The coronavirus pandemic, with more than 25 million cases and above 17 million recoveries as of 5th September, 2020, has impacted everyone’s daily lives. The sheer scale of restrictions and complications brought about by the virus in everyday lives of people can barely be contained in a few pages. However, on the bright side, the ongoing pandemic has helped in increasing awareness about personal hygiene.

With no cure and vaccinations for coronavirus till date, several organizations working in the field of public health have been encouraging hand-washing as the most trusted and sustainable way to tackle the virus as a preventive measure. The World Health Organization (WHO), has requested public to “regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water” in order to kill viruses that may be on our hands.

With an increased focus on handwashing and maintaining personal hygiene, the demand for water has also shot up in Kathmandu, where water shortage is reported round the year, as compared to the days before COVID-19. Satish Kumar Dutta, Manager at Kathmandu Valley Drinking Water Limited (KUKL) said, “We used to provide around 70-75 Million Liters Daily (MLD) of water in the Valley as of mid-March, but are now providing 90-100 MLD.”

“The lockdown and restrictions might not be the only reasons for the increase in water demand. People of Kathmandu Valley have been meeting their daily water consumption needs via different sources, however, many private vendors have denied water delivery services citing safety risks during the pandemic. This might also be a reason for a surge in demand for water from KUKL,” Dutta said.

A contactless handwashing station placed for public use in Kathmandu.

As COVID-19 started to spread across the globe, several nations witnessed the demand for sanitizers and face masks skyrocketing. Panic-buyers everywhere stocked up on sanitizers, toilet papers as well as masks, among other grocery items – leaving other customers empty-handed. The tendency to panic buy left many without the equipment needed for proper hygiene and for prevention against coronavirus.

According to a fact-sheet from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there are 1.6 million deaths per year attributed to diseases spread through unsafe water, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene” which are otherwise preventable with a little effort towards hygienic practices.

Joint-spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population, Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, said the main challenge for coronavirus infected patients in Nepal is the lack of access to proper hygiene utilities and resources.

“People kept at home-isolation lack even basic facilities such as separate toilets and kitchens for single use by the infected, which poses a high risk of transmission among others staying at same house. Even people kept at quarantine centers are deprived of proper hygiene-related facilities leading to cleanliness problem and causing other disease while in quarantine,” said Adhikari.

“Furthermore, proper WASH facilities help in averting not only COVID-19 transmission but also several other preventable diseases,” he added.

A look at the recent global data of coronavirus transmission makes it obvious that frontline workers, mainly those in healthcare and security, are more vulnerable towards contracting COVID-19. The main reasons being the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the lack of proper WASH facilities.

Similarly, security personnel, such as police and traffic police, are obligated to work amid crowds without PPE and/or hand-washing stations at sight – while also finding themselves at the receiving end of stigmatization by their neighbours and community members.

A mannequin dressed as a traffic police placed in the roundabout of New Baneshwor in Kathmandu. As more than 428 traffic cops tested positive for COVID-19 as of August in Kathmandu alone, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division has placed 22 dummies at key junctions of the city.

Likewise, women’s health and hygiene are hugely compromised amid the pandemic. As per UNICEF, many women and girls do not have access to materials to manage their menstruation, especially in times of emergency (such as COVID-19).

Several medical services, especially pertaining to women’s reproductive and sexual health, have been disrupted by COVID-19, with healthcare staff, facilities, and other resources being diverted to the pandemic response or otherwise unable to function.

As per a recent study by UNICEF 33 % of households in Nepal did not have enough drinking water during lockdown while 28 % of households had difficulties getting water for cooking, handwashing and bathing due to lockdown.

As the novel virus has highlighted the need and importance of proper hygiene as well as access to WASH now more than ever, the challenges in proving such facilities to every nook and corner of the country remain.