The 8th APWF webinar was organized on 12th March 2021, in collaboration with the UN-HABITAT. It discussed Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) as the entry point to reduce Covid-19 vulnerabilities and other hazards. The 6 speakers of the Asia-Pacific regional offices of the UN-HABITAT from Fiji, Lao PDR, India, and Myanmar, highlighted the importance of WASH concerning COVID-19 and other disasters by sharing their hands-on experiences and lessons learned on the ground of these countries.
Date and Time: 12th March 2021, 15:30-16:30 (Japan time)
〇Mr. Atsushi Koresawa, the UN-Habitat Regional Representative of Asia and the Pacific
He talked about the UN-HABITAT’s responses about the COVID-19 Pandemic in Asia and the Pacific. He shared the remarks of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres that the most vulnerable to disease are those living on the margins of our cities. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed deep inequalities and demonstrated that tackling the virus is more challenging in urban areas where access to quality healthcare is uneven, housing inadequate, water and sanitation lacking, transport infrastructure patchy, and jobs precarious. It disproportionately impacted vulnerable groups thereby exacerbating existing structural inequalities who are self-employed, informal workers, female, migrants, people with disabilities. To cope with the crisis, Mr. Koresawa introduced the Asia-Pacific Regional Offices of the UN-HABITAT, which have developed a Covid-19 response and recovery strategy and started a collaboration with governments at all levels and communities and residents to provide essential services in addition to policy advice and technical support of various kinds.
〇Dr. Avi Sarkar, the Regional Advisor, South-East Asia, Urban Basic Services, UN-Habitat
He emphasized that it is imperative to develop assessment strategies and coordinate better interventions with the diverse stakeholders to identify hotspots and vulnerable areas and provide effective and efficient responses to the most disadvantaged communities to improve their WASH access, addressing them along with existing structural inequality issues. He also highlighted that recovery after COVID-19 will need to create a unique opportunity for strengthening existing systems, improving preparedness, and better adapting to the most challenging threat that is climate change.
〇Ms. Inga Korte, the UN-Habitat Team Leader Urban Climate Resilience for Fiji and the Solomon Islands
She presented WASH and COVID-19 in urban informal settlements in Fiji. Water supply in these areas is inconsistent, water quality is poor, facilities are inadequate, wastewater treatment is inadequate, and maintenance is very limited. Waste disposal management measures are also not adequate, awareness and safety measures are lacking, and climate change and COVID-19 are exacerbating the existing conditions and inequalities. To understand underlying community vulnerabilities, she shared that the Fiji office has conducted the Mapping and assessment of all 270+ Informal Settlements in Fiji and classified them (index). It aims to alleviate the impacts of climate change (flooding, cyclones), improve basic services (sanitation facilities, footpaths, evac centers) through adaptation, address lack of awareness and knowledge on safe practices, address informality of land tenure and respond to high rates of poverty and food insecurity in informal settlements.
〇Ms. Parul Agarwala, Country Programme Manager, UN-Habitat, India office
Ms. Agarwala shared WASH interventions to build back better in India in terms of the improvement of waste management. India ranks 2nd among the most affected countries in the world with regards to confirmed cases and 4th in deaths caused by a coronavirus. Lack of access to basic WASH and waste management facilities are critical examples of the lethal effects of inequality being exposed by the pandemic.
Waste Management is one of the most important sanitary barriers to prevent the dissemination of illnesses and diseases. In September 2020, India generated about 183 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste per day on average. It was urgently needed to establish impetus and showcase better mechanisms and systems that can help reduce the burdens on cities’ water and sanitation systems and make recycling and treatment processes more robust and reliable.
The Government of India thus released early guidelines in March 2020 for the handling of biomedical waste in hospitals and quarantine areas (including households). These were revised four times by July 2020 to streamline on-the ground operations and interventions on biomedical waste.
As for the interventions led by UN-Habitat on WASH and solid waste management, she introduced the cases in which UN-Habitat provides technical and advisory support for project formulation, preparation of project documents, and implementation support. These include landfill remediation in Vijayawada, which adopted the Fukuoka method; Flower Waste Recycling in Vijayawada and Guntur, which collects 30 tonnes of flower waste generated per month on average that is dumped into a landfill, managed, and recycled into eco-products, and create local jobs, as well as ‘Zero Waste Wards’, which include COVID-19 responses.
〇Mr. Juan Torres, Information Management Officer for UN-Habitat Lao PDR Office
He presented the COVID-19 vulnerability mapping model for Lao PDR. The variables applied to the Vulnerability Assessment model are: 1) population density, 2) settlement connectivity,
3) socioeconomic factors, 4) migration and 5) access to healthcare services. The Lao PDR office worked out a Vulnerability Index and identified a detailed location of the potential most vulnerable areas in the country, with a spatial analysis with GIS software. They then found that besides the 4 main cities of Lao PDR, almost 50% of the total population were in urban areas or these emerging towns. In these areas, many people still using unimproved water sources. More than 20% of the household spent more than 30 minutes a day collecting water. 10% of the households do not have a handwashing facility in their dwelling. 46% of those who have access to handwashing facilities, do not have water or soap. In Lao PDR, though people may be informed about the Covid-19 pandemic, they need access to WASH facilities to be able to apply basic protection measures. He highlighted that there is a long way ahead but if governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector work together, we will be able to provide water and sanitation to a larger number of people and reduce the existing gaps. The Lao PDR office supported 6 quarantine centers in 4 of the most vulnerable provinces by constructing and rehabilitating WASH infrastructure there and by providing Information, Education, and communication Materials to the returning migrants.
〇Ms. Oddy Angel, the Programme Coordinator of Community-driven Development Unit for Myanmar
She shared her office’s efforts to bridge the data gap for effective COVID-19 response in informal settlements in Myanmar. In Myanmar, 70% of COVID-19 cases occur in the Yangon Region with 77% of those cases occurring in Yangon city. 400,000 people (8500 households, 8% of Yangon’s total population) are living in the informal settlement of Yangon. Lack of access to accurate and updated information, truncated access to water, hygiene, health care services, and the risk of income loss due to mobility restrictions and temporary suspension of business activities compound the inability of the urban poor living in informal settlements in Yangon to effectively tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Glaring gaps in data on informal settlements, especially related to access to health and access to WASH facilities, impair the government’s ability to make informed response plans.
To deal with these challenges, the UN-HABITAT surveyed the income, water, sanitation, wastewater access, and hygiene awareness to 1,680 households residing in informal settlements of Yangon, and has provided support in line with the needs, including, installing handwashing stations at strategic locations in informal settlements; targeting supply of basic needs to vulnerable communities including access to water; and ensuring adequate access to water, soap, and sanitation facilities for the homeless.
The presentation document and recording:
(Reported: Yumiko Asayama, Manager)