Nations have to understand that caring for others is caring for oneself.
If the pandemic that is hitting us right now has taught us anything, it is the way we all count.
The coronavirus epidemic has exposed our dependence on each other. If I do not stay home during the quarantine, there is a good chance that I will get it and that I will spread it to others, because New York, where I live, has a large number of known infected cases in the country, (with more than almost 7,200 cases registered in one day). At the local level, I think this pandemic has prompted us to value our communities and to care and take care of our neighbors.
I would like to say the same for the international community and world governments, which have so far not come together to deal with this situation beyond their borders. This seems fundamental to me because the truth is that this health crisis is global and the challenges that many countries face are much greater than ours.
How do we ask everyone to wash their hands if one in three people in the world do not have access to clean water? According to the World Health Organization, inequalities in access to water, sanitation, and hygiene reveal that more than half of the world’s population does not have access to safe sanitation services.
We need access to clean water to drink hot liquids and wash our hands many times daily. This is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But according to data collected by the United Nations, approximately 4.2 billion people—more than half the world’s population—lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines. Every day thousands of people die from diseases, which could be prevented if they had clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. For not having them, 432,000 people die of diarrhea every year and almost 1,000 children die daily of diarrheal diseases that have to do with the lack of adequate sanitation services.
The UN must fulfill its commitment by 2030 to help these communities achieve the goal of providing their residents with clean water and access to adequate sanitation such as toilets. But in the face of the growing crisis of COVID-19, I am afraid that it will not be able to achieve this without the consecrated support of the international community.
The report of the World Health Organization and UNICEF (Progress in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: Special attention to inequalities, 2000-2017) reveals that “1.8 billion people have obtained access to basic drinking water services since the year 2000, but there are great inequalities in the accessibility, availability, and quality of these services.”
If this is the case, what are the chances of the most vulnerable people in the world to prevent the spread of coronavirus?
In March, the UN asked donor nations for $2 billion to help 53 nations fight the epidemic. If you receive them, you will be provided assistance in: delivering essential laboratory equipment to detect the virus and medical supplies to treat people; in the installation of hand washing stations in camps and settlements; in launching public information campaigns on how to protect yourself and others from the virus; and in establishing air brigades and centers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are most needed.
“COVID-19 is threatening all of humanity, so all of humanity must defend itself. Individual responses from countries will not be enough,” said Secretary General António Guterres when he asked for this commitment from donor nations.
If governments want to act in ways that serve their own interests, they must unite to combat this pandemic. If they think about the benefit of their citizens and others, they must come together to fight this pandemic. If they do not want their economies to weaken, they must unite to combat this pandemic. If they do not want to jeopardize all the humanitarian progress that has been made so far in the area of drinking water and sanitation for all, they must unite to combat this pandemic.
Taking care of others is taking care of yourself. At least on a personal level, we are already understanding it. If you want to offer 10,000 purification tables to a community that needs it, you can do it for $48 through market.unicefusa.org.
Angélica Medaglia, translator of classic texts of Tibetan Buddhism into Spanish and English and freelance writer, is born in Colombia and lives in Woodstock.