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Access to water and sanitation

COVID-19 Responses Collection

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Nosizo Sebake

23 August 2021

Mark Napier


Nosizo Sebake

Information page

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

South Africa

This page forms part of the COVID-19 Responses Collection.


Here we present publications and tools to help address the issue of access to water and sanitation.


Publications, articles and blog posts

  • Covid-19 and the call for ‘Safe Hands’: Challenges facing the under-resourced municipalities that lack potable water access - In this journal article, Zvobgo and Do (2020) use Chitungwiza city, Zimbabwe as a case study to assess the implications of the ‘Safe Hands’ challenge for poor municipalities in developing countries and characterize the challenges they face. They propose short- and long-term measures that would allow effective implementation of the ‘Safe Hands’ by means of sustainable potable water supply.

  • Disparate on-site access to water, sanitation, and food storage heighten the risk of Covid-19 spread in Sub-Saharan Africa - In this article, Ekumah et al. (2020) use data on 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to investigate how vulnerability to Covid-19 is layered and heightened and how this might compromise the intended policy outcome of curbing the spread of the disease. Their study emphasizes the need for water, sanitation and hygiene services and products to be made available for confined households or areas with large vulnerable groups, exposed collective sites and public spaces.

  • A framework for improving policy priorities in managing Covid-19 challenges in developing countries - In this paper, Rasul (2020) presents a framework for identifying and prioritizing policy actions to address the Covid-19 challenges and ensure sustainable recovery. The framework outlines principles and criteria and provides insights into developing shared policy goals, identifying smart strategies, assessing policy compatibility, aligning policy instruments, and factoring sustainability into short and long-term policy decisions.

  • The impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic in townships and lessons for urban spatial restructuring in South Africa - Mbambo and Agbola (2020) examine how the spatial organization and the various attributes of townships in South Africa have affected government’s attempt at curtailing the Covid-19 pandemic in these areas. In this paper, they contextualise the various government regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, with a view to learning significant lessons for urban spatial restructuring. They find that settlement overcrowding, poor restructuring and unresolved land restitution frustrate government’s interventions to controlling the spread of Covid-19 in KwaMashu and other South African townships.

  • Leaving no stone unturned in light of the Covid-19 faecal-oral hypothesis? A water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) perspective targeting low-income countries - In this study, Gwenzi (2021) examines the latest evidence on the occurrence, persistence and faecal-oral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), The author finds that SARS-CoV-2 faecal oral transmission may be particularly high in developing countries due to (amongst other factors) poor drinking water, wastewater and sanitation infrastructure.

  • Provision of water and sanitation during the Covid-19 crisis: comparative case study in predominantly urban and predominantly rural provinces - Matseke (2020) presents her findings from a comparative case study to compare and contrast predominantly rural provinces versus predominantly urban provinces. She does this to illustrate COVID-19 responses as they pertain to the provision of clean water and sanitation.

  • Sustainability and development after Covid-19 - In this article, Barbier and Burgess (2020) identify affordable policies that can yield immediate progress towards several SDGs together and aligns economic incentives for longer-term sustainable development. They conclude that if sustainability is to be revived as a development objective, then low and middle-income economies will need to come up with policies that are both affordable and able to achieve multiple SDGs simultaneously.

  • ‘A tale of two paradoxes in response to COVID-19’: Public health system and socio-economic implications of the pandemic in South Africa and Zimbabwe - in this paper, Chitsamatanga and Malinga (2021) interrogate the public health system and socio-economic implications of this pandemic on South Africa and Zimbabwe. One country has a middle-income status and the other a low-income status, despite these economic disparities and differential income status, the authors find that this pandemic has had similar deep-rooted problems in their already overburdened public health systems. In addition, they have found that this situation has been exacerbated by underlying socio-economic factors, i.e. poverty, unemployment, inequality, slow economic development, inadequate water and sanitation, and food insecurity that have made dealing with this pandemic a huge challenge.

  • Water for the urban poor and Covid-19 - This rapid literature review focuses on literature from the last 10 years. This includes both grey literature, i.e. the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program reports, and academic literature from peer reviewed journals. The authors draw on examples from urban water responses to crises in low and middle income countries, as well as work related to affordable water access for the poor.

  • Water security beyond Covid-19 - In this paper, Cooper (2020) primarily focuses on technical interventions in four areas, that depend on political will, building capacity, finance, data and information, and, accountability.


  • 2 billion people are at risk of Covid-19 because they can't wash their hands - In this blog post, Rodriguez (2020) brings attention to an Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's (IHME) report titled “Handwashing is crucial for combating Coronavirus” which specifically looked at handwashing access in household settings.
    • "While the report focused on access to handwashing basics like soap and water, behavior change also plays a role in turning handwashing into a healthy habit."
  • An effective response to Covid-19 requires innovative water and sanitation services - Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” Arundhati Roy (Indian novelist and critic).
  • In this article, Bauer, suggests that the COVID-19 crisis may provide governments with an opportunity to build innovative service models like WonderkidCitytaps, Drinkwell, Sanergy, or Project Safe Hands. These apps use a combination of partnerships and technology to provide communities with access to water and sanitation in settlements.

  • ANALYSIS: Who has been hit hardest by SA’s lockdown? - In this article, Arndt, Robinson and Gabriel (2020) describe two components of the lockdown in South Africa, namely the restriction of people's movement outside of their homes and on operations of non-essential industries to prevent disease. Using an economic modelling tool called SAM-multiplier analysis (Social Accounting Matrix), they estimate the impact of the South African lockdown on GDP, earnings of different categories of labour (low to high skill), and incomes of household groups (poor to rich).
  • Combating the Coronavirus without clean water - In this blog post, Otto, Kuzma, Strong and Chertock (2020) consider immediate actions that governments can take to increase access to clean water and hand-washing amenities. The authors recommend that governments prioritize three strategies when investing in longer-term investments.

