COVID-19 and WASH in Brazil

COVID-19 and WASH in Brazil

The Relationship Between the Global Pandemic and Availability of WASH Services and Products

Favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil where COVID-19 has hit hard. Image is overlooking hundreds of homes in favela with mountains and city in the distance

Around the world, everyone has been impacted by COVID-19. Whether it has been in a job situation, a family member having gotten sick, or has affected products that are available to you, there is not a single person who has not felt the impacts of the pandemic. Yet, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services in the global south.

Imagine you live in a favela – the slums of Brazil, where everyday life has become increasingly more difficult since the beginning of the pandemic. Your home is made out of salvaged materials like corrugated metal, sand, and concrete pillars. Homes are nearly stacked upon each other and are poorly insulated, making social distancing and privacy nearly impossible. You do not have running water in your home and must walk long distances in order to obtain freshwater.

This is Maria’s reality – a 40 year old, single mother, who had no choice but to move into one of these communities. Her experience may vary greatly from your own during the pandemic.

High Caseload

Sadly, Brazil has one of the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in Latin America, and over 626,000 deaths as of January 2022, according to SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute) and Worldometer. Knowledge of proper handwashing as the best form of prevention has become prevalent during the last few years. Yet, PubMed states that availability of clean water and soap are often lacking in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike. Brazil, and countries like it, have been taking steps towards COVID-19 containment – protecting people like Maria and many others. They have done so by addressing the factors that impact availability of freshwater; educating communities on the importance of handwashing, along with providing essential products and services; and by focusing on recovery, maintenance, and prevention.

Water Scarcity and Inadequate Sanitation

Brazil, a country of 212 million people, currently has 1.2 million people without access to safe water and another 20 million without access to improved sanitation, as confirmed by Water.org. Inequalities in both access to water and sanitation are impacted by varying levels of economic development – both in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, like where Maria lives, this means living without a flushable toilet or running water in her home, and generally higher rates of disease and infant mortality than in regulated urban areas. As unemployment grows, more move to the favelas of Brazil.

This is what happened to Maria and her son, Rafael, who now live in a favela just outside Sao Paulo. Up until the pandemic, Maria worked as a housekeeper at a local hotel. In the early months of the pandemic lock downs, many employees were laid off – Maria being one of them. She quickly fell behind on her bills and was evicted from her home. Her only option was to move her family to a nearby favela. In their new home, they were even more aware of the immense gap between rich and poor that has led to extreme differences in quality of living.

Things like climate change, how land is used, the quantity of water used for irrigation, and pollution heavily influence the availability of fresh water. Water scarcity is further impacted by situations such as population growth in urban areas and deficient sewage systems. Lower-income communities tend to be most affected and their health suffers as a result. 

The Importance of Handwashing

Hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, are sold out in most stores as well. Residents literally have to fight for the right to wash their hands. Maria, Rafael, and others in their community are among those who struggle to find hand sanitizer, and sometimes soap. Maria is aware of the dangers the pandemic poses, and is knowledgeable of good handwashing practices. Since soap is hard to come by, Maria must severely ration their supply for as long as she can.

According to The Harvard Gazette, washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds creates friction that lifts and washes away microbes from the skin. WHO (World Health Organization) claims that properly washing your hands can prevent around half of all preventable infections, including COVID-19.

However, many people do not properly wash their hands – or are not able to do so during important times (such as after using the restroom or before preparing food). In Brazil, around 35 million people are unable to stay home and practice appropriate hand hygiene for their homes are without flushable toilets or running water. While many residents of favelas are mindful of safeguards to prevent getting sick, unreliable access to water makes them more susceptible to the virus.

This is what Maria and Rafael face in their home. Because there is no running water, she must make a somewhat treacherous journey, multiple times a day to access freshwater. Carrying the water back home is difficult for Maria. She must carry the water up a steep hill; on a good day she makes this trip 3 times. Around the world, in countries that encounter water scarcity, organizations such as Children International and the World Bank Group have made headway in combating COVID-19 by educating parents and children on the importance of routine hand washing and by securing fixed and portable handwashing facilities, soap or alcohol-based hand rubs, and reliable water supplies within various communities.

Reliable Access to WASH Services

Reliable access to WASH services is essential in containing and preventing transmission of diseases, including COVID-19. Preventing illness and their complications is not only cheaper for health systems, but also essential in ensuring their future. Combating the spread of antimicrobial resistance with proper handwashing and immunization helps to further reduce the burden on healthcare systems. Measures such as vaccination, diagnostic screening, and behavioral and lifestyle changes can reduce the need for hospital care and treatment while greatly improving disease outcomes.

