Exactly a year ago – all hell broke loose as the COVID-19 virus stealthily crept across the world. At the time – no one could have predicted the global crisis and scale of disruption that would be triggered by the virus. In the space of 12 months, there have been over 113 million infections worldwide and over 2.5 million lives lost, including members of our Rotary family. Beyond the dire consequences on people’s health, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the global economy that is only comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many men and women have lost their jobs/businesses or seen their incomes cut; and it is estimated that between 119 and 124 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty.  
COVID-19 has created the worst crisis to education and learning in a century. Many children in our communities are grappling with remote learning, or no schooling at all; and many more are now engaged in street vending in order to support their families. Media reports also indicate that many adolescent girls have been victims of defilement and are likely to drop out of school due to unplanned pregnancies. Staying at home due to unemployment or the need to look after children has also exacerbated stress and domestic violence. And I could go on and on, listing the negative impacts of this pandemic.
Yet for something so lethal, some of the surprising findings have included the simple and cost-effective things that we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Aside from social distancing and masks, handwashing with soap remains our first line of defense against the virus. And oh, how we have washed! I for one, have in one year, washed my hands more times than in my entire life. COVID-19 has given new meaning to the slogan “Water is Life.” In the absence of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) is the only other defense for front line health workers. In the markets, slums, camps and schools where social distancing is impractical, handwashing appears to be the only answer!
But sadly many communities are still not able to perform this simple act due to limited access to water. Even as schools begin to re-open, a number are failing to meet the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – which include the continuous supply of water, soap and sanitiser. In some rural communities, the nearest water source is 5km away and many homesteads do not have the luxury to wash their hands regularly. It is also a reality that many health care facilities in Uganda and Tanzania do not have adequate access to soap, water and sanitation. So as the governments gradually lift the lockdown measures, increasing access to WASH facilities is becoming even more critical.
 
Commemorating the Water and Sanitation Month during this pandemic should therefore serve as a call to action for us Rotarians. Many clubs have in the past few months supported their communities with handwashing facilities and I thank you. However more remains to be done. As you have realised COVID-19 has multiple effects and WASH can be a strategic intervention. We need to go beyond the temporary fixes and work on sustainable access to clean water. The RI-USAID WASH Programme in Uganda is one of the opportunities that Rotary clubs can use to improve WASH in communal places, schools, health centres, and homesteads. But there are others, and I urge each and every club in D9211 to prioritise and include WASH activities in your service projects. Remember water is life, and WASH saves lives!
 
Rosetti Nayenga
District Governor 2020 - 21
Rotary International District 9211