COVID-19: the role of the Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health

The Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health jointly serviced by WHO-Europe and UNECE help countries by promoting the availability of safe water for all within countries and across borders and sectors.

As of 16 March 2020, all meetings and activities under the Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health are being either held virtually or postponed or reconceptualized. The secretariat is working to explore opportunities for organising capacity-building activities online. While the secretariat works remotely, we remain responsive to demands and requests by phone and email (water.convention@un.org and protocol.water_health@un.org).

Guidance produced by WHO and information on ongoing activities:

The provision of safe and sufficient water and adequate sanitation and hygiene is key to protecting human health during the infectious disease outbreaks, such as also COVID-19. Frequent handwashing according to appropriate hygiene standards require a continuous supply of safe water, and sanitation systems that are operational, including under challenging conditions, such as due to a changing climate.

UNECE-WHO Regional Office for Europe Protocol on Water and Health is a legally-binding agreement that brings together the environment and health dimensions and supports countries in setting, implementing and monitoring intersectoral national objectives in the areas of water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH) and health, strengthening national capacity for surveillance of drinking-water quality and management of water-related disease outbreaks in accordance with Article 8 of the Protocol, and promoting the provision of safe WASH services for all in all settings, including in schools, health care facilities and communities.

The well-established pan-European convening platform joining environment/water and health professionals and decision-makers as well as a range of tools and guidance developed under the Protocol could be used during the recovery phase and beyond to prepare for and prevent possible future spread of this and other infectious diseases, while ensuring that vulnerable groups of population (people living in informal settlements, homeless, prisoners, elderly, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees, low-income people, etc.) are not left behind.

Indeed, Parties to the Protocol have a legal obligation to provide access to safe water for “all members of the population, especially those who suffer a disadvantage or social exclusion”. A methodology for self-assessing current challenges that prevent governments from ensuring universal access and for developing action plans to address inequities is a concrete tool developed under the Protocol to progressively realize the human rights to water and sanitation and therefore improve the governance and policy framework needed to develop an inclusive and effective response to possible future epidemics.

The equitable access to water and sanitation related activities carried out under the Protocol can support governments to be prepared and respond to pandemics such as the COVID-19, by further taking into account those left behind in access to water and sanitation. More information is available here.

Activities under the Protocol are implemented in the following technical areas:
•    Improving governance for water and health through target setting and periodic reporting;
•    Prevention and reduction of water-related diseases;
•    Institutional water, sanitation and hygiene;
•    Small-scale water supplies and sanitation;
•    Safe and efficient management of water supply and sanitation systems;
•    Equitable access to water and sanitation;
•    Increasing resilience to climate change.

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