January 2022

What are the long-term effects of COVID-19 on WASH services and products? 



In 2020, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) project conducted a rapid assessment and forecasting analysis of the effects of the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and products. The assessment was conducted in six USAID high-priority countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, and Senegal) and one strategy-aligned country (Rwanda). The assessment evaluated WASH access in these seven countries and in general terms forecasted near-term trends to assist governments, donors, and implementers prepare an informed response to the WASH-related impacts of COVID-19.

Findings demonstrated substantial short-term impacts on WASH services and providers, including economic impacts limiting individuals’ access to WASH services, decreased levels of service, and financial stress on service providers due to reduced revenue collection and increased operating costs. However, there is insufficient systematic evidence on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on WASH services and products. Specifically, there is uncertainty regarding the amounts by which these services and products may diminish due to the economic and operational constraints faced by WASH service providers and product manufacturers and suppliers, as well as the amounts by which demand may drop due to declining consumer incomes and subsequently increased reliance on self-collection.

Ongoing data collection on a broad range of parameters is necessary to better understand and respond to COVID-19-related WASH challenges and potential opportunities, such as increased awareness regarding the importance of hand hygiene to prevent the spread of disease.

To address the knowledge gaps in the long-term effects of COVID-19 on WASH services and products, WASHPaLS assessed ongoing changes in WASH sector performance and COVID-19 response activities in USAID’s 18 high-priority (HP) countries over a 10-month period in 2021, from March to December.

Longitudinal data collection focused on the following three topics identified by USAID:

1. WASH governance, to identify and monitor WASH policy changes enacted in response to COVID-19, to understand how governments are responding to COVID-19-related challenges in ensuring sustainable and equitable access to safe water and improved sanitation. 

2. WASH in households, to track household-level changes in WASH conditions—including effects of COVID-19 and efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts—to identify how household-level access to sustainable and equitable safe water and improved sanitation and hygiene is being affected in urban and rural settings. 

3. Small-scale service providers (SSSPs), to document the performance of SSSPs (with an emphasis on water suppliers), the direct and indirect challenges inflicted by COVID-19, and the results of both government and donor support programs. Our aim was to understand the direct effects of COVID-19 on small providers (as WASHPaLS previously identified this group of providers as high risk [USAID, 2020a]. The assessment team also examined the degrees to which government and donor assistance efforts mitigated these effects. 

A group of community members sitting and standing in a circle.
Community meeting in a Samburu village in north-central Kenya.


The focus of the assignment was the identification of quantitative secondary data sources, with the goal of providing a longer-term picture COVID-19 impacts on WASH access and behavior. We also conducted and analyzed primary data collected via short message service (SMS) and internet-based surveys to complement the secondary data. In Section 2, we present the methods used to identify data, develop standard indicators to use across all data sources, and collect data. In Section 3 we provide observations on government actions and impacts on SSSPs. In addition, we present trends from the household-level primary data collected through remote methods. In Section 4, we present challenges associated with collecting and collating WASH data remotely, and we conclude in Section 5 with recommendations on how the sector could adapt given the challenges. 

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In collaboration with USAID, Tetra Tech.

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