How water can save lives

by | Mar 22, 2020 | News

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of access to water and sanitation. 10 years after the United Nations recognised the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, the situation is critical: 2.2 billion people, 1 in 3, are still without safe drinking water. In addition, 1 in 8 health care facilities are without water services while 1 in 5 are without sanitation services, affecting nearly 900 million and more than 1.5 billion people respectively (WHO/UNICEF JMP Report 2019).

World Water Day 2020 is an opportunity to revisit the health issues linked to not having water and hygiene, particularly in health centres, reception centres for the most marginalised people (migrants, isolated children, etc.) and for people living on the streets.


While handwashing appears to be the best preventive measure to avoid contracting or spreading diseases like COVID-19, this instruction is impossible for people who live without water to follow. It also risks exacerbating stigma and could be perceived as disregarding the lives of those who do not have a reliable water supply.

People who do not have access to water and sanitation services – in particular those living on the streets or in precarious situations such as refugee camps or conflict zones – cannot protect themselves or their family.


The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the urgent and vital need to realise people’s human rights to safe water. In the face of the health emergency, it is time to act and remind people that some remedies already exist.

Coalition Eau call on the French government to:

(a) In France: give priority to supplying drinking water in homes, health centres and other public spaces; install or reopen as many public water points as possible – with soap and hydro-alcoholic gel – so that handwashing can be widely practiced (this corresponds with recommendations made by public health authorities).

(b) Abroad: finance projects to strengthen health systems – particularly in developing countries and humanitarian crisis zones – with priority given to water, sanitation and hygiene; encourage governments and development banks to support this strategy.

This call is part of the “Water is a Right!” campaign, launched by Coalition Eau and 30 partner associations in order to mobilise the government and elected officials to address persistent water and sanitation challenges in France and throughout the world.