COVID-19 : Water-Heat-Gender Nexus

Anindrya N.

The covid-19 pandemic has brought the “new normal” to our everyday life. Spring breaks and the pandemic shows no evidence of slowing down. Worry looms that the pandemic will stay until the scorching dry season (in Indonesia, the temperature can reach to 38.8-degree Celsius).  Despite the myth that warm weather will slow down the virus, heat will bring several problems to the transmission of coronavirus, particularly related to the availability of water.

In many world’s cities, access to water is significantly reduced during the dry season. In Indonesia, the municipal water companies typically suffer a shortage of raw water supply during the dry season, reducing the number of water that can be delivered to their customers. Handwashing and other personal hygiene practices depend on water. Such practices are crucial in cutting the transmission of covid-19. Thus, the provision of clean water plays an important role in preventing the disease as WHO has emphasized on the effectiveness of handwashing with soap. Moreover, there has been evidence that access to improved and piped water source are more prominent in the higher economic households. Water, once a physical struggle as people had to walk long distances to obtain water, has turned into a matter of affordability. The low-income households often rely on tanker trucks, which its unit price can reach three to ten times higher than the municipal water price. During the pandemic, people have been losing regular income in relations to the massive lay-off in the formal and informal economic sector. Thus, they may not be able to afford water in adequate quantity and of good quality. These limitations expose people to greater risks of covid-19 transmission as hygiene practices are greatly disturbed. People who could not buy tanker water must rely on groundwater, which is often contaminated. This will bring risks to other water-borne diseases on top of the risk of covid-19 transmission.

In the matter of water, discriminations towards women have been known for decades. There have been notions that men and women being impacted by water scarcity differently. Women, particularly in low-to-middle income countries with patriarchal culture, have been known to bear disproportionate burden on unpaid domestic works. These include works related with water, such as sourcing water and managing water use at home. For women who work, these domestic tasks are on top of the childcare responsibility and office tasks, placing multiple burdens on women during the social distancing period. Men seem to not participate in the domestic tasks related to water as that is deemed “feminine”. 

A further question on how covid-19 will impact men and women differently in relation to water was raised. Indeed, around the world, the morbidity and mortality for covid-19 is higher in men than in women. But the situation is pictured differently when you see the distribution of covid-19 by age and gender. In Jakarta, Indonesia, women and girls age 6-39 years old are more vulnerable to covid-19, it is from 40 onwards that men are more vulnerable than women. As previously mentioned, women bear disproportionate burden on works related to water at home, but women often prioritize the water needs of other family members above their own, putting themselves at a greater risk of being water insecure, and thus, a greater risk of covid-19 due to disturbed hygiene practice.

Interventions of water and hygiene, particularly those related to gender, have never been more important than now to prevent unnecessary sufferings. It is proposed that the relevance of heat in the dry season to water, covid-19 and gender be thoroughly examined as double burdens to women due to water scarcity and the pandemic brew.

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