Even though it is now common knowledge that prevention is the best way to fight pandemics like COVID-19, less than 3% of health budgets are dedicated to preventive measures, even in the higher-income countries like the United States. The inconsistency of clean water for many Brazilians makes handwashing a challenge. Residents of favelas wait on the government to make repairs, such as installing water tanks or sanitation systems, with the most vulnerable depending on support from their neighbors.

A Hopeful Future

Thankfully neither Maria nor Rafael have had COVID-19, but they have seen many in their community suffer. Maintaining, and in some cases implementing, public health infrastructure are among the greatest cost-efficient approaches in developing pandemic preparations, particularly in resource-constrained communities.

When families have running water in their homes and a flushing toilet, they are able to properly dispose of waste and practice proper hand hygiene. If WASH services and infrastructure are properly controlled during the recovery phase of a disease outbreak, secondary impacts like supply chain disruptions or panic-buying may be prevented. If not properly managed, these secondary impacts may amplify further the risks associated with water borne illnesses, in addition to COVID-19 (World Bank, 2020). 

Brazil has an ample amount of water, yet faces unfair distribution of water resources. Fair allocation of WASH services and products are critical in preventing and controlling illnesses like COVID-19. In conjunction with other protective measures such as physical distance and self-isolation, Brazil may actively mitigate the impacts caused by the pandemic, protecting Maria and millions of other people.

For families like Maria’s, being able to routinely access clean water and wash their hands can mean the difference between living well and simply surviving. You can make a difference in the lives of people around the world who do not have access to clean water. Become a water sponsor for $5 a month and you will be able to provide clean water for a family for 5 years. Follow along to learn more about the water crisis, share this article with a friend, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed!

4 Hidden Ways to Conserve Water

4 Hidden Ways to Conserve Water

As the water crisis develops worldwide, there has been an urge for you to take part in water conservation. Doing your part will help global efforts to reduce water consumption. Turn off the tap. You’ve heard this phrase often – don’t leave water running for too long, take shorter showers. These practices are wonderful and can save several gallons of water per day, but are the most obvious to put into practice. Listed below are some tips to conserve water even when it isn’t obvious!

1. Your Milk: Hopefully not Almond!

Almond milk has been awful for the world of water. Almonds are mainly grown and harvested in California, where land is continuing to be irrigated for the use of almond production. According to a New York Times article, it takes 15 gallons of water to grow just 16 almonds there. The natural lands harvested for almond farms are mostly wetlands, taking away natural water-rich systems from the state. Although almond milk is tasty, consider alternatives such as soy or oat. Soy, a great alternative post-workout, is packed with protein: a new version of it has almost 20g of protein per serving. 

2. Conserve with Mulch

If you have any trees growing around you, make sure they are circled by mulch. Mulch acts as a moisture holder for the soil underneath a tree, nurturing its roots. It also acts as defense against the sun, keeping a tree cool during hot periods of the day. Investing in mulch will allow you to water your trees less and will help them live longer. Mulch can help retain water in other plants such as bushes and flowers, as well. Also: it looks great! Easy landscaping, really! 

3. Take a Bath (If you Take Long Showers) 

If you are someone that takes long showers, consider taking a bath. Specifically, if you normally take twenty-minute showers, a bath would conserve more water, according to an article by Huffpost. One article from Cleveland Clinic adds that baths improve mental and emotional health, soothe muscle and joint pain, and heal wounds. Further research suggests that adding epsom salts to your bath can better soothe muscle aches. Pooling water instead of letting it run is practical in other situations, such as washing the dishes in a half-sink of soapy water. Think about these the next time you shower or wash dishes: you could save money on the water bill and better the planet! 

4. Fast Fashion: Dangerous for Water Consumption 

You may have heard the term ‘fast fashion’ being passed around environmentalist groups or in local buzz. It’s true: the fashion and textiles industry is a major contributor to water consumption and pollution. A study by the World Wildlife Fund shows that cotton (the main commodity used in textiles) is the second most water-intensive crop on Earth, consuming 7,000-29,000 liters of water per kilogram of cotton produced. Furthermore, Forbes suggests that the industry is a polluter at “all stages of the value chain,” from cottonfield runoff choking rivers with harmful algal blooms to releasing ‘cocktails’ of toxic chemicals, as well as the release of microplastics from washing clothes. Here is how you can help this mess: buy less, buy better quality, and donate or sell old clothes. Never throw away clothing you don’t want. If you must, dispose of old clothes in a textile waste bin. Another way to reduce your clothing waste is to rent, which is a growing business. Fashion is fun, but don’t get in the habit of buying cheap, and if you do, make sure to dispose of your clothes correctly. 

