A lot can happen in a year. Having just assumed the roles of Chair and Vice Chair of WASH4Work around World Water Day in 2020, we were on the cusp of a most unprecedented year. In the 12 months since, we’ve watched the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact affect many around the world, including those in vulnerable communities where access to water continues to be a daily challenge.
In a time when handwashing represented the first line of defence against the spread of the virus, three billion people around the world did not have access to clean water and soap at home to do so.
In many industries, COVID 19 meant supply chains and business operations ground to a halt. The global economy stalled. Ensuring human wellbeing was thrust to the forefront of every family, company and government’s actions.
Suddenly, water and hygiene access was no longer an issue siloed to corporate social responsibility, for the first time it was recognised universally as a boardroom priority. It was WASH4Work’s collective mission to work at speed and scale, through inspiring cross-sector collaboration, to protect lives and livelihoods.
As water, sanitation and – critically – hygiene actors, for many across the WASH4Work network this meant scaling up existing projects and igniting new ones, to deliver life-saving handwashing facilities and hygiene behaviour education to those most vulnerable in supply chains and communities.
We brought together businesses and development agencies to share learnings in real time, starting with two webinars; the first on COVID-19 and the importance of WASH for business (May), and the second in collaboration with the Water Resilience Coalition about Rebuilding through collective action: Practical guidance from WASH experts and business leaders (October).
Distilling a plethora of public advice, we also produced a Hand Hygiene Protocol for the Workplace, consolidating and simplifying recommendations to respond to COVID-19 effectively in offices, fields and factories.
Continued handwashing – along with other COVID-safe behaviours – will be critical to control transmission even as vaccines are rolled out around the world. But as we look to the year ahead, we need to also prioritise water’s role in building long-term resilience to another threat: the climate crisis.
Already 1 in 10 people don’t have access to clean water and this will only become more challenging the more our climate changes. In WaterAid’s World Water Day Report, Turn the Tide: State of the World’s Water 2021, we see the human impact of frequent and extreme floods which (ironically) limit access of clean water, and pollute poorly protected water sources, helping to spread deadly diseases, such as cholera. We also see how longer droughts cause wells and springs to run dry, meaning people – usually women and girls – must travel further for clean water, which impacts their livelihoods and education.
This World Water Day we urge everyone to take the next step in your WASH journey as part of building a COVID-safe and climate-resilient future – for families, communities, and supply chains. Businesses can and must be part of the solution. At WASH4Work we’re committed to help businesses take action; connecting you with resources and facilitating collaboration which unlocks this long-lasting and positive change.
Ready to take action?
WASH4Work’s Tools and Resources hub is a great place to develop your understanding of WASH risks and how to address them, and get inspired by other companies’ stories of WASH action. For those further along, take the WASH Pledge to provide access to WASH in supply chains and the communities that surround operations. If you want to be part of solution, join us.