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Water, sanitation and hygiene: World Leaders' Call to Action on COVID-19


Heads of State, Government, and leaders from United Nations agencies, International Financial Institutions, civil society, private sector and research and learning are mobilizing around a call for the prioritization of water, sanitation and hygiene in the response to COVID-19.

Their joint statement:

Until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, there is no better cure than prevention.

Water, sanitation and hand hygiene, together with physical distancing, are central to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and a first line of defence against this serious threat to lives and health systems. Handwashing with water and soap kills the virus but requires access to running water in sufficient quantities.

Our response plans – at national, regional and global levels – must therefore prioritize water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Leaders that recognize the role of water, sanitation and hygiene in preventing the spread of COVID-19, will save lives. Leaders that prioritize international collaboration and support, will save lives. We are only as healthy as the most vulnerable members of society, no matter in which country they are.

Hence, we call on all national, regional and global leaders to join us in: 

Making water, sanitation and hygiene available to everyone, eliminating inequalities and leaving no one behind, taking care of those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. This includes the elderly, people with disabilities, women and girls, and those living in precarious situations, such as in informal settlements, refugee camps, detention centres, homeless people, as well as those people whose livelihoods are limited or destroyed by measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus, and women who shoulder the vast majority of unpaid care work in crisis. These measures are critical, not just to protect these vulnerable populations from COVID-19, but also to prevent other infectious diseases that can spread when water, sanitation and hygiene services are disrupted.

Working collaboratively with all stakeholders in a coordinated manner to improve water and sanitation services, as each actor, whether public, private, donor or civil society has something to offer to protect populations from COVID-19. Coordinated action is more effective, including urgent immediate action to establish handwashing facilities within health care facilities and at entrance points to public or private commercial buildings and public transport facilities, Partnerships such as Sanitation and Water for All are key platforms for national, regional and international cooperation and exchange of experiences. 

Ensuring that water and sanitation systems are resilient and sustainable in order to protect people’s health and support national health systems. Service providers for water, sanitation and hygiene including utilities and informal providers will have difficulties to maintain or expand services at a time of reduced financial flows restricted movement. This is both a short-term and a long-term requirement to save lives. Undisrupted global supply chains, including movement of goods and production capacity, for water, sanitation and hygiene commodities and services must be maintained at all costs. Water, sanitation and hygiene workers must also be grated sufficient protection to be able to provide us with such services without disruption.

Prioritizing the mobilization of finance to support countries in their response to this crisis. Any financing directed at supporting emergency interventions must have long-term solutions already in mind. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene must be affordable to all, and this may require additional funding to support service providers and help those who cannot afford it. Funding envelopes need to be maintained with no diversion away from the commitments and priorities set for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. This includes avoiding any shifts in domestic funding allocations that support WASH services and sustained support by international donors for on-going water, sanitation and hygiene humanitarian responses, and broader Grand Bargain commitments.

Delivering accurate information in a transparent manner. Consistent and rational messaging based on scientific advice that is accessible to everyone will help people to understand the threat and enable everyone to act accordingly.

COVID-19 is not the first and will not be the last epidemic that countries will face. Resilience to future crises depends on actions taken now, as well as on policies, institutions and capacity put in place during normal times. Let us ensure this threat is not a missed opportunity to achieve our vision of universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

As leaders, this is our chance to save lives.


Alexander Van Der Bellen, Federal President, Austria
Iván Duque Márquez, President, Colombia
Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President, Costa Rica
Abdel Fattah El Sisi, President, Egypt
Sahle-Work Zewde, President, Ethiopia
Nana Akufo-Addo, President, Ghana
Juan Orlando Hernández,President, Honduras
Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President, Nepal
Muhammadu Buhari, President, Nigeria
Adama Barrow, President, The Gambia
Ambrose Dlamini, Prime Minister, Eswatini
Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister, Spain
Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General, United Nations
Gilbert Houngbo, President of the IFAD, Chair of UN-Water
Guy Ryder, Director-General, ILO
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO
Tedros Adhanom, Director General, WHO
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF
Achim Steiner, Administrator, UNDP
Michelle Bachelet Jeria, High Commissioner, OHCHR
Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR
António Vitorino, Director General, IOM
Hind Khatib-Othman, Executive Chair, WSSCC SHF
Peter Maurer, President, ICRC
Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General, IFRC
Howard Bamsey, Chair, GWP
Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank
Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank
Luis Alberto Moreno, President, Inter-American Development Bank
Mari Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, The World Bank
Ville Skinnari, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Finland
Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, The Netherlands
Peter Eriksson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden
Ignazio Cassis, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland

Peter Laugharn, President and CEO, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Diana Amini,Global Manager, H&M Foundation
Magnus Groth, CEO, Essity
Félix Parra, CEO, Aqualia
Cristino L. Panlilio, President, Balibago Waterworks Philippines
Jessica Lopez Saffie,Executive President, Chilean Water Association ANDESS
Mamadou Dia, President, Aquafed
Bertrand Camus, CEO, SUEZ
Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever
Antoine Frérot, CEO, Veolia
Lindsay Glassco, Acting Secretary General, CARE
Jamillah Mwanjisi, Chair, End Water Poverty
Tum Kazunga,CEO, Habitat for Humanity Great Britain
Jonathan T.M. Reckford, CEO
Sheela Patel, Chairperson, Slum Dwellers International, Habitat for Humanity International
Jennifer Tisdel Schorsch, President,
Dr. Paul O’Connell, Managing Director, WaterEquity
Ravi Narayanan, Chair, Water Integrity Network
Claire E. Sterk, President, Emory University
Robert Bos, Chair, IRC WASH
Patrick Moriarty, CEO, IRC WASH
Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute
David M. Malone, Rector, United Nations University
Guillermo Cisneros, Rector, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
Tim Clark, Chair, WaterAid
Tim Wainwright, CEO, WaterAid
Kevin Rudd, High-Level Chair, Sanitation and Water for All
Catarina de Albuquerque, Chief Executive Officer, Sanitation and Water for All