Within the span of four months, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the greatest challenge that every individual has had to face, regardless of their race, class and gender. As per the statistics released by the government of Pakistan, COVID-19 has spread the most in Sindh, with 97,626 cases in four months, while Punjab is the second most badly affected province (Government of Pakistan, 2020). In total, Pakistan is suffering through great damages, with the COVID-19 cases rising exponentially, and the economy suffering from a decrease in exports and shutting down of companies leading to massive unemployment. This disease, generally called as Corona Virus has also highlighted the importance of hygiene, and primarily hand washing. According to UNICEF, handwashing with soap, when done correctly, is critical in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (Cooper, 2020), however, in a country like Pakistan, where 42 percent of the population remains without access to basic sanitation (Jalil, 2017) and an estimated 70 percent of households still drink bacterially contaminated water (UNICEF) can everyone fight corona by adapting hygienic practices? Does everyone in Pakistan have the resources to wash their hands with clean water?
Sanitation and access to clean water are perhaps some of the biggest challenges faced by people living away from the posh residential societies, but this issue has been greatly neglected by not only the federal governments, but also the local and provincial governments. Part of the reason is that these areas, where sanitation facilities are extremely poor and people often have no place to defecate, are slums and several middle-class areas such as Machar Colony in Karachi and some parts of Shahdara in Lahore, etc. Apart from these slums, several small cities are in poor conditions as well with respect to sewerage systems and sanitation facilities.
In these times of global uncertainty and fear of the pandemic, cleanliness is the first line of defence against COVID-19. However, in these areas where people are deprived of drainage facilities and sanitation, it is practically impossible to keep cleanliness a priority, as the option to take a shower after coming back home, wash your hands for 20 seconds, wear clean clothes every day, etc. are very limited.
Furthermore, it is not just the slums and rural areas, major parts of big cities are also facing water shortages which are an essential part of sanitation facilities. Quetta is facing a daily shortage of 20 million gallons of water, while 20 million residents of Karachi regularly face water shortages (Jamal, 2018). It is not uncommon for the people living in Clifton (a posh residential area of Karachi) to buy water tanks regularly, and use them for the most necessary activities. This shows how a compromise has to be faced, or an opportunity cost arises, between hygiene to prevent COVID-19, and staying hydrated during the scorching summer season. This is directly linked to sanitation on a city level, as well as individual level, as reduced access to water which creates a trade-off and enough water will not be available for proper sanitation of the whole city. This problem is also related to government priorities, and their willingness to take care of the sanitation crisis, amid a pandemic whose impact can be reduced through sanitation systems and provision of clean water to the public.
A city to city analysis of COVID-19 cases in Sindh shows that apart from Karachi, the largest city in the country, Sukkur and Larkana have the second and third highest number of cases in the province respectively (Government of Pakistan, 2020). In district Sukkur, sanitation facilities are available to 54.86% of the population (Ali, 2005). This means that a great part of the population is vulnerable to COVID-19 as they do not have access to sanitation, and therefore, cannot take part in hygienic activities. Furthermore, according to the judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court to inspect the state of civic infrastructure, sanitation, and water supply in Sindh, out of the 29 water treatment plants in Sukkur, 26 are laying out of order (Correspondent, 2017). This shows how access to clean water is also very limited and therefore water, a necessity, is only a luxury that can be afforded by the wealthy. Due to these reasons, the 865 COVID-19 cases in Sukkur are bound to increase due to the mismanagement of government authorities in providing sanitation facilities and clean water to the residents.
Even though COVID-19 is not a waterborne disease, which means that the virus is not born, and cannot be spread through water, the sanitation facilities of Pakistan are needed more than ever to stop the spread of this pandemic greater into our country. Sanitation, drainage, and supply of clean water are very crucial in ensuring that the virus does not reside on our bodies, and the surfaces that we come in contact with, such as clothes, bedsheets, tables, etc. these surfaces need to be regularly sanitized and cleaned, to eliminate the possibility of coming across the life-threatening disease. Numerous debates have been going on through various platforms such as social media and television, as well as newspaper articles as to the responsibilities of an individual and the greater society with respect to precautions against the novel COVID-19. Many people argue that it is an individual’s responsibility to ensure that they are not coming into contact with COVID-19 patients, or proper carriers, while others argue that it is solely the responsibility of the government to ensure that people stay at home and practice social distancing. Although everyone agrees that the poor and financially underprivileged are most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to economic conditions, the drainage systems of the country and sanitation facilities provided to these people are being ignored during this crucial time. It is important to address this situation in the short term, as well as long term as sanitation has always been a necessity, but right now, the wealth of the body is dependent on washing your hands for 20 seconds, and this is not possible if the majority of the population does not have the resources to do so. This lack of sanitation facilities in Pakistan can mainly be blamed on the local body governments and provincial governments for neglecting the underprivileged areas, leading to several diseases and social problems. However, to improve sanitation facilities, an effort can be made at an organizational and individual level as well. NGOs can raise funds to install water filters to provide safe water or install water wells that can supply water directly from the ground. Other than that, sewerage treatment plants can also be established in the areas which will improve the quality of water and help make the drainage system function properly. Furthermore, since this is a greatly neglected issue with grave consequences, an individual and organization can work towards creating awareness regarding the situation of these slums and places with ineffective sanitation facilities. Since Aitebar Foundation works primarily in interior Sindh, together we can start the movement and work for the uplifting of the people surviving with poor sanitation facilities for decades. References: Ali, D. N. (2005). District Health Profile Sukkur. US Aid. Cooper, K. (2020, March 13). FACT SHEET: Handwashing with soap, critical in the fight against coronavirus, is ‘out of reach’ for billions. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/fact-sheet-handwashing-soap-critical-fight-against-coronavirus-out-reach-billions Correspondent, T. N. (2017, January 19). Only three of 29 water treatment plants in Sukkur functional, judicial commission told. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1309280 Government of Pakistan. (2020, July 8). COVID-19 Dashboard. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from COVID-19: http://covid.gov.pk/stats/pakistan Jalil, X. (2017, November 23). Pakistan 7th worst country in access to sanitation. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1372293 Jamal, S. (2018, March 22). 21 million in Pakistan don’t have access to clean water: report. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from Gulf News: https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/pakistan/21-million-in-pakistan-dont-have-access-to-clean-water-report-1.2192988 UNICEF. (n.d.). WASH: Water, sanitation and hygiene. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/pakistan/wash-water-sanitation-and-hygiene-0