A new report has shown that 3 billion people worldwide lack basic hand washing facilities at home, which is one of the most effective methods for COVID-19 prevention.
The report says COVID-19 has brought to the fore the critical importance of water, sanitation and hygiene for protecting human health.
"Despite progress, billions of people across the globe still lack these basic services. Immediate action to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is required to prevent infection and contain the spread of COVID-19," it added.
Published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the report titled Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 was done in collaboration with over 200 experts from more than 40 international agencies using the latest available data and estimates.
According to the report, it says "3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities at home. The most effective method for COVID-19 prevention.
"Water is essential not only to health, but also to poverty reduction, food security, peace and human rights, ecosystems and education.
"Nevertheless, countries face growing challenges linked to water scarcity, water pollution, degraded water-related ecosystems and cooperation over transboundary water basins. In addition, funding gaps and weak government systems hold many countries back from making needed advancements.
Closing the gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene, critical to containing the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases
"The proportion of the global population using safely managed drinking water services increased from 61 per cent in 2000 to 71 per cent in 2017. Despite progress, 2.2 billion people around the world still lacked safely managed drinking water, including 785 million without basic drinking water.
"The population using safely managed sanitation services increased from 28 per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2017.
"However, 4.2 billion people worldwide still lacked safely managed sanitation, including 2 billion who were without basic sanitation. Of these, 673 million people practised open defecation.
The report also says, "Handwashing is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But in 2017, only 60 per cent of people had a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water at home.
"In LDCs, the share was 28 per cent. This means that, in 2017, an estimated 3 billion people worldwide lacked the ability to safely wash their hands at home.
"The regional disparities are stark: in sub-Saharan Africa, 75 per cent of the population (767 million people) lacked basic hand-washing facilities, followed by Central and Southern Asia at 42 per cent (807 million people), and Northern Africa and Western Asia at 23 per cent (116 million people).
"Water, sanitation and hygiene services are not always available in places where people seek medical care: in 2016, one in four health-care facilities around the world lacked basic water supplies, one in five had no sanitation services, and two in five had no soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, at points of care.
"Moreover, 47 per cent of schools worldwide lacked hand-washing facilities with soap and water. Closing these gaps will be critical to providing effective health care and to containing the spread of COVID-19."
Lack of fresh water in the poorest countries increases their vulnerability
"Freshwater ecosystems provide natural sites for human settlements, bringing benefits such as transportation, natural purification, irrigation, flood protection and habitats for biodiversity.
"However, population growth, agricultural intensification, urbanization and industrial production degrade freshwater bodies worldwide, threatening ecosystems and the livelihoods of people everywhere.
"Globally, slightly more than 2.1 per cent of land is covered by freshwater bodies, but they are unevenly distributed. In developed countries, 3.5 per cent of land is covered by fresh water, compared with 1.4 per cent in developing countries.
" Least developed countries and small island developing States have a significantly lower coverage of freshwater bodies, at 1.2 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, which increases their vulnerability to climate change and water scarcity."
The report says there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to its very core.
"However, we must hold firm in our convictions and not let the crisis derail our hopes and ambitions. In fact, the principles on which the SDGs were established are key to building back better in the post-COVID-19 recovery.
"The continued pursuit of these universal Goals will keep Governments focused on growth, but also on inclusion, equity and sustainability.
"Our collective response to the pandemic can serve as a "warm-up" for our preparedness in preventing an even larger crisis - that is, global climate change, whose effects are already becoming all too familiar.
"Governments and businesses should heed the lessons learned from this wake-up call to formulate the kinds of transitions needed to build a healthier, more resilient and more sustainable world."