New tool shows water security vital for fighting COVID-19 in Indo-Pacific

Ngeruktabel Island, Palau (norimoto/Adobe Stock)

In support of the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery policy, the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) has launched the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, developed by Griffith University researchers.

The Index enables governments, communities, and development organisations to identify risks and prioritise water-related responses in the Indo-Pacific. Supported by the AWP, researchers at Griffith University’s International Water Centre and the School of Medicine have collaborated to develop the innovative Index, drawing on readily available global datasets.

The Index builds on the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) approach, which is partly funded by AWP, as well as public health risk frameworks and indicators. It considers factors that influence a country’s vulnerability to respond to COVID-19 risks from a water security perspective.

“The Index enables us to identify the points of concern for each country and prioritise the most appropriate water-based interventions to reduce a country’s risk of COVID-19 impacts in the short-term and build long-term resilience,” said Dr Lachlan Guthrie, International Water Centre project leader.

“The index identifies the short-, medium- and long-term water investment opportunities that could reduce risk from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Guthrie said.

He said while the ability of people to wash their hands is vitally important, it is only one of many important water-related factors that influence risk.

“We have been able to show that water can play a major role in the response to and recovery from COVID-19, not just hygiene which is obviously very important,” said Dr Guthrie.

“In the majority of Pacific countries, for example, they are recording a relatively low number of cases which reflects their ability to delay a COVID-19 outbreak from ‘sparking’. However, when their borders reopen they would be at extremely high risk due to poor access to water and sanitation, and having the highest rates of mortality risk factors in the Asia-Pacific.”

Dr Guthrie also explains how the Index shows the major role water plays in a country’s economic recovery, telling more of a complete story than active case numbers alone.

COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index interface

COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index interface

Associate Professor Anne Roiko, from the School of Medicine, who led the public health angle of the project said their work on this Risk Index highlights the critical role of water in understanding this pandemic and dealing with it.

“In our framing of the COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index, we integrated elements of environmental and public health, biomedical science, economics, engineering, and water, sanitation and hygiene.”

“We see this work as a great starting point,” Dr Guthrie said.

“What is exciting, is the potential to collaborate with other researchers and stakeholders to build on this work, tailoring it to address specific and equally important challenges as we learn more about this SARS-CoV-2 virus and what strategies minimise its impacts”.

AWP CEO, Professor Nick Schofield, emphasised the important role that Australia is playing in assisting our neighbours during the pandemic: “This Index is supporting COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery activities across the Indo-Pacific to secure our region’s health, wellbeing and stability in these challenging times.”

The COVID-19 Water Security Risk Index is now live and can be accessed here.

Feature image: Ngeruktabel Island, Palau (norimoto/Adobe Stock)

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