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BRIEF October 9, 2020

Securing Access to Water & Sanitation Services in Times of COVID-19: Monitoring Responses in Latin America & the Caribbean

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     Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), together with physical distancing, are central to preventing the spread of Covid-19. Handwashing with soap and water kills the virus but requires access to running water in sufficient quantities. In the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, handwashing remains a challenge as 25 percent of the population still lack reliable access to safely managed water supply and sanitation. 

    Following the pandemic outbreak, governments in the region have taken major actions to respond to the health emergency and protect low-income households. In an effort to ensure and guarantee a minimum level of access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) services, government efforts have included inter-alia: (i) measures to ensure secured access, continuity, and quality of WSS services; (ii) financial support to cover WSS service fees; and (iii) direct support to water utilities to continue the provision of services, among others. 

    Since March 2020, the World Bank’s Water Global Practice is monitoring the main public policies on WSS that governments in LAC are introducing in response to the pandemic. The objective of this monitoring effort is to support regional sector knowledge and facilitate official information through the recording of sector measures and their evolution in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The monitoring effort places emphasis on the financial support type of measures, which have been provided mainly to secure consumers’ access to WSS services. Sector responses are monitored across LAC countries at the national-level, with a zoom-in on Brazil to also monitor responses at the state-level. Tracked measures under this monitoring exercise are compiled periodically and can be accessed through a user-interactive platform: WSS Responses to COVID-19 Dashboard.

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     The WSS Responses to COVID-19 Dashboard shows the monitored financial support measures introduced to ensure continued access to WSS services for all users despite the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. These measures include the waiving or deferring of water bill payments, freezing tariff rate increases, and the suspension of disconnections due to non-payment of bills. Other monitored measures to ensure secured access, continuity, and quality of WSS services, such as direct support to water utilities to continue the provision of services, are also captured and recorded in the Dashboard although less comprehensively. 

    These efforts seek to support sector practitioners identify good practices in public-policies for WSS, to promote discussions in the LAC region, and foster knowledge exchange with other regions in preparation of better preparedness and response to future pandemics and emergencies. The measures recorded through this exercise may also serve as inputs for in-depth analytical work, depending on the needs of the dashboard user.  

    The dashboard is updated regularly and is intended to make information more accessible to users, providing a quick summary of the measure and a link to the original source. The response measures presented in this tool can be visualized according to the following key themes: 

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    Other measures that do not fall under these themes are recorded under complementary measures; for more information, refer to Glossary and How to Use this Dashboard.

     

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     To access the information, users can navigate through the dashboard interface as follows:

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    Click here to access the complete WSS Responses to COVID-19 Dashboard including all the maps and functions introduced above.

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     Geographical scope. The dashboard includes national-level information on 19 countries across LAC. In some cases, the country-level information also includes key measures introduced by the main utility, regulator, or other key sector entity in the respective country. Further to national-level information on Brazil, a state-level deep dive is provided on all 27 federative units in Brazil. 

    Analytical scope. The scope of this activity is limited to reporting what the countries are doing and does not go as far as to identify policy gaps. Likewise, the scope does not verify if published measures have been implemented nor by which extent these have been fulfilled on the ground. As the research approach follows a desk review of published information, it should be noted that missing responses does not imply that monitored countries/states in Brazil have not enacted measures if otherwise not readily available/published online.

    Information gathering and sourcing. The information presented in this dashboard is collected through online reviews or provided by sector counterparts from World Bank client countries. All content is primarily sourced from official government documentation and references, and where relevant backed with news articles or social media announcements published by governments and water utilities (the latter being primarily relevant to collect information on the ‘remote bill pay and customer service’ theme). Users are encouraged to refer to the original source referenced in the dashboard for detailed information. 

    Presentation of findings. The dashboard allows the user to access monitored information by navigating through three distinct user interfaces. On the main page, the user can select between two maps, one for the LAC region and one for Brazil at the state-level for a general overview of tracked measures. By clicking on the country or state profiles, the dashboard allows the user to access for each country or Brazilian state of interest the full list of measures in chronological order, as well as  a very brief account of each measure as published by the government or sector agency. Refer to How to Use the Dashboard for guidance on how to navigate the dashboard. 

    Target audience. The collected information is intended to provide a quick overview of the sector responses, to sector practitioners and decision-makers, among others to support and inform on-going and future dialogues with country authorities and development partners. This effort can also provide inputs for further analysis to decipher good practices, as well as facilitate capturing lessons learned to strengthen response and preparedness capacities in the WSS sector against future emergencies and shocks. 

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     Water Blog | “Latin America moving fast to ensure water services during COVID-19” (April 2020)

    To help fight the pandemic, governments in the region are setting up emergency measures to provide safe water to their citizens. Government measures are found to focus on three main areas: (1) Ensuring access, continuity, and quality to facilitate handwashing for all; (2) Direct support to cover service fees to minimize the economic impact of COVID-19 on households; and (3) Support to water utilities including efforts to protect utility employers and the suspension of taxes on potabilization products to allow for necessary water treatment operations.

    Water Blog | “Responses in LAC’s Water and Sanitation Sector amidst the COVID crisis: Opportunities for Greater Connectivity” (October 2020)

    The different sector response measures in the region signal that the unforeseen health crisis has presented utilities and the sector with opportunities towards enhanced connectivity: from reaching the unserved populations with potable water, to increased technological dependence, to an enhanced relationship between the sector and other stakeholders and citizens. These elements are key to turnaround WSS utilities, providing opportunities to become more innovative, foster multi-sector partnerships for strategic investment and sector planning, accelerate utility’s digitalization, and more proactive engagement with its stakeholders. Also, through social media, sector agencies are conveying public health recommendations in a rapid and informative manner, strengthening public opinion on the role of water for livelihoods and post-Covid recovery. The nurturing relationship and continued connectivity (physical and digital) between the WSS sector and its citizens is perhaps holding the greatest prospect of all, as one beneficial outcome from this pandemic.   

    Policy Note | Brazil - World Bank, UNICEF and SIWI: “The key role of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in the response to Covid-19 in Brazil” (September 2020)

    In order to support well designed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) responses contributing to COVID-19 containment, this note provides an overview of measures taken at the federal and state levels in Brazil. It identifies both the strengths and the response gaps. Frequent and proper handwashing with soap is one of the key measures for COVID-19 infection prevention and control. This implies that continued access to and quality of WASH services must be ensured at household level, health care facilities, schools, and in other public spaces. This requires coordinated actions by key stakeholders, namely: policy makers, regulators, utilities, private sector, United Nations (UN) agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and communities. Access the virtual seminar recording here.

     

    Other relevant links: 

    This tracking exercise complements other ongoing monitoring efforts in the sector:

     


*If you have any suggestions for the Dashboard or would like to receive more informaton, click HERE to contact the team. 


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