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Call to 'refocus' on WASH in arsenic-affected areas of Assam, Bihar to fight Covid-19

By Prithvi R Bommaraboyina* 

India as whole has more than 60 million people prone to disease, disability and death by consumption of arsenic and fluoride contaminated water. As of now the world is undergoing a critical Covid-19 health crisis, the risk is future elevated in Bihar and Assam, by the natural disaster, viz., flood and migrant labour movement.
Good sanitation and hygiene are key principles in fighting the diseases, while it is directly linked to water. In this said situation, the requirement of a safe portable water, improved access of water is the need of the hour as there is increased emphasis on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) which is linked to an entire cluster of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Addressing the much serious issue of water quality, especially in regards of the arsenic in an integrated manner, connecting the stakeholders, designing and implementing the mitigation activities and to ensure the safe portable water is already initiated by South Asian Consortium for interdisciplinary water resources studies (SaciWATERs) in Buxar, Bhagalpur of Bihar and Nalbari, Jorhat of Assam, the very heart where the problem groundwater quality lies.
Living through this global pandemic, and in spite of recent domestic water supply schemes in both states, there are pertaining socio-technical issues and knowledge gaps related to the domestic water supply such as the quantity, quality, and frequency of water supply for the domestic needs. In the present condition demand for safe water is comparatively higher than usual considering the special water needs.
Understanding the importance of the water in fighting virus, this is an open letter call to the state governments and administration to refocus on the arsenic affected areas of the states of Assam and Bihar; on overlooked issues in relation to water directly related to the present Covid-19 like WASH and immunity, which makes this area more susceptible to infection. In a long- and mid-term Covid-19 response, we should include plans that cater water needs to specific communities that form a part of the social ecosystem.
To do that, we need to understand WASH in niche vulnerabilities. It is therefore important to accelerate capacity building towards understanding the socio technicalities of WASH under Covid-19, thus to empower the key stakeholders with information on the issues, best practices and possible immediate action required.
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*Researcher at SaciWATERs, Hyderabad

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