Covid-19 and the 'basic needs approach'

By Veronica Cretu

Covid19 is definitely impacting our lives in a manner that we are not yet fully able to contemplate, embrace and accept. While the worst consequences are still ahead of us, there has been so much written and reflected upon when it comes to governments’ reactions, measures, and handling this crisis overall.

I have been closely following the World Health Organization, Bill Gates, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, specific governments including Austrian, Sweden, USA, Moldova, Russia, China, Italy, Germany, others. And while the pandemic seems to have taken us all by surprise, there is a lot of evidence that the world has been warned about a possible pandemic. Last year, a report was prepared for the UN[1], warning about a potential threat, and I keep asking myself what governments took measures based on those findings, what have the governments done to get ready for it?! Looks like not too many ...

Thousands of videos about the virus have been circulating through social media. Several video tutorials about the importance of washing our hands and how to wash our hands correctly have been circulating online. And this is exactly what I would like to get your attention to.

For those who have travelled the globe and have been to places in Asia or Africa, or even in the rural areas of Eastern Europe, you would wonder how can people of those areas put in practice those advices from health experts, while they miss basic infrastructure, such as water and sanitation.

Inadequate sanitation is a leading cause of poverty in developing countries around the world, and this is among the top causes for premature mortality (with an estimated 1800 child deaths per day) due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene[2]. The UN’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal calls for water and sanitation for all, and recognises that safe sanitation practices form a crucial element of future social development and economic prosperity.

At the beginning of 2020, the issue of poor water and sanitation in Moldova was a highly debated topic, started by thousands of school students who signed petitions through which they demand that all school toilets are connected to running water. Data shows that in more than a half of the Moldovan schools (out of 1200) children use the toilets build outside, in the yards of the schools, which are dirty, cold, and lack any sanitation requirements[3].




According to a World Bank report dating from 2015[1], although the data is not too different today, in rural areas, 1.5 million inhabitants do not have access to piped water and 1.8 million do not have access to flush toilets. Thus, access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is one of the major challenges for the water sector in Moldova, and accordingly, seriously affecting the health of the population across the country.

What is worrisome, is that despite the fact that there were several development partners working in Moldova for years on numerous projects, investments in health sector remain among the lowest, as per Chart above (source

Now, the world is in quarantine. Each country adopts its own timeline. But technically, it means people are spending few weeks, if not months, indoors and the assumption is that they have the minimum requirements for basic hygiene. We know that the reality is different and that millions across the world don’t have those basic things in place. And that they would be even more affected by the pandemic.

Given the current situation, development partners need to re-think their future interventions in countries facing the same challenges as Moldova in terms of water and sanitation and the broader health sector. They should aim to support to general population in terms of access to drinkable water, piped water into each house, access to flush toilets using the most cost-efficient solutions. In doing so, it is key they explore on the most recent research and work done in this field. For example, more could be done on exploring on the findings of the work done by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation[1], which back in 2019 funded commitments aimed at accelerating the adoption of innovative, pro-poor sanitation technologies in developing regions around the world.

Development partners need to work closer with Local Public Administration Authorities and use a “basic needs approach” approach, understand the local context through the lens of the people living in those communities without referring only to international reports and/or global indexes. Adopting rapid solutions, deploying those solutions without wasting any minute is key for the further containment of the COVID19, as well as better prevention of future pandemics.

I would also urge OGP (Open Government Partnership) in its upcoming efforts of co-creating the new 'waves' of National Action Plans on Open Government across its member countries, to prioritize consultations on the critical infrastructure related to health and reach out to those who are in critical need for it!

Note: Democracy can thrive when “basic needs approach” is in place. Those of us who have spent years on promoting the principles of democratization, transparency, accountability, open government, used to face over and over again the challenge of low citizen engagement and participation. No wonder why.

Human needs should be served in order of their importance to individual survival and growth.