Water fraternity uncertainties with Covid-19 — Prem Kumar Nair

DECEMBER 1 — Preserving water resources and ensuring that safe water consumption around the world is paramount. According to researchers, almost 10 per cent of the world’s population does not have proper and safe access to clean drinking water. The United Nations projects that by 2025, half of the countries worldwide will face water stress or outright shortages. By 2050, as many as three out of four people around the globe could be affected by water shortages and this is an imminent threat especially in developing economies.

Water-related problems are particularly acute in Asia. Although Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population, it has less freshwater — 3,920 cubic metres per person per year — than any continent other than Antarctica, according to some statistics. Almost two-thirds of global population growth is occurring in Asia, where the population is expected to increase by nearly 500 million people within the next 10 years. Asia’s rural population will remain almost the same between now and 2025, but the urban population is likely to increase by a staggering 60 per cent. As population growth and urbanisation rates in Asia rise rapidly, stress on the region’s water resources is intensifying.

Climate change is expected to worsen the situation significantly. Experts agree that reduced access to freshwater will lead to a cascading set of consequences, including impaired food production, the loss of livelihood security, large-scale migration within and across borders, and increased economic and geopolitical tensions and instabilities. Over time, these effects will have a profound impact on security throughout the region. It must be stressed that the majority of Asia’s water problems are not attributable to an actual shortage, but rather are the result of poor water governance. As such, they are solvable through more effective governance and better management practices.

Countries must do more to improve sanitation practices and hygiene standards. The aim is to build on the far-ranging findings presented in the Outlook by considering the security dimensions associated with decreased access to a safe, stable water supply in Asia. The term “security” is often used to connote conflict, but it has a much broader meaning for the purposes of this effort. The connection between an essential resource such as water and security encompasses individual physical safety, livelihoods, health and human welfare, as well as a realisation of the cooperative potential between nation-states and subnational jurisdictions.

We must also never forget the lessons learnt from the Covid 19 has taught us as well where cases increased exponentially from only a few to more than any health systems could manage. Here in some parts of Asia, we have seen alarming clusters of cases originating from social gatherings, sporting events and work-place interactions. We must never underestimate the explosive potential of the virus — anytime, anywhere — to overwhelm the best-prepared health systems, and to cause disease and death in our community.

How can we fight this pandemic? There are currently no drugs or vaccines that have proven effective against the virus. What we do have are three major strategies that we know will slow its spread. Looking for the virus, by expanding surveillance and testing for Covid-19 beyond high-risk groups and into the community. This will help us find where transmission is occurring and refine projections for the disease, which is critical for planning the response. Every case found allows public health authorities to isolate and treat individuals quickly, preventing the onward spread of the virus to others. One case found today means dozens more prevented tomorrow. The second critical strategy is to support the work of public health authorities: to identify cases, isolate and treat them and trace and quarantine their contacts.  Sadly, this elementary advice is still taken lightly by many. This will continue to be a public health challenge to overcome, a simple yet extremely difficult to impose.

Lockdowns, slowdowns and shutdowns may slow the spread of the virus, but the work of public health authorities to stop virus transmission from one person to another is what will bring it to its knees.  Finally, physical distancing. Consistently keeping a distance of at least a meter from others around us, as well as fastidiously washing our hands, avoiding touching our faces, and sneezing safely — these will maximise our chances of evading infections and protecting those around us. Curfews, shutdowns of schools, businesses and public places, restrictions on gatherings — all of these are meant to ensure that we keep a safe distance from each other to protect ourselves and others from infection.

One out of every three persons on the planet is experiencing some form of these physical distancing restrictions. All of us are feeling the social, economic and personal impacts of these measures globally. Lifting restrictions — which must be done carefully, in a step-wise approach, and based on a thorough risk assessment — does not signal a return to the “normalcy” of our pre-Covid-19 lives. It is rather the beginning of a new normal for all of us — a way of being that minimizes the risks of Covid-19 but allows us to earn our living, educate our children and keep our health system functioning. A new normal where governments and populations must be prepared to respond to outbreaks by quickly implementing or re-implementing measures that ensure physical distancing while ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has access to the necessities that make such measures bearable.

Continuing to apply them in the relentless search for a possible vaccine and cure around the world is our best hope now against this pandemic. These new social norms will re-invent the way we live and dictate our embedded perspectives of life itself. Let us hope that the vaccines we have developed will save us all and keep our species resilient. Vaccines may be hastily developed approved to quell the fear but its proven effectiveness may take years to be realised and let us only hope that it will not merely profit the manufacturers, a sinister proposition to say the least. 

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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