Overall, being conscious about your own water usage is important to making real change in the way people live. It could be the difference in someone else’s quality of life. These are just a few of the many water costs that come with living as a human on our planet! To be more mindful about your own water consumption, do research about trade-offs like these to better serve our wonderful rock in the Universe, and the people and animals who inhabit it. 

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How do Hurricanes Affect Water Quality?

How do Hurricanes Affect Water Quality?

Hurricane season is upon us, and we know that this time of extreme winds, heavy rainfall and massive flooding can be devastating. Hurricanes destroy infrastructure and homes as well as create dangerous situations for those living there. In addition to these effects, there are some hidden issues that might not surface until the rains and wind stop. One of these issues is the lack of clean and safe water.

Three Effects of Hurricanes

There are a few ways that hurricanes affect freshwater supplies. First, we need to think of the water that is being pulled into the hurricane. As hurricanes churn over the ocean, they can bring rain that contains chemicals and undrinkable salt water. This rain then falls in rural areas where fertilizers and pesticides can quickly contaminate private wells.

In the urban areas, city fresh water sources can also become contaminated, making the water not safe to use or drink. This contamination is a result of the heavy rains and flooding. As the flood waters move, they bring with them enormous amounts of contaminants like chemicals, sewage, and other debris. Flooding waters can breach water reservoirs causing contamination that water treatment systems cannot keep up with. These waters will also contaminate surrounding lakes, streams and well water supply, meaning there is potential for overgrowth of bacteria.

In addition to the floods, high winds can result in falling trees and other infrastructure damage. This can cause water pipes to be broken, allowing for the water to be exposed to contaminants. The broken pipes will then take the contaminated water directly into water mains and lines into individual homes. This contaminated water poses great health risks to communities as it can carry diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, e. Coli and dysentery. The repairs on the water systems can be very costly and the contamination issues can last for years to come.

Historic Water Quality After Hurricanes

In 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, more than 690 wastewater and drinking water utilities in 11 states were compromised. Within a few days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that more than 1,220 drinking water systems and more than 200 wastewater treatment facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had been affected. This caused a large outbreak of gastrointestinal diseases triggered by e. Coli due to the lack of safe water. 

How to Be Prepared

If you find yourself in the aftermath of a hurricane, avoid using your well water or tap water. It is important to get your water tested to ensure you are drinking safe water. If you are unsure of the safety of your water, be sure to boil the water or use a filter that will remove the contaminants. Check out Business Connect, one of our partners, to learn more about various water filtration and treatment options. Stay safe!

Water Filter Benefits to the Environment

Water Filter Benefits to the Environment

Boardwalk overlooking the ocean with no plastic pollutants

Happy Earth Day! Today is a day that we celebrate the beautiful world we live in. We all have found little places of the world that we enjoy, whether it’s a beautiful sandy beach, the mountains, or a wooded trail. At Connect for Water, we often champion projects that bring clean water to those in need for health reasons, but did you know that water filters also help the environment? We’ve pulled together four different benefits of water filters to the environment and outlined them below. 

Less Plastic Waste

A key benefit of water filtration is that it cuts down on plastic waste because bottled water is not needed. According to the Container Recycling Institute, each day in the US more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Even if one tries to recycle plastic bottles, only certain types of plastic bottles are recycled in certain areas. The rest of the plastic bottles end up in landfills. As they are made of polyethylene terephalate (PET) plastics, they break down into small pieces as they decompose and contaminate soil, pollute groundwater and make animals sick. These bottles can take hundreds of years to decompose in the landfills, continuing to release toxins into the environment. If one water filter can provide clean drinking water for a family for 5 years, that is 4,175 water bottles saved from landfills.

Reduces the Carbon Footprint of Bottled Water Production

Another benefit of water filtration to the environment is a reduction in the carbon footprint of bottled water production. Since water bottles are made from polyethylene terephalate (PET), they require fossil fuels to be produced. In 2006, the US water bottle consumption levels required the equivalent of around 17 million barrels of oil. This is enough energy to fuel one million American cars for one year (Pacific Institute, 2007). This means that drinking bottled water is also depleting the earth of other natural resources.

