Clean Water Plays a Crucial Role in the fight against COVID-19

Sok Chan

Ongoing crisis is reminder of a significant portion of the world population currently lacking adequate access to basic hand-washing facilities

Breakout quote: “The clean water supply in Cambodia must ensure its quality, safety, sustainability and affordability. It must ensure benefits to consumers and suppliers and help the people in rural areas.”

Ministry of Industry

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Access to safe water and sanitation services are critical for the good hygiene required to stop the spread and lower the impact of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, with regular hand-washing being a key tool. However, in most parts of our world, people struggle to get regular clean drinking water, let alone getting water to wash our hands.

The ongoing crisis is yet another reminder of a significant portion of the world’s population currently lacking adequate access to basic cleaning facilities, with most of them residing in Asia and Africa, said Kim Jensen, regional managing director of Grundfos Asia Pacific.

He says some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely-managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely-managed sanitation services and 3 billion lack basic hand-washing facilities.

“While Southeast Asia presents some positive numbers in many places, going up to 66 to 86 percent of the population with access to hand washing facilities, gross inequalities in water access remains a persistent problem for a number of developing countries with rural areas and urban slums trailing far behind, leaving billions of people vulnerable to COVID-19 and other illnesses,” Jensen said.

While ensuring access to clean water for all communities has always been a critical matter of public health and human rights, the current crisis makes action even more urgent, especially for businesses and solution providers, he added.

He pointed out that water consumption is expected to increase tremendously with increased hand-washing and higher frequency of cleaning of public spaces and homes, putting a greater strain on the water we have.

“This, coupled with water shortage issues faced by some countries, means that Asia-Pacific might be confronted with greater water scarcity as we continue fighting the virus,” he added.

While we should not look to water conservation in a way that might compromise our level of hygiene and sanitation, countries can look to alternative water sources, such as water reuse. Potable and non-potable water reuse will eventually be essential to meet global demand, especially when approaches like water-use efficiency and consumption reductions are maximised, according to Jensen.

In Cambodia, the government is expanding the clean water supply in the urban downtown areas to around 90 percent in 2023 and 100 percent in 2025. Last year, clean water supply across the country from the public and private sector was 346.9 million cubic metres, while it was only 39.16 million cubic metres in 2018, according to the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation.

The supply of clean water in urban areas or in the countryside is an average of 56.37 percent, while Phnom Penh is 85 percent. More than 894,718 families in urban areas – 4,989,288 people can access clean water.

The government has promoted public wellbeing, especially more access to clean water serving the people as well as for production and services.

“The clean water supply in Cambodia must ensure its quality, safety, sustainability and affordability. It must ensure benefits to consumers and suppliers and help the people in rural areas,” said the Ministry of Industry.

Responding to the access to safe water and sanitation services, the Cambodian government has taken these issues seriously, said Oum Sotha, secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation.

He says the ministry has guided all the clean water supply operators – both private sector and state-owned enterprises to strengthen the water quality and must check the water quality frequently.

He added that clean water is sent to the Industry’s laboratory to check the quality before being delivered to consumers.

In addition to that the government has also connected clean water to hospitals reserved for patients affected by COVID-19 across the country. He said the private sector is also involved in this task to make sure people or hospitals can access clean water.

According to Sotha, hospitals for COVID-19 patients amount to 3,711 rooms, with 1,068 rooms in public hospitals and health centres. A total of 1,440 rooms are reserved at hotels and guesthouses and 1,203 rooms are at public school buildings, which are reserved for quarantined patients. All of these buildings have clean water for them to fight against COVID-19.

“The government also guide private water supply operators and state-owned water suppliers to strengthen the management of the quality of water. Our team is on standby 24 hour a day seven days a week at the station. We have to make sure the water supply is stable especially for general and reserved hospitals,” Oum said.

Currently, there is clean water covering up to 56 percent of the country. In some areas, the coverage areas for clean water supply is more than 80 to 85 percent, while some range from 30 percent to 60 percent. However, some hotels and guesthouse owners use their own water because they have private water treatment plants.

Jensen, however, said that Industries, which are massive consumers of water, can look at treating and reusing wastewater instead of simply taking in new water, which in turn reduces water consumption and saves water for the community.

“Increasingly, we need to not see used water as waste, but instead as a resource that can be reused when it is treated and can be looped back into production. On a global scale, Grundfos aims to halve its own water consumption by 2025 and save 50 billion cubic metres of fresh water by 2030. Water efficiency and water treatment are at the core of these ambitions,” he added.

The challenge of improving water access is not a new one, but it has been brought to light once more because of the COVID-19 crisis. Governments need to invest in and create responsive institutions that help provide water and sanitation services, especially to the poor and more importantly during crises by cooperating with water providers such as Grundfos. Among several different ways of approaching this, a key enabler can be digital water innovations.

He added that the Mekong region is already experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades. Last year’s below-average rainfall meant that most of the major reservoirs, for example in Thailand, are already at below half of storage capacity. It is expected that many vulnerable and poor communities in the region will continue to be met with greater water shortages.

However, Sotha said that Cambodia has more to do on waste-water recycling. Currently we use water from underground, rivers, streams, ponds and wells.

“But we are not yet recycling water. We are pushing to build more reservoirs to solve the issue of water shortages in the dry season. We ask people to dig more ponds in areas far from rivers or streams,” he added.

Sotha said that the government is carefully checking water supplies and all the water delivered to the people is passed through laboratories.

“We have one standard for implementation for those water supply operators under the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation. Some water supply operators are under the Ministry of Rural Development. So far, we have 250 private companies and 12 state-owned enterprises,” Sotha added.

As countries in the region are facing increasingly stricter measures to mitigate the pandemic, including country-wide lockdowns and limited restrictions, governments, water utilities and the water industry as a whole need to consider greater proactive water-resource planning to ensure that adequate water is available to vulnerable sections of society for domestic and increased hygiene needs, said Jensen.

“We should be mindful of the increased water consumption that comes with our fight against the pandemic. We should not let that compromise our practices to ensure a certain level of hygiene and sanitation,” he added.

“There are also both international and national organisations that businesses can partner with and work together to share expertise, industry knowledge and insight that could help tackle these pertinent issues.

“Businesses can also look at bringing their expertise together through strategic partnerships. For example, we signed a digital partnership framework with Siemens last year pledging to cooperate in the development of solutions that will lead the way to global sustainability and make a positive impact on the UN SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] including SDG 6 [clean water and sanitation].”

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