- When it comes to WASH, no one should be left behind: Industry Experts
- Sanitation is about behaviour change and not just building toilets: Experts
- Corporates and government should come together to ensure WASH for all
New Delhi: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in the world affecting the lives of almost everyone and as the country scrambles to fight it, experts believe that it should also prepare for the post-pandemic challenges. According to experts, in order to contain the ongoing pandemic and prevent future ones, it is important to strengthen people’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in the country. While discussing at the fourth ISC-FICCI Sanitation Awards and India Sanitation Conclave, organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), industry experts emphasised on how safely managed WASH services form one of the most cost-effective strategies for increasing pandemic preparedness, especially in resource-constrained settings.
According to Neeraj Jain, Country Director, PATH India, WASH is currently the best protection against the coronavirus. He said,
The pandemic has brought a complex situation with it. All the stakeholders have to come together to deal with it. For the last 15-20 years, we have been hearing and talking about pandemic ready to hit but when it did hit, we just didn’t know what to do and we still don’t know to mitigate its impact. But the one thing that we do know is that hygiene is going to be critical.
Stressing on the point that sanitation is not about just building toilets and doing some communication around it, Ravi Bhatnagar, Director, External Affairs and Partnerships Asia Middle East and SouthAfrica, Reckitt Benckiser said,
Investing in behaviour change is the key. As owners of brands like Dettol, Harpic, Lysol and many others, it becomes our responsibility to not limit ourselves to our own employees. We should take care of our consumers. Therefore, we focus on leaving no one behind and for exactly this, we have formed Access Fund. The aim is to help control COVID-19 through comprehensive interventions integrating WASH and nutrition.
He further asserted that the ongoing pandemic is a wakeup call and all the sectors need to work together because this crisis may remain for a longer time and there maybe many others in the future.
While talking about how businesses contribute to strengthening WASH practices during the recovery phase of a disease outbreak to mitigate secondary impacts on community livelihood and wellbeing, Dilip Chenoy, Secretary-General, FICCI said,
The businesses need to ensure that people, where they live, have access to basic amenities like water and sanitation. Sometimes, we may even have to encourage them shift homes in order to access proper WASH facilities. If possible, the organisations like should arrange for housing for workers.
He further said that during the lockdown, a lot of corporates, under their CSR initiatives (Corporate Social Responsibility) undertook a lot of activities. The CSR can be tapped to ensure better WASH in the recovery phase. He said,
There are three things that need focus for post pandemic preparedness. First is to bring the employees back as they have migrated to their towns. Second is to have sufficient clean and hygienic housing. It also includes maintaining sanitation facilities at the workplace, factories by providing proper toilets. The social distancing norms say that in a toilet complex, you can use only the alternate ones. This is a challenge that needs to be met. The third part is that there is a need to focus on social messaging. The companies need to play advocacy roles in order to tell people what are the important steps- like sanitising, wearing masks and social distancing that they need to take to remain safe.
Talking about the methods of interventions through which the importance of WASH can be imparted at workplaces- both in the formal and informal setups like meeting rooms, cafeteria and field locations among other, Mukul Rastogi, Vice President, ITC said,
A lot of people are concerned about coming back to workplace because of the fear of contracting COVID-19. In this case, the employer need to take up right kind of WASH measures in order to prevent transmissions by ensuring hygiene for the employees.
She further highlighted that every workplace is different and so it has its own set of WASH needs. Giving examples, she further said that at a retail store, the employees are in constant engagement with customers who are coming from outside while in a factory, the workers may not be interacting with people as much but have high touching zones as they are constantly touching things. Therefore, she recommended that employers must study their workplace and customise the WASH mechanisms and cleaning protocols accordingly.
Ms. Rastogi asserted that at most places, the employers are taking actions like keeping sanitisers at various points, encouraging employees to follow physical distancing by marking on the floor of the cafeteria and other common spaces.
Ms. Rastogi suggests that one of the ways to contain transmission of the virus is through Information Technology (IT). She said,
Many employers including ITC have created phone applications and made all the employees download it. So any information/ advisory/ communication that you wish send out, reaches all the employees fairly quickly. This is a very important part.
Ms. Rastogi further advised that the corporates must make use of their advertisement and communication mechanism to create appealing messages in order to encourage behaviour change among the employees and help them adopt such WASH practices that help minimise the infection risk.
According to Dr. Pankaj Bhardwaj, Professor, Department of Community Medicine, AIIMS Jodhpur, the disease can occur only when there is an interaction among the agent, host and the environment. Highlighting the role of the environment from the point of view of public health, Dr. Bhardwaj said,
In order to break the chain of transmission, it is important to focus on the health of the environment. Along with this behaviour change and interventions like Swachh Bharat Mission are vital for the improvement of public health. During a study we did in the past, we found that because of the sanitation programmes, especially constructing toilets in slums, villages and among the vulnerable communities, diarrhoeal cases have gone down by 10-15 per cent across the country.
He further said that when it comes to coronavirus related diseases, hand hygiene is the most important measure. Therefore, there is no other way but to provide WASH services to the people to save them and prevent further diseases.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.