Save Scarce Water Resources by Reuse

Did you know that you can also save scarce water resources with water filtration? With a water filter, it is possible to reuse water which reduces stress on the freshwater supply. Many areas where pure water is plentiful are delicate ecosystems that suffer when their water is removed like rivers and wetlands. Wastewater is typically the water targeted for recycling. Instead of sending the wastewater directly to the nearest river or ocean where it spreads contaminants, it is recycled and used for irrigating crops. 

Save on Soap and Other Cleaning Products

A final, and little known environmental benefit of water filtration is that it can help save on soap and other cleaning products. As many water sources are contaminated with oils and other minerals, filtering water before washing hands or cleaning surfaces will mean that less soap will be needed to wash away the dirt. Minerals like calcium and magnesium interfere with the cleaning action of soap. Soap is attracted to these minerals, producing fewer suds and being less effective (WaterTech, 2015). From this understanding, we can conclude that filtered water will also save soap and other cleaning products.

These are just a few of the filtered water benefits to the environment and they can just be added to the countless health benefits of clean water. This is why we continue to champion the cause for clean water around the world. Would you join us in this work to save the earth and help communities drink clean and safe water?

How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

How Polluted Oceans Hurt Us and How We Can Protect Them

Oceans and the life they sustain are vital to humankind. Unfortunately, overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten these habitats.

The oceans are one connected body of salt water that covers more than 70 percent of the Earth, and we depend on these waters for human survival. They influence everything from the weather to the food supply to the health of seaside communities. Yet, we are the greatest offenders when it comes to pollution.

The oceans are also teeming with creatures that are critical to our ecosystems. Fish, dolphins, squid, octopuses, eels, and whales populate the open ocean, while lobsters, starfish, oysters, crabs, and snails scurry about the ocean bottom. Mammals like walruses, otters, and polar bears depend on the ocean for their survival as well. Coral reefs are a biome of colorful activity found in shallow, tropical waters.

All areas of the ocean are impacted by human activities. Lost or discarded nets, spilled oil and garbage, runoff, and sewage are all creating dead zones in the oceans. Excess carbon dioxide turns ocean waters acidic, and freshwater from melted glaciers will alter the weather-driving currents.

Heartbreaking Ocean Pollution Facts

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Scientists estimate how much floating garbage is out there, but not even oceanographers can tell us exactly how much –  the oceans are just too big. In 2002, Nature magazine reported that, “…during the 1990s, debris in the waters near Britain doubled; in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica the increase was a hundredfold. And depending on where they sample, oceanographers have found that between 60 and 95 percent of today’s marine debris is made of plastic.”

Where does all this garbage come from?

Plastic and other garbage enters the ocean when people throw it from ships, leave it in the path of the tide, when rivers carry it there, or when sewage systems and storm drains overflow. In spite of the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, “…the US still releases more than 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm runoff every year,” according to a 2004 EPA report.

This problem is significant because plastics do not degrade in seawater. Rather, they accumulate daily, and, thanks to ocean currents, the plastics travel thousands of miles.

As of April of 2017, scientists estimated that about 19 billion pounds of garbage are currently present in the world’s oceans.

“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” said Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer who led the 2015 study that determined this staggering number. According to Jambeck, ocean waste amounts will double by 2025 unless we do something on a global scale to reduce ocean waste.

Plastics are the top type of garbage found in the ocean. Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit that organizes an annual coastal cleanup event in more than 150 countries worldwide, estimate that plastic debris makes up around 85 percent of all the trash collected from beaches, waterways and oceans.

Because plastics don’t biodegrade, they simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces as they are exposed to sunlight. These microplastics are shorter than 5 millimeters long, and some are microbeads.

The United Nations Environment Program note that, “…there could be as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in our seas.” What is particularly alarming is the five, enormous swirling garbage convergences called “gyres”. These large garbage islands are the subject of new and innovative ocean cleaning efforts and technology.

One of the most troublesome sources of ocean garbage is litter from single-use plastic products ― plastic bags in particular. These plastics are threatening at least 600 marine life species, including leatherback turtles, whales, and seabirds. These animals mistake the plastics for food and cannot digest them, and the plastics eventually kill the animals.

People need to be educated about how widespread ocean pollution is and how it not only affects marine life, but people and the environment as well.

For example:

  • Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year.
  • The Mississippi River carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, creating a “dead zone” in the Gulf each summer.
  • 40% of the freshwater lakes in the US are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming.
  • 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are dumped into US water every year.
  • In 2010, recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of pollution.
  • Cleanups can save animals lives and discourage people from littering in the future.

