By: Jonathan Wiles, Senior Vice President of Programs
Updated on March 30, 2020. Visit stories.water.cc/COVID19 for updates as Living Water’s response evolves.
As of today, there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in 17 of the 18 countries in which Living Water works, with Mexico, India, and Peru reporting the highest numbers. Six of these countries are on quarantine lockdown, and others have implemented daily curfews. Living Water teams are adapting to these operational challenges, providing the essential services of safe water and life-saving hygiene messages in coordination with government authorities and local partners.
In several countries, we have shifted our focus toward healthcare facilities—many of which lack dedicated water supplies and handwashing stations. In cases where movement is not possible or safe, Living Water staff is engaging with local contacts via phone, WhatsApp, and social media to provide accurate information and coaching on how to stop the spread of the virus.
On March 25, we published a COVID-19 Church Response Guide designed to help churches in low-income communities respond to the virus, along with companion resources designed specifically for distribution on mobile phones. These are now being used with thousands of pastors and church leaders around the world.
The crisis is evolving rapidly, and our teams around the world continue to track local developments as they happen—discerning how best to care for their families and communities, while also leveraging their networks and expertise to effectively fight the spread of COVID-19.
In the face of the global coronavirus threat, Living Water International is equipped, called, and positioned to respond.
We are uniquely equipped to prevent the spread of the virus by doing what we do best: improving hygiene practices through tried-and-true behavior change methods and working to ensure safe water and sanitation services. This is already the focus of our program, implemented every day by our global staff—hundreds of professional community mobilizers, health promoters, water technicians, and support personnel.
We are called to this work as a demonstration of the love of Jesus: extending grace and truth that fights back fear and uncertainty.
We are strategically positioned to play a front-line role in the fight to prevent virus transmission in 18 low-income countries around the world. In coordination with our existing network of partner churches and institutions, government authorities and local WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) partners, we are fighting misinformation and equipping families to slow the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. We saw how effective these interventions can be during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.1
As COVID-19 spreads, we anticipate that the impact will be worst where there is a lack of WASH services, like the 42 countries where more than half of the population lives in homes that lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.2 In many places, hospitals and clinics are no better off. The World Health Organization and UNICEF tell us that 43 percent of healthcare facilities in the world have no place for people to wash their hands; 896 million people who visit will find no clean water, and 1.5 billion will find no safe sanitation.3
How is Living Water Responding?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has repeatedly stated that frequent and proper hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent infection and fight COVID-19. WHO is asking Living Water and other WASH (water, sanitation & hygiene) organizations to support more frequent and regular hand hygiene by improving handwashing facilities and using proven behavior change techniques, along with helping communities and institutions safely manage drinking water and sanitation services.4
Thankfully, through our Flourish model for church and community mobilization, we have developed a vast network of church and community leaders that are equipped to respond. This will be crucial in the countries where our staff’s movements are limited. Several key parts of our emerging global response that local teams are incorporating into their plans are to:
- Mobilize church and community leaders to respond effectively. We have developed a COVID-19 Church Response Guide that church facilitators and pastors can use with local congregations–specifically equipping them to reduce the spread of disease within the church, care for church members, mobilize church members to love their neighbors, and pray for an end to COVID-19.
- Increase our focus on promoting proper hygiene and sanitation practices, with even more emphasis on handwashing, waste management, and social distancing. We are finding more creative ways to do this in places where we will not bring together groups of people. This includes distributing posters and flyers, running social media campaigns, utilizing mass media (radio and TV), and equipping church and community leaders with talking points. We are working with governments and other key stakeholders to ensure our program areas are covered with communication and behavior change campaigns.
- Continue to provide access to safe water, which is needed to keep hands and surfaces clean. We’re especially focused on clinics and healthcare facilities as part of a coordinated crisis response.
As we adjust our day-to-day work to respond to this global threat, we rejoice at the fact that these efforts will also reduce other WASH-related threats that claim the lives of 800,000+ people around the globe each year.
How Can I Help?
When crises threaten us, our natural response is to step back, disengage, and protect ourselves… but we challenge you to lean in with us.
Lean in through prayer: Pray for the health of our international staff as they continue their important work of promoting life-saving sanitation and hygiene habits like handwashing. Pray for the communities we work alongside—that they would be protected from the spread of this virus.
Lean in by giving:
– $10 provides a hygiene promoter kit with lessons and necessary supplies for a community member to be a hygiene promoter for their neighbors.
– $45 provides access to safe drinking water plus sanitation and hygiene promotion for one person.
– $360 provides a community hygiene promotion activity including proper handwashing and disease prevention.
In times like these, it’s natural to feel afraid. But Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves and our fear and continue serving others. Living Water is already on the ground working in developing countries that will be dramatically impacted as COVID-19 reaches them.
Will you partner with us in this critical work?
1 Blake, Rosemarie (2014) “Ebola and the Clean Water Crisis”; Christianity Today, Carol Stream.
2 UNICEF and World Health Organization (2019) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2017. Special focus on inequalities, New York.
3 UNICEF and World Health Organization (2019) WASH in health care facilities: Global Baseline Report 2019, Geneva.
4 World Health Organization (2020) Technical Brief: Water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management for COVID-19, Geneva.