WASHINGTON: As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, millions do not have access to soap and water for washing hands, warns WaterAid, USA, a non-profit advocacy group, as the United Nations observes the World Water Day on March 22.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is leading the fight against the outbreak, describes handwashing as the first line of defence against coronavirus (COVID-19). Handwashing is also the first among “five must do” precautions highlighted by the Google search engine.

A UN report, released on Friday to mark the water day, notes that 40 per cent of the population in Pakistan still does not access to a basic handwashing facility. Only 35pc of the population in Pakistan use a safely managed drinking water service.

A WaterAid, USA, report, however, says that Pakistan is one of the top five countries in improving access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene. But despite this impressive progress, “22 million people still have no choice but to drink dirty water, and more than two in five people don’t have a decent toilet,” the report adds.

Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than do all forms of violence, including war, and 43pc of those deaths are children under five years old.

The World Water Day is an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance of freshwater. Since1993, the day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

The UN report, released to mark the water day, points out that “1 in 3 people (still) live without safe drinking water” across the globe.

According to this report, the water resources in Pakistan are being exploited so aggressively that the country will soon face a grave crisis if this practice is not stopped.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020