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Public Health and the Right to Clean Water

The recent spread of COVID-19 across the world shows the gaps in our collective preparedness and many systemic and social inequalities. For instance, how do people wash and disinfect their hands without access to clean and affordable water?


About 160 million people in India don’t have access to clean water. Dharam Singh Rajput, of New Delhi says in Time Magazine. “The kind of water we have access to has the potential to cause more diseases instead of warding off the virus if we use it to wash our hands.” With 197 cases of COVID-19 on March 19, India is at a crossroads for how the infection curve will hit its 1.3 billion citizens.

“Clean water is the first line of defense,” said V.K. Madhavan, India’s chief executive at WaterAid, a global advocacy group for water and sanitation. “If there is no access to clean water, the situation could worsen.” (from the same Time article as above)


The United States has 9,464 people infected, while (in 2016) over 15 million Americans were without running water. According to this Guardian article: “The highest shutoffs rates were concentrated in southern or rural states including Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma. The hardest-hit cities, such as New Orleans, Detroit and Jacksonville, have high poverty and unemployment rates and more people of color.”


With the rising costs of drinking water and sanitation, shut-offs are common – so common that almost 90 cities and states in the USA have now suspended water shutoffs, which is good news. But when considering the human right to water, it is shocking that just 20% of water departments have explicitly agreed to reconnect households during this crisis.


How this affects the growing spread of the deadly virus remains to be seen, but without clean water as the “first line of defence” millions of people will have additional barriers to stay safe.

In Canada, there are currently 699 water advisories, many of which are on First Nations reserves. Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation was interviewed about how COVID-19 will affect the 49 First Nations across northern Ontario which his organization represents. Currently, 18 of these 49 First Nations are on boil water advisories.


The USA is now committing over 1 trillion dollars as an emergency stimulus package and Canada just announced it will spend 83 billion. These numbers are staggering and likely just the first instalments of many to mitigate the crisis. Will any of this money be spent on securing clean and affordable water to those cut off? Let us pray and commit to making these connections in our personal and political engagements.


The CSJ Blue Community project raises awareness and deepens our engagement about the human right to water. Review our website, attend one of our events, and share our work as we grow our influence and act in solidarity with a community of groups advocating for political change.

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