Around 74 million in the water-scarce Arab region are at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to lack of access to handwashing facilities, a United Nations agency warned on Wednesday.
Washing hands with water and soap is seen as the best prevention against the potentially fatal disease.
“This simple act proves to be difficult in a region where 74 million people lack access to a basic handwashing facility,” the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, ESCWA, said in a report.
About 87 million people in the region also lack access to an improved drinking water source in their homes, according to the report.
The shortage exposes them to a greater risk of contagion as they are forced to collect water daily from a public source, the agency said.
“It is urgent to ensure access to clean water and sanitation services to everyone everywhere, at no cost for those who cannot afford it, in order to avoid further spread of the coronavirus,” ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti said.
She added that refugees and people living in the Arab region’s conflict areas are especially at risk.
“In the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, only 1 in 10 households has access to clean water,” the official said.
“An estimated 26 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the region are also at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.”
Dashti added that access to water should not be used as a “weapon of war.”
Several Arab countries including Syria and Yemen are in the grip of years-long feuds that have roiled their economies and health facilities.