Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s medical community, led by the World Health Organisation, has recommended everyone to wash hands with soap for 20 seconds multiple times a day. This is perhaps the most tenable instrument to fight the risk. But how can South Asia’s urban poor do this if they have only six litres (or even less) of water a day?

As cases rise in the region, 300 million urban poor are facing high risks (as we write this on 12 May 2020). Most of these people live in urban slums, with many not officially entitled to access to water from the public supply systems. In addition, there is a large floating population in the cities of South Asia. The virus has laid bare these forms of poverty previously hidden in plain sight, with more frequent scenes of people piling the streets for basic necessities when everything else has come to an abrupt halt.

On 11 May 2020, a panel of experts from the region came together online to discuss the water challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Convened and moderated by Dr. Hemant Ojha (Institute for Study and Development Worldwide, Australia), the panel included some of the finest urban water and governance researchers of the region:

  • Professor Zubair Ahmad and Prof Bakhshal Lashari of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro, Pakistan
  • Associate Professor Soumyadip Chattopadhyay of VISVA BHARATI University, Santiniketan, India
  • Mr. Dipak Gyawali, former minister of water resources, academician, Nepal
  • Ms. Rachana Upadhaya, Researcher, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS), Kathmandu, Nepal

The panel raised a number of issues and also proposed various solutions. A brief report of the panel is available here.