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

By Dr Lachlan Guthrie and Thomas Pitts,

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.

Building on the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Water Development Outlook approach, as well as public health risk frameworks, 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.

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

“We’ve 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.

“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.”

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

“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.”

Dr Guthrie said their work was a great starting point.

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

AWP CEO, Professor Nick Schofield, emphasised Australia’s role in helping its neighbours.

“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.”

NOTE: This article was previously posted on Griffith News.