Water, sanitation, and hygiene policy in the time of COVID-19

Policy brief Cities, COVID-19 and Cities that Work

  • Investing in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is a no-regret policy for developing countries in the fight against COVID-19. According to numerous studies, for every $1 invested, the return in terms of healthcare savings, reduced time off work, and increased national productivity is between $2-4 for water and $5-9 for sanitation.
  • This is particularly true for fast-growing and dense developing cities. Of the approximately 30 major global epidemics in world history, including the latest COVID-19 pandemic, four were in the last 30 years and all were started and rapidly spread within urban areas.
  • This brief outlines several policy options for the WASH sector response to COVID-19. Recommendations for the short-term include conducting rapid assessments of community-level disease transmission and WASH capacity, promoting improved sanitation behaviour through public messaging, and immediate expansion of low-cost handwashing facilities.
  • Over the medium-to-long term, recommendations include incentivising households to connect to WASH infrastructure through subsidies and loans, establishing independent regulators to oversee performance, and making concerted international efforts to scale investments in the WASH sector.