74 million people in the Arab world have no access to handwashing facilities

About 74 million people in the Arab world are at increased risk of exposure to the new coronavirus due to a lack of access to soap and water, a UN agency said Wednesday.

“While handwashing has been established worldwide as the best tool for preventing Covid-19 contamination, this simple act is proving difficult in a region where 74 million people lack access to basic handwashing facilities,” the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said.

About 31 million people in Sudan are deprived of washbasins and soap, compared to 14.3 million in Yemen and 9.9 million in Egypt, the Beirut-based UN agency revealed in its report.

ESCWA also said it expects “an increase in demand for water in the region of 4 to 5 million cubic metres per day”, while the supply of running water is already “insufficient in 10 of the 22 Arab countries”.

“Urgent need to guarantee access to drinking water”.

In addition, about 87 million people in the region do not have access to safe drinking water at home, forcing them to rely on public water sources and thus putting them at increased risk of contracting the disease, ESCWA stresses.

“There is an urgent need to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all people everywhere, at no cost to those who cannot afford it, in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus,” said ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti.

She also warned against “the use of water as a weapon of war” in conflict-ridden countries, where NGOs fear disaster, especially in overcrowded camps for the displaced. According to ESCWA, “26 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the region are at increased risk of contracting coronavirus due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene services”.