Nairobi, 6 May 2020  - Some 120 participants joined the second COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus session to discuss the challenges faced by the most vulnerable communities in accessing basic services such as water and sanitation which are essential to prevent the spread of the virus. The webinar, organized by the World Urban Campaign and Practical Action, featured six water and sanitation experts and practitioners.

Participants heard that over 620 million urban residents still do not have access to basic sanitation facilities worldwide.  Graham Alabaster, UN-Habitat water and sanitation expert pointed out most people living in informal settlements do not have facilities at home to wash their hands with soap and water, that soap is expensive and water can be in short supply.

Practical Action's Senior Policy and Practice Advisor in the areas of Energy, WASH and Urban Services Lucy Stevens called for handwashing stations to be set up in high-risk locations with a focus on the most vulnerable groups.

Mr. Birupakshya Dixit, Coordinator at Practical Action India, emphasized the need to conduct water and sanitation assessments and ensure regular monitoring with key players in communities. He said prevention measures such as physical distancing were difficult due to the use of community washing toilet facilities and which meant access to these was  severely limited.

The contribution of utility workers on the frontline of water and sanitation services was recognized as playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the virus.  Rokeya Rafiq, Executive Director of Karmonjibi Nari, Bangladesh said that without legal  recognition they found it difficult to continue their work

Peter Ogwell from the Kisumu County Government in western Kenya said they also had to address the impact of the on-going floods adding that without water supply and sanitation infrastructures in many informal settlements, the situation was daunting. He said the local government had to rely on untrained volunteers.

Speakers spoke of the importance of effective partnerships between municipalities and organized communities to ensure functional water and sanitation utilities, maintaining services and providing support such as free water. They also called for central government support to ensure the continuity of essential services is threatened.

Participants agreed that there was a need to look at the minimum requirements for survival in times of pandemics to bridge the basic services gap as well as what longer-term investment will be needed to build back better in order to face future crisis.

A total of nine Urban Thinkers Campuses on COVID-19 are being held online in May to discuss current actions on the ground in different contexts, analyze good practices and solutions, extract lessons from the crisis and make recommendations for building resilience. For more information and to register go to