Water, sanitation and hygiene at the core of healthy resilience

High-Level Segment 2 of the Sixth Session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on Water and Health (MOP6) focuses on the central role of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in addressing the convergence crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change . Nearly 300 delegates representing more than 47 countries, as well as many UN agencies and regional partners, gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, on 16-18 November, to discuss the coming years in the areas of WASH and health among pan-European countries Area to set priorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the full importance of WASH to basic public health, as hand hygiene was central to the response. Before the development of vaccines and treatments, hand hygiene, along with physical distancing, was the first effective and readily available measure to reduce community spread and protect health care workers. Nevertheless, efficient hand hygiene practice is fundamentally dependent on the provision of adequate WASH facilities.

“Safe water and adequate sanitation are essential conditions for human dignity, gender equality and inclusive development,” Olga Algairova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNEC), said at MoP6. Nevertheless, “climate change is a major additional obstacle to the full realization of the human rights to water and sanitation for all,” she said.

Climate change is a threat multiplier; Water and sanitation services represent the backbone of the resilience and security of communities and individuals in the face of such threats. Efficient WASH services reduce wastage of a resource that has become increasingly precious in light of water scarcity, while effective wastewater treatment and protection of water sources from pollution enable water reuse, which promotes a circular economy. and is fundamental to sustainable agricultural practices. Safe and resilient WASH services can help countries address existing and emerging threats while advancing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Maintaining WASH services helps hospitals and communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies.

The Protocol on Water and Health seeks to implement the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, enhance resilience to climate change, and prepare for future pandemics while protecting human health, the environment and water resources. As a forward-looking instrument, it provides a credible approach and a successful multilateral regional platform to achieve the SDGs related to WASH and the commitments made at the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Ostrava, Czechia in 2017.

world toilet day

To coincide with the end of MOP6, 19 November was World Toilet Day. This year the focus was on the impact of the sanitation crisis on groundwater. Groundwater is the most abundant source of freshwater in the world, and yet it is under threat from climate change, as well as from inadequate sanitation systems spilling human waste into rivers, lakes and soil, polluting underground water resources. Safely managed sanitation protects groundwater from human waste pollution.

“Today, almost everyone has a mobile phone, but not everyone has a proper toilet. In the pan-European region, more than 271 million people do not have access to safely managed sanitation that protects health and the environment. Twenty-nine million people do not even have basic infrastructure to go to the toilet safely and with dignity,” commented Dr. Hans Henry P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe at MOP6. “Disappointingly, at the current rate of progress, we will fail to meet SDG 6.2: To ensure safe toilets for all by 2030. We need to work 4 times harder and faster to get there, and the Protocol on Water and Health is an accelerator in closing that sanitation gap.

WHO/Europe and UNECE this week launched a new report on “Delivering safe sanitation for all”, which indicates priority areas for improving the situation in the pan-European region. Any reform, whether in a large city or a small-scale rural system, must be sustainable and resilient in order to protect our future generations in the face of a changing climate.

We cannot lose this opportunity to accelerate progress on SDG 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all using the Protocol on Water and Health and to ensure universal access to water and sanitation.

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