Day 1 Reflections

The participants of the WASH and the COVID-19 Virtual Symposium finished day 1 energised and optimistic about the role WASH has to play in supporting healthy and resilient people.

The expert panel with Her Excellency Dechen Wangmo, Health Minister in Bhutan, Dr Stephanie Williams Ambassador for Regional Health Security for DFAT, Ms Kelly Ann Naylor, Chief of WASH at UNICEF facilitated by Clarissa Brocklehurst, discussed the WASH sector’s response to the pandemic. The pandemic has made collaboration and coordination across the WASH and health sectors even more important.

Her Excellency Dechen Wangmo said “a concerted, holistic approach to WASH is needed”. Bhutan has seen an impressive increase in WASH services coverage during the past year. Many actors came together to collaborate and address WASH gaps taking sanitation coverage from 53% to over 90%. But in many countries, there have been challenges faced in ensuring WASH services as people lack basic water for handwashing and slip back into poverty with the economic pressure of the pandemic impact.

The main panel themes included collaboration, leadership, advocacy for WASH to have a seat at the table, enabling environment, knowledge, resources and services that leave no one behind.


Six workshops took a deep dive into the focus areas of COVID-19, WASH and gender, behaviour change, utilities, systems, sanitation workers and healthcare facilities.

Highlights include discussions on the transformative change for women that can be achieved through WASH, how technology can be utilized to support services, how communication with staff and customers is key for utilities, how rapid collaboration with government and private sector is possible when incentives align, some of the ways WASH in healthcare facilities can be improved and how sanitation workers need protection from the hazards of their critical job.

Participants enjoyed many case studies and examples of important WASH work that has been undertaken in the COVID-19 context, and they were challenged to think about how to support enduring and sustainable WASH behaviours and services.

Saher Zafar from iDE presenting during Plan International’s COVID-19 and WASH Behaviour Change Workshop 

Day 2 Reflections

The participants of the #WASHFutures online symposium finished day 2 inspired to ensure that inequalities in WASH are addressed, that they “do no harm” and “leave no one behind” when working to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6.

The expert panel with Mr Bruce Gordon, Coordinator of WASH at the World Health Organization, Sarah Keener, Social Inclusion Leader of the World Bank Water Global Practice, Perry Rivera, Chief Operating Officer, New Business Operations at Manila Water Company and Silvia Landa, Project Manager of Yayasan Plan Indonesia, facilitated by Clarissa Brocklehurst, discussed what we can learn about the intersection of COVID-19 and WASH inequalities.

Bruce Gordon from WHO reminded participants of the enormous challenge given 3 billion people lacked handwashing facilities at the start of the pandemic. He said, “we need to reframe handwashing from a behaviour change issue to an inequality issue”. Sarah Keener emphasized structural inequality that has been exposed during the pandemic. Perry Rivera explained that the private sector utilities have been disrupted by the pandemic and now the focus has moved from competition to collaboration. Silvia Landa encouraged investing in good relationships with the most marginalized people early on “putting them as the first mile, not the last mile”.

The main panel themes included significant variance in WASH coverage including in East Asia and Oceana, data gaps, challenges for schools and health facilities, collaboration with government and key stakeholders like rights groups, CSOs and others, negative impacts on women including violence and losing work, inequalities in access to information, partnerships and aligning incentives to achieve goals.


Four workshops continued the deep dive into focus areas of COVID-19, WASH and inequalities, sanitation enterprises, schools and early career professionals.

Highlights include discussions on the importance of speaking to local rights groups to understand barriers and identify solutions together for minority groups, determining the best framing approach to work with government such as a community approach or a human rights approach or a sustainability approach, lessons from COVID-19 and innovation by sanitation and hygiene ventures such as automation, contingency funding and decentralisation, and ways that schools can prepare well to ensure health and wellbeing of children (global frameworks and processes are available).

Early career professionals held a lively discussion about the impact of the pandemic on their organization and their professional and personal life. Panelists openly shared their experience which served to engage and inspire others as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19, WASH and the workplace

Lana Woolf from Edge Effect presenting during World Vision and Edge Effects workshop “Share the power: progressing inclusion of marginalised people in WASH through “not being neutral”

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The online symposium WASH & the COVID-19 Pandemic: Responses for recovery and resilience is a knowledge-sharing event of Water and WASH Futures. Water and WASH Futures is a partnership activity of the Australian Aid program and International WaterCentre; this symposium is delivered with the partnership of Water for Women Fund and Grand Challenges CanadaFor more information, visit