Covid is forcing America to fix its water supplyA little over a year ago, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) revealed a seemingly simple s...

Covid is forcing America to fix its water supplyA little over a year ago, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) revealed a seemingly simple s...Covid is forcing America to fix its water supply

A little over a year ago, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) revealed a seemingly simple system for fighting Covid-19: soap, water, and about 20 seconds of scrubbing should help keep the virus from spreading. But what if you live in a home where the water from your tap is brown and smells like rotten eggs, or where water doesn’t come from the tap at all?

Jean Holloway has spent years working with communities in the US states of Delaware and eastern Maryland where this is a fact of life. Some of these residents have never been able to use the water in their homes because of contaminants. Still others have seen their water shut off because they couldn’t pay their bills during the worst of the pandemic.

“To live there is kind of like – there’s a quote about ‘lives of quiet desperation,’” says Holloway, a state manager at the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, speaking of one neighbourhood where residents can only use bottled water. “There’s not a lot of morale. And along comes Covid and these people, they need the water even more.”

An estimated two million Americans lack access to running water, indoor plumbing, or wastewater treatment. More than twelve percent of US households could not afford their water bills as of 2017, the same year a study projected that that number could triple by 2022. According to a 2019 report, Native American households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing; Black and Latino households are twice as likely.

Meanwhile, more than a year of Covid-19 – of constant hand-washing and bottled water shortages, of shuttered laundromats, community centres, and schools, and of disproportionate death and disease among minority communities – has made it abundantly clear how essential clean water access is.

“The pandemic is emphasising the importance of water for public health and how crucial it is to protect it, and that it goes beyond the pandemic,” says Mary Grant, director of the Public Water for All campaign at Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit.