Covid-19, World Water Report. Precautions impossible for 55% of humanity


#Stay at home, keep safe distances, wash hands often, sanitize surfaces. All it would take is decent housing, living space, soap and water, disinfectant solutions.

The precautions outlined by WHO to counter Covid-19 infection are impossible for 55 percent of humanity, as confirmed by UNESCO in the World Water Report 2020. (3) And it is time for the more fortunate 45 percent to start taking care of it, for their own health. The new virus forces solidarity from even dark hearts for their own survival.

Water and sanitation, a paper right

‘Drinking water and sanitation are an essential human right for the full enjoyment of the right to life and all other human rights’ (UN, General Assembly, 28.7.10).

A paper right, systematically denied by the 193 member states of the United Nations to their populations. Worse, several UN member states use water as a tool for political pressure against other populations. It is the
water grabbing
, an international crime against humanity as widespread as it is unpunished. (1)

The assurance, to all the inhabitants of the planet, of clean water and san itationhas thus been included among the ‘
Sustainable Development Goals
‘ (SDGs), in UN Agenda 2030. It is the sixth Sustainable Development Goal, closely related to the first two (‘
End Poverty
‘ and ‘Zero Hunger’).

World Water Report 2020 (UNESCO)

The World Water Report 2020-published on 3/22/20 by UNESCO(United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) confirms the data from its previous edition. (3) This renews the alarm raised in the UNICEF-WHO report 18.6.19, which we have already shared

Nothing has changed, except for the worse, from the previous edition of WWR. At least 2.2 billion people lack access to clean water, 4.2 lack basic sanitation. Desertification is advancing, as also highlighted on the (only) World Day dedicated to it. Most recently on 17.6.19, as we have already written.

Rapid urbanization, social inequality, poverty and climate change, and increased demand (increased 6 times in the last century) are the main factors behind the water crisis. And urbanization, among other factors, is the only phenomenon so far considered unstoppable. (4)

Areas of focus

Climate emergency is listed in WWR 2020 as a crucial factor in the availability of safe water for consumption. Global warming, in promoting the evaporation of watersheds, reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in waters. This reduces the self-purification capacity of watersheds, which is followed by their increased exposure to pollution and pathogens, especially during floods and droughts.

The Paris Agreement on climate change moreover does not mention the issue of water in any of its parts. Although greenhouse gas emissions, as mentioned, are directly associated with the water crisis.

Agriculture in turn accounts for 69 percent of freshwater withdrawals, to which are added those for industry and power generation. (4) And it is UNESCO itself-as was theFood and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-that recommends conversion to ‘conservation agriculture‘ techniques, or ecoagriculture. So as to preserve soil structure, organic matter and moisture despite lower rainfall.

Wastewater treatment and energy utilization

UNESCO also points to the opportunity to invest in wastewater treatment, still limited to only 10-20% of global effluent, with a view to its reuse in agriculture and industry. With attention to the risk of microplastic contamination, as found in the first study conducted in Lombardy on one of the largestWaste Water Treatment Plant(WWTP) in northern Italy.

The treatment techniques to be favored are those that allow methane to be extracted from organic matter that can be used to generate the energy needed for the process. As already experienced effectively in some countries plagued by water shortages such as Jordan, Mexico, Peru and Thailand. These techniques have enabled the affected utilities to reduce emissions by thousands of tons of CO2 while saving money and improving service quality.

Water for all = Health for all

COVID-19 exacerbates the vulnerability ofLow-Middle Income Countries (LICs) precisely because of drinking water and sanitation shortages. To the diseases that are already associated with such deficiencies-including dysentery and respiratory infections, which are attributed to at least 1,000 child deaths every day (WWR)-the new coronavirus is now being added.

Specific directions and help on how to address COVID-19 should be directed toLow-Middle Income Countries (LMICs) as soon as possible. Taking due account of the actual living conditions in their communities before the pandemic spreads to the African continent and various other LMICs from Central and South America to Asia. (5)

Covid-19, WHO recommendations

WHO(World Health Organization), on 11.3.20, declared the pandemic Covid-19. Relating to ‘new virus spreading worldwide and against which most humans have no immune defenses.’ And he addressed a ‘General Public Health Information‘ to the people of the world.

‘Stay Home, Save Lives. ‘Help stop coronavirus’. A clear and strong message, which is followed by five essential recommendations:

1) #stayathome as much as you can, #stayhome as much as you can,

2) #keepsafedistance, let’s keep safe distances between people,

3) #washhandsoften, we wash our hands often and thoroughly,

4) #coveryourcough, we protect others from our coughing and sneezing (and other fumes) by covering our faces,

5) #sick? Call ahead! If there are symptoms of infection (respiratory and/or gastrointestinal), call the doctor (and undergo home isolation, for at least 14 days).

Further recommendations, on the WHO website, refer to:

– Do not touch eyes, nose or mouth,

– Respiratory hygiene (inhale with the mouth closed, cover the mouth and nose with the elbow, or a washcloth to be thrown in immediately if a cough or sneeze occurs),

– Keep up to date with the recommendations of health authorities.

Dario Dongo


(1) Emanuele Bompian and Marirosa Iannelli. Water grabbing. Hidden wars over water in the 21st century, Emi, Verona, 2018. ISBN: 978-88-307-2402-0

(2) UN, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017), Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, 07/19/2017,,

(3) UNESCO (Mar 2020). World Water development Report. ISBN: 978-92-3-100371-4.

(4) UN (Jul 2018). The World in 2050 (TWI2050). Transformations to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.. V.

(5) Swaminathan Natarajan. Coronavirus: Why washing hands is difficult in some countries. BBC News, 18.3.20,

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.