Stay Home? Wash Hands? But 1.8 Billion Remain Homeless & 3.0 Billion Have No Access to Water

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2020 (IPS)

The relentless battle against the devastating coronavirus
pandemic has been underlined by several widespread advisories from
health experts – STAY HOME. WASH YOUR HANDS. WEAR MASK. KEEP
SOCIAL DISTANCE.

But the UK-based WaterAid and UN Habitat in Nairobi point out
the paradox in at least two of the warnings: a staggering 3.0
billion people worldwide have no water to wash their hands and over
1.8 billion people have no adequate shelter—or homes to go
to.

The deadly coronavirus pandemic has undermined the UN’s battle
against extreme poverty and hunger, and upended its longstanding
campaign for “water and sanitation for all” and shelter for the
homeless -– all of which are an integral part of the UN’s 17
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The poorest people in the world are being left to face the
COVID-19 pandemic alone,” says WaterAid, “with not even the
most basic defence — clean water and a bar of soap”, one way to
prevent the spread of the disease.

And worse still, in over 50 recent financial commitments made by
donor agencies to developing countries, only 6 of them have any
mention of hygiene, complains WaterAid, an international
non-governmental organisation, focused on water, sanitation and
hygiene.

Meanwhile, in terms of homelessness, even the world’s rich
nations have not been spared.

In 2018, says Habitat, the European Federation of National
Organisations Working with the Homeless
reported
that homelessness had skyrocketed across the
continent.

And in the United States, 500,000 people are currently homeless,
40 per cent of whom are unsheltered.

In a locked-down New York city, the homeless have virtually
taking over empty subway cars while turning subway stations into
homeless shelters – even as City authorities are physically
driving them out to the streets, with no homes to go to.

Kathryn Tobin, Advocacy Coordinator at WaterAid, told IPS the
COVID-19 pandemic threatens to derail the focus of the
international community away from the SDGs, especially with crises
at home that may fuel anti-aid sentiment in industrialised
countries.

But what should actually happen is the opposite: COVID-19 should
be a wake-up call to the world that our current trajectory is not
only unsustainable but destructive, especially for those already
living in poverty and facing discrimination, she added.

“The pandemic should inspire a global turning point, towards a
massive increase in public spending for health, water and
sanitation, housing and infrastructure required to tamp the flow of
the virus, but also for social protection, education, living wages,
and the rest of the SDGs, to address the economic impact of the
pandemic through major economic stimulus as we’ve seen in the
richer countries,” Tobin argued.

Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report
Office at UNDP, told IPS that UNDP recently published
two dashboards with data for 189 countries and territories
that
revealed significant disparities on countries’ abilities to cope
with and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

And these differences, he pointed out, include but also go
beyond the capacity of their health systems.

He pointed out that more than 40 percent of the global
population does not have any social protection and more than 6.5
billion people around the globe – 85 percent of the global
population – still don’t have access to reliable broadband
internet, which limits their ability to work and continue their
education.

”It is important to ensure the response to COVID-19 comes with
an equity lens. Countries, communities and groups that were already
lagging behind will be particularly affected by the fallout from
COVID-19.”

If they are left further behind, he warned, the consequences
could have long-term impacts in advancing human development and
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects
(WESP) mid-2020 report, released May 13, the pandemic will likely
cause an estimated 34.3 million people to fall below the extreme
poverty line in 2020, with 56% of this increase occurring in
African countries,

An additional 130 million people may join to the ranks of people
living in extreme poverty by 2030, dealing a huge blow to global
efforts for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

The pandemic, which is disproportionately hurting low-skilled,
low-wage jobs, while leaving higher-skilled jobs less affected –
will further widen income inequality within and between countries,
the report noted.

In an joint op-ed piece for IPS, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN
Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat &
Leilani Farha, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Adequate Housing, call on governments “to take steps to protect
people who are the most vulnerable to the pandemic by providing
adequate shelter where it is lacking and ensuring the housed do not
become homeless because of the economic consequences of the
pandemic.”

These crucial measures include stopping all evictions,
postponing eviction court proceedings, prohibiting utility
shut-offs and ensuring renters and mortgage payers do not accrue
insurmountable debt during lockdowns.

“In addition, vacant housing and hotel rooms should be
allocated to people experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic
violence. Basic health care should be provided to people living in
homelessness regardless of citizenship status and cash transfers
should be established for people in urgent need.”

WaterAid’s Tobin said for those with historical obligations to
provide development assistance and climate finance, COVID-19 should
inject an urgency to provide unconditional and immediate financing
(through debt cancellation, a new allocation of SDRs, global
taxation, all the measures we outline in our blog) to enable
developing countries to fund their COVID-19 response.

But these should not be temporary relief measures.

COVID, she said, should inspire a new social contract between
states and their people (regardless of citizenship), and reignite
multilateralism to redirect the world towards climate justice,
economic justice, gender justice, etc.

“The pandemic should not be used as an excuse
to postpone the fulfilment of the SDGs (kicking the can down the
road and leaving the world even less prepared for the next pandemic
or manifestation of climate crisis) but should be the moment in
which governments band together to fulfil their duty of care for
both people and the planet,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the World Health Assembly is scheduled to meet next
week, but current drafts of the resolution have failed to put any
emphasis on how vital hygiene is and there is no plan as to how to
close the huge access gap.

Vaccines and therapeutics are obviously vital, but equal
emphasis needs to be put on prevention, especially in countries
with such weak health systems, a statement from WaterAid.

The draft World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution on
COVID-19, which will be discussed at a virtual WHA next week, has
no mention of water and hygiene access as fundamental preventative
and protective measures, and fails to put in a place any sort of
plan to tackle the huge gaps in access to this first line of
defence. 

WaterAid believes this is a dereliction of duty from both
donor countries and national governments of countries where
access is low, and flies in the face of WHO’s advice to Member
States which calls for urgent provision of hygiene services in
communities and health centres.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post
Stay Home? Wash Hands? But 1.8 Billion Remain Homeless & 3.0
Billion Have No Access to Water
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Stay Home? Wash Hands? But 1.8 Billion Remain Homeless
& 3.0 Billion Have No Access to Water