.

In general, water poverty is deadly. During the pandemic, it is only worsening.


In Mexico City, one in every five citizens does not have access to clean drinking water. These patterns continue across continents and cultures.

These three examples barely scratch the surface of the lack of water accessibility. In general, water poverty is deadly. During the pandemic, it is only worsening.

Sanitation requires water. When communities and individuals do not have this access, their risks from the virus compound.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing one's hands for 20 seconds using soap and clean water.

Without water, people cannot properly take the basic steps to protect themselves from the virus. Furthermore, if the water has contaminants like lead or chemical treatments, they could carry dangers of their own.


Therefore, providing water is not enough — ensuring that the water is clean and sanitary is also key.

Individuals are not the only ones in need of water, either. Agriculture and gardening require water to keep land and gardens productive. Without water, the system breaks down and the food supply chain begins to weaken.

During this pandemic, countries cannot afford to have broken agricultural production pipelines — and the virus has already compromised capacity throughout the world.

These crises are not new. COVID-19 is merely exposing their depth and expansive effects.

Furthermore, while some communities are in need, other areas waste water. The average family wastes around 9,400 gallons of water annually. Coming up with solutions for wastewater and providing better access to clean water can no longer wait. The pandemic requires immediate action.


In order to properly address the water crises during COVID-19, governments must introduce immediate legislation and direct the necessary funds. Solutions must be long-term, as well. Any decisions made today will affect citizens for decades to come.

One example is wastewater treatment. Some forms of treatment use both mechanical and chemical methods to deliver greater sustainability and performance.

The more plants that have proper filtration and treatment, the more communities have reliable access to clean and healthy water.

For short-term solutions, organizations have been taking action. Groups like the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the American Red Cross are focused on boosting their outreach through actions like installing spigots with chlorinated water.

Governments and organizations must pursue multiple paths simultaneously.


As a case study, Melbourne, Australia, has accomplished an exemplary feat. The city took proactive action to implement legislation that protects residents in the event of draughts.

New investments, new infrastructure and new agricultural and recycled water programs are all part of the robust plan.

Though not explicitly for a pandemic, the rest of the world can follow these steps to provide individuals and communities with clean water. To prevent unnecessary disease and death, the time to act is now.

Addressing the pandemic requires addressing water crises around the world, too. Environmental challenges and social and economic justice all play a key role in providing access to clean water for everyone.

On the road back to recovery, water access must be a central focus. If it's not, these issues will only worsen and water poverty will continue to unnecessarily oppress billions of people.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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