Battling climate change and the pandemic through hygiene
Zisan Bin Lieaquat: Climate change is getting worse. Flood, drought, and rising sea levels are threatening sanitation systems from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants.
Any infectious diseases are easily transmitted when people have inadequate access to water and sanitation, which unfortunately is the reality of 4.2 billion people, living across the globe in regions such as South Asia; including countries like Bangladesh.
Currently, 98 percent of the people in the country are using toilets; but the projection comes down by 50% when the question of hygienic toilets is raised. Although Dhaka city has a fairly good situation, the situation in the non-urban areas is concerning.
Everyone must have sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change and keep communities healthy and functioning.
Even during the ongoing pandemic, accessibility to proper sanitation, water, and hygiene practices was critical to curbing the spread of disease and infection during the first wave.
But, for too long sanitation, specifically on-site sanitation systems such as septic tanks and pit latrines, have been left in the realm of household responsibility in the region.
The right to water and sanitation, a declared a human right by the United Nations since 2010 and celebrated every year through World Toilet Day (WTD), have been creating the momentum to celebrate the critical role of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives in upholding progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing) and 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation).
There is a tremendous amount of work done by corporate, NGOs, and citizens to work with the Government to avail that basic right; especially through initiatives that are executed surrounding WTD.
For example, in Coxâ€™s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been providing services to enhance safe and hygienic toilets for all in the COVID-19 emergency response.
Meanwhile, corporate brands such as Reckitt Benckiser (RB) through its hygiene and health brands such as Dettol and Harpic have been carrying out awareness campaigns on personal hygiene and sanitation at mass levels across streets and schools in cities and districts across the nation.
Even, Bangladesh Scouts, UN Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF), Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), UNICEF WASH had collaborated with RBâ€™s hygiene brands Dettol and Harpic, carrying out awareness campaigns and contributing to ensuring hygienic sanitation systems and practices; in the rise of the global pandemic and shifting climate.
Such programs have seen role reversal of children & parents where children have taken up the role of teaching the right way to wash hands. They have become an agent of change in communities in spreading awareness about health, hygiene, and sanitation systems. This is crucial in achieving SDG in light of climate change and the ongoing pandemic.
Even, Md. Abul Kalam Azad, Special Envoy of the UN CVF Forum in a virtual event organized by RB to celebrate WTD 2020, stated, â€œStarting with school-going children, we all need to be aware of the overall issue, not just the use of hygienic toilets. Installation of tubewell and toilets should be done maintaining proper distance. Working closely with RB and Bangladesh Scouts we have to raise awareness on the issue playing our own respective roles individually,â€ he added.
To address the current situation we all must come together to fight this pandemic and the impacts of climate change through hygiene sanitation systems and personal hygiene. Collaboration is key. A standalone CSR intervention or government initiative is not enough.
A demographic thatâ€™s aware creates a bigger impact on society. Itâ€™s time we look at hygiene, sanitation, and health together and not separately to tackle this pandemic and climate change.