    • "As places throughout the world come together to fight COVID-19 and rebuild, let’s remember water is a vital tool to strengthen communities and build resilience in the long-term."
  • Coronavirus global health emergency - This webpage brings together water and sanitation-related information from UN-Water Members and Partners in the light of the coronavirus global emergency. UN-Water is working to ensure the most up-to-date information, resources and guidance as they become available.
  • Covid-19 and WASH - In this webpage, Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) compile different resources and tools around COVID-19 and WASH. These include documents, videos, social media posts, webinar recordings, etc. and are intended to help SWA's partners in responding to this health crisis in their countries.
  • Covid-19 pandemic could expose Africa’s poor water and sanitation infrastructure - In this book, Cillers (2020) stresses the urgency for urban planning in Africa. This, the author suggests would provide for roads, railways and ports, as well as, more basic infrastructure (i.e. clean water, improved sanitation facilities and electricity), and better health and education services.
    • “In Africa, providing basic infrastructure such as WaSH facilities and electricity reduces the impact of diarrhoeal and vector-borne diseases, as well as the respiratory harm caused by indoor use of traditional fuels such as dung and charcoal.”
  • Covid-19: Opportunities and challenges for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector - In this policy brief, Mnisi (2020) explores the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic’s preventative interventions may have opened opportunities for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in South Africa. For instance, "[i]nformation gleaned from [two] villages in Limpopo Province reveals stark continuing deficits in WASH provision... Residents who cannot afford to pay are compelled to source their drinking water from unprotected and potentially hazardous sources."
  • Covid-19: Resources for the Water and Sanitation sector - This fact sheet is a compilation of resources and initiatives that the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) has collated to help its partners with the management of the Coronavirus within the water and sanitation sector.
  • Covid-19: Solving Africa’s water crisis is more urgent than ever - In this blog post, Ndaw reports on the many rapid responses that have been put in place by numerous African governments in an effort to curb COVID-19. He cautions that close to two-thirds of the Sub-Saharan population currently find it difficult to access basic water services and subsequently cannot wash their hands.
    • "An estimated 70% to 80% of the region’s diseases are attributable to poor water quality."
  • Norms and Standards for Water and Sanitation - This document, compiled by Eglin, of Afesis Corplan (2020) lists and describes the norms and standards specifically for water and sanitation in South Africa.
  • The coronavirus pandemic might make buildings sick too - In this article, Proctor, Whelton and Rhoads (2020) warn of the dangers of water in the pipes of empty unused buildings.
    • "Water left sitting in the pipes of buildings can present serious health risks.”
    • “Standards are lacking and very much needed for restarting plumbing and ensuring continued water safety after the pandemic passes."
  • Understanding water issues and challenges (II) - In this article, written in February 2019, Toxopeüs discusses some of the challenges that are hindering local government from providing water functions.
    • "Municipalities are tasked with developing and maintaining infrastructure to ensure that water services are delivered, amongst other services. But some municipalities are facing a serious backlog in the infrastructure maintenance and rehabilitation necessary for providing potable water and sanitation services, as a result of severe financial and capacity constraints."
  • Water and sanitation emergency procurement Covid-19 disaster response directions, issued in terms of Regulation 10(8) of Regulations issued in terms of section 27(2) of Disaster Management Act, 2020 - In this document, the Department of Water and Sanitation, gives guidance concerning the emergency procurement of water and sanitation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.
  • Water and sanitation in the face of Covid-19 in Cape Town’s townships and informal settlements - In this article Hara, Ncube and Sibanda (2020) discuss the issues concerning access to water and sanitation for communities in townships, informal settlements and the homeless. They reflect on why these issues persist and make recommendations for strategies the government could put in place now and following the pandemic.
    • "The Covid-19 pandemic is a rude awakening for South Africa’s ability to provide water and sanitation for the poor and marginalised. However, it is also an opportunity to reflect on some of the policies and strategies that the government has used so far in providing these services to the poor. The need to address water and sanitation challenges is urgent."
  • Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for the Covid-19 virus: interim guidance - This document provides interim guidance to supplement the infection prevention and control (IPC) documents by summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health-care waste relevant to viruses, including coronaviruses. It is intended for water and sanitation practitioners and providers, and health-care providers who want to know more about water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) risks and practices.
  • World leaders' Call to Action on Covid-19 | Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) - World leaders agree, in this global call to action that "until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, there is no better cure than prevention" and that consequently "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. This document outlines the response plans that governments at national, regional and global levels must take to prioritize water, sanitation and hygiene services.

  • Yonela Diko: Covid-19 & the water sector: Crisis often inspires reform - In this article, Diko (2020) reflects on South Africa's development around mineral resources and how this has been a challenge for cities as the urban population increases. He suggests that given South Africa's lower conversion rate of water from rainfall into water, the country needs to focus on engineering means to build storage capacity for water.

    • “The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions are essential for protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Ensuring evidenced-based and consistently applied WASH and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces, and healthcare facilities will help prevent human-to-human transmission of, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
    • "Although South Africa is not in the top 17 countries considered the driest countries in the world, ...a third of South Africa's population is still not water secure."

Photo credit: Unsplash


Website References

Built environment



Human settlements

Informal settlements

Poverty & inequality


South Africa





Water and sanitation

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