Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, WaterAid India has been working to ensure that marginalized communities have the resources they need to help slow the transmission of COVID-19. Currently, one in ten people in India still live without a source of clean water. Given this reality, the initial response to the pandemic involved communication campaigns promoting good hygiene practices and physical distancing using digital images/posters, audio messages and videos in six Indian languages and English. These messages were disseminated through text messages, WhatsApp, community radio, local TV channels, and loudspeakers in communities reaching 8 million people.
Since the end of March, the dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections in India and the subsequent pressure that the healthcare system has been put under, has prompted WaterAid India to pause all fieldwork and close their offices. WaterAid has a responsibility not only to keep WaterAid India programmatic staff safe, all of whom have been personally impacted by COVID-19 in some way, but also the people and communities who we work with, many of whom are extremely vulnerable and have the potential to be devastated by an outbreak of COVID-19 within their community. WaterAid India is closely monitoring and evaluating the situation to decide when to resume field work in any capacity, and will revisit the decision mid-May.
While WaterAid India team members work safely from home, they are using this time for planning to ensure that when restrictions are lifted, they are fully equipped to start field operations immediately. This is an ongoing and evolving situation. WaterAid India's focus upon return to the field will be on critical activities pertaining to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) with a view to reducing both the risk and the burden on vulnerable families.
WaterAid is continuing to work tirelessly on ensuring plans are fully in place to improve WASH infrastructure in schools and early childhood centers prior to the return of students and staff to the classroom. As these institutions have been mostly closed throughout the pandemic, it will be important to have the changes in place prior to the start of classes to ensure students and staff are safe immediately upon their return.
Once they are able to resume work in the field, WaterAid India will be launching a second nation-wide hygiene and awareness campaign, following the good work done earlier in the pandemic. This campaign will target rural areas through mobile phone apps, radio, social media, print media, and where safe and possible, face-to-face interactions.
WaterAid has been working in India for 35 years. Our expertise is in getting clean water and accessible toilets where they're needed most, and promoting good hygiene habits, especially handwashing. This has been a core part of our work and plays a large role in WaterAid Canada's current project in India, Project Boond.
Community water access points can become very busy. In this community they have taken measures to enforce social distancing by drawing circles on the ground for those waiting to use the pump.