Access to water is essential to contain the spread of COVID-19. This crisis emphasizes once again the importance of having utilities providing us all with safe water and sanitation in a sustainable manner.
Measures to prevent Coronavirus in cities, informal settlements or slums are being taken. Water utilities around the world are working hard and supporting their peers in an act of global solidarity.
This is the case of Waternet and Société Malienne de Gestion de l’eau Potable (SOMAGEP). The first, from The Netherlands; the latter, from Mali.
Helping out water utilities throughout the world
World Waternet was founded in 2007 on the initiative of Waternet, the water company for Amsterdam and surrounding area, to help improve the performance of foreign public water utilities and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Waternet and SOMAGEP entered into a Water Operator Partnership (WOP) in 2018 as part of the WaterWorX Programme and have ever since contributed to improving access to drinking water for an estimated 2.5 million people in urban areas in Mali. Now they both face the challenges of Coronavirus.
World Waternet’s advice to its partner water utilities, and to all other water utilities through the world is to set up sound operator planning schedules to safeguard the stability of vital water services, taking into account that part of the staff might be faced with long-term absence due to illness. This way, a utility can better ensure continuity when the crisis strikes.
Keeping up vital water services and taking precautionary measures
In tackling the Corona crisis, Waternet is providing its customers the option for postponement of payment of their tap water bills and water authority tax, while maintaining its 24/7 service delivery. In efforts to contain the spread of the virus, all planned visits to customers, for example for installing smart water meters, are cancelled until further notice.
New infrastructure and maintenance of existing infrastructure is only carried out if they contribute to the vital infrastructure, so Waternet can still deliver water to all customers and discharge their wastewater.
Keeping staff safe
With more 1500 employees, SOMAGEP communicates with its employees through its weekly journal called Filet d’O. On Monday 23rd of March, when no cases were reported positive in Mali yet, there was a special edition of the journal where the General Director Mr. Kane talked to the employees. The edition was a summary on the situation in Mali to urge employees, especially the ones involved in production, maintenance, distribution and quality control of water department, to implement the following measures:
• Wash hands regularly and properly with water and soap;
• Avoid shaking hands or hugging;
• Avoid close contact with sick people;
• Cough or sneeze into the crease of the elbow or into a tissue
• Avoid touching one’s face with one’s hands;
• In case of illness, stay at home, go neither to work nor to school.
The Flyers of Filet d’O were printed and hung in each department to reach the maximum amount of people, including staff that do not have access to emails. Hand sanitizers and hand-washing kits were distributed or placed in strategic areas (in front of entrances, as portrayed in the picture). It was recommended to respect the social distanciation of 1 m.
Waternet is also implementing similar measures: the water company communicates to customers via website, Twitter and Facebook about relevant developments regarding the Coronavirus, and so it does with its employees: it provides a daily update on the developments around the Coronavirus and the effects on the operations via their intranet page.
Since 12 March, all Waternet employees that can work from home have been ordered to do that. Only employees that are involved in the vital processes, such as the production of drinking water of the safety of the dykes, and who really cannot do their work from home, are allowed to come to the offices or production plants (only if in good health).
Staff considers a number of hygiene measures, such as, washing your hand regularly for at least 30 seconds. An instruction video on how to best wash hands is distributed among the staff. Moreover, Waternet gives out hand sanitizers, face masks and paper towels for sneezing and drying hands. Staff is instructed to not shake hands and sneeze and cough in the crease of the elbow.
Do you also want to share what your utility is doing in the fight against Coronavirus?
Whether raising awareness about handwashing, helping to ensure access to services in vulnerable communities or halting disconnections, we are interested to hear about it. Help your peer water and sanitation operators in the fight against the corona virus by sharing the important work you are doing in your community.