Cleaning up Ocean Pollution

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It is critical that we, as residents on this planet, join together to fight ocean trash. There are multiple agencies, nonprofits, and corporations who are joining the fight, and we can support them.

The International Coastal Cleanup organization started more than 30 years ago, when communities came together to collect and document the trash along their Texas coastlines.

The organization connected with the Texas General Land Office, local businessmen and women, and other ocean-lovers, and planned what would be Ocean Conservancy’s first Cleanup. Volunteers didn’t just pick up trash; they recorded each item collected on a data card in order to help find ways to eradicate ocean trash moving forward.

The Cleanup has grown vastly in 30 years. Volunteers from states and territories across the US and more than 100 countries participate in a Cleanup event every year.

Renee Tuggle, the Texas State Coordinator for the International Coastal Cleanup, said, “What I have learned from the Cleanup experience, is that even though the Cleanup started in Texas with a small number of 2,800 volunteers… it has grown into a massive cleanup that involves both national and international volunteers all pitching in for the same common goal of cleaning up our coastal waters and taking care of our beaches. I am proud to be a part of this global movement and I appreciate all of the help and support I get from the Ocean Conservancy staff.”

At a former naval air station in Alameda, California, across the bay from San Francisco, workers are welding a football field length black tube together. It is a single piece of a larger system designated to attack the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Boyan Slat, the innovator behind the idea, presented his science at a TEDx talk and The Ocean Cleanup idea began. At just 18-years-old, Slat had discovered that cleaning up microplastics and microbeads currently in the ocean could take almost 80,000 years. Now, his organization is poised to clean up a huge majority of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

There are also things individuals or small groups can do to help:

Be Aware of your Carbon Footprint

Be conscious of your energy use at home and work. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, take the stairs, and avoid oversetting your thermostat.

Make Sustainable Seafood Choices

When you are grocery shopping or dining out, reduce the demand for overexploited species by choosing sustainably sourced seafood.

Use Less Plastic

Plastics kill tens of thousands of marine animals every year. Carry a reusable water bottle, use cloth totes for shopping, and always recycle whenever possible.

Help Care for the Beach

Always clean up after yourself and participate in a beach cleanup. Explore the ocean but don’t interfere with wildlife or remove rocks and coral.

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Don’t Buy Items that Exploit Marine Life

Avoid buying items like coral jewelry, tortoiseshell hair accessories, and shark products.

Be an Ocean Friendly Pet Owner

Read pet food labels and consider seafood sustainability when choosing food for your pet. Don’t stock your aquarium with wild-caught saltwater fish, and never release aquarium fish into natural bodies of water.

Support Organizations that Protect the Ocean

Consider giving financial support or offering your time at volunteering.

Be the Change in Your Community

Research the ocean conservation positions of public officials before voting. Patronize restaurants and markets that offer only sustainable seafood.

Be Responsible when Traveling the Ocean

Practice responsible kayaking, boating, kayaking, and other activities on the water. Don’t ever litter and be aware of marine life in the water.

Educate Yourself About Oceans and Marine Life

The more you learn about this critical system, the more you can share that knowledge to educate others.

What Else Can We Do To Help?

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The threats to our ocean ecosystems seem overwhelming. The oceans experience pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other issues. How can we make a difference as individuals? We can make a big difference starting here:

Connect

Learn about the ocean and how you impact the ecosystem. Read about conservancy and restoration – and then share what you have learned.

Be Water Wise

Reduce your family’s use of chemicals. Use fertilizer minimally, buy organic fruits and veggies, and choose non-toxic cleaning products.

Trim Down Trash

Trash doesn’t disappear. Moving water can carry loose trash to the ocean.

Don’t Live a Disposable Lifestyle

Invest in reusable bags, beverage cups, and non-plastic containers. Always recycle.

Litter Patrol

Never litter and be a part of the solution by participating in beach cleanups.

Be Fish Friendly

Only buy products that you can guarantee were sustainably harvested. Demand sustainable seafood at the grocery store and in at favorite dining spots.

Conclusion

On this little blue planet, we are but one species and we are the most dangerous to all the others. Our oceans and sea life are not replaceable. We can and must do our part to clean, conserve, and improve the conditions in our planet’s oceans.

Without the oceans, we put our lives in jeopardy. Let’s do the smart thing and take care of our oceans.

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