With large networks of influence, what responsibility do businesses have in contributing to water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) access and how do we scale-up current response efforts to build long-term resilient systems?
On 20th May, the WASH4Work initiative organized a webinar entitled “COVID-19 and the Importance of WASH for Businesses”. This webinar brought together around 120 people representing international companies and organizations from different regions and sectors to discuss the key links between COVID-19, WASH, and the role that businesses can play to take action in response to this pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance and preventive power of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to human health and well-being. Good hygiene, including handwashing with clean water, is the first line of defense against COVID-19 and other viral diseases. With large networks of influence, what responsibility do businesses have in contributing to WASH access and how do we scale-up current response efforts to build long-term resilient systems?
WASH4Work partners have responded to the pandemic by launching a number of new initiatives and projects. During the webinar, the initiative launched a WASH & COVID-19 focused landing page on its website with the goal of sharing tools, resources, and experiences from companies and other partners to support an informed response to this unpredictable pandemic.
The webinar highlighted some of the COIVD-19 responses that partners of the initiative are taking, serving as an open exchange of information, experiences and challenges on their COVID-19 response and to explore the opportunities for cross constituency support and collaboration at the global and national level.
Kate Holme, Strategic Partnerships Director at WaterAid and Chair of the WASH4Work initiative, provided context for why practical action by business in the context of COVID-19 crisis is so important in the workplace, supply chains and communities in which the workers live. Kate mentioned the importance of the WASH4Work community and highlighted WaterAid’s work in 26 countries to install handwashing facilities where they’re needed most, to provide the essentials so people can wash their hands thoroughly, and to share the simple but vital steps we must all take to keep each other safe and halt the spread of coronavirus. A summary of WaterAid’s response to the pandemic can be found in its COVID-19 Emergency response webpage and the recently launched Corporate COVID-19 Guidance is available to support businesses with resilient return-to-work planning.
The webinar also featured a multi-stakeholder panel framed around the broad question, “What Can Businesses Do in Response to COVID-19?” The panel discussion mainly focused in addressing the following two questions with the panelists:
- What are the practical challenges and opportunities that businesses are facing?
- What one lesson would you recommend that companies can learn from this crisis to future proof and build resilience in their business in relation to WASH?
Dr. Om Prasad Gautam, Senior WASH Manager at WaterAid UK, started the discussion by sharing practical insights with the audience on business drivers to mitigate and manage the pandemic’s impacts. He also shared some suggestions of factory and field solutions for a tailored bespoke response. Thereafter, Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Section, Programme Division at UNICEF, shared messaging and guidance developed by UNICEF & WHO related to WASH and COVID-19 applied to businesses or private places and the importance for business action. Lastly, Librian Angraeni, Deputy Director of Sustainability & Stakeholder Engagement at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), shared APP’s specific strategy and activities for community level WASH responses and the outcomes of these practices.
The day before the webinar, 19 May 2020, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the WASH4Work coalition released an updated Pledge for access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The official launch of this useful practical tool for taking immediate action on WASH and COVID took place at the webinar and was presented by Tom Williams, Director Water at World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). More information about the WASH Pledge can be found in the landing page of the tool on the WASH4Work website.
In summary, as the world transitions and begins to focus on recovery efforts, businesses will need to invest in prevention measures in their owned and operated facilities and throughout the broader supply chain to ensure the health of their staff and the resilience of the supply chain for business continuity. Importantly, this includes personal and environmental hygiene practices such as handwashing and surface hygiene, and reinforces the business case for taking action on WASH.
Effectively responding to COVID-19 and building long term plans to prepare for potential future shocks will require a holistic approach and collective hygiene response that includes behaviour change and practical action in addition to building strong water and sanitation systems able to withstand the next shock.
As illustrated in this webinar, the business sector can work quickly and effectively to scale action in response to COVID-19. In this new world, we will need “all hands on deck” to ensure sustainable access to water and sanitation for the 40 percent of the world’s population who still lack access. Please join the WASH4Work community today and help us to achieve the goal of making clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere by 2030. Join WASH4Work by committing to action to expand access to WASH in the workplace, in communities and across supply chains.