New normal here to stay

ACCORDING to researchers, almost 10% of the world’s population do not have proper and safe access to clean drinking water. The United Nations projects that by 2025, half of the countries worldwide will face water stress or outright shortages.

By 2050, as many as three out of four people around the globe could be affected by water shortages and this is an imminent threat, especially in developing economies. Countries must do more to improve sanitation practices and hygiene standards.

The aim is to build on the far-ranging findings presented in the outlook by considering the security dimensions associated with decreased access to a safe, stable water supply in Asia.

The term “security” is often used to connote conflict, but it has a much broader meaning for the purposes of this effort.

The connection between an essential resource, such as water and security, encompasses individual physical safety, livelihoods, health and human welfare, as well as a realisation of the cooperative potential between nation-states and subnational jurisdictions.

We must never forget the lessons learnt from Covid-19 that have taught us as well, where cases increased exponentially from only a few to more than any health systems could manage.

Here in some parts of Asia, we have seen alarming clusters of cases originating from social gatherings, sporting events and workplace interactions.

We must never underestimate the explosive potential of the virus – anytime, anywhere – to overwhelm the best-prepared health systems, and to cause disease and death in our community.

How can we fight this pandemic? There are three strategies to slow its spread, first is by looking for the virus source, and expanding surveillance and testing for Covid-19 beyond high-risk groups and into the community.

This will help us find where the transmission is occurring and refine projections for the disease, which is critical for planning the response. Every case found allows public health authorities to isolate and treat individuals quickly, preventing the onward spread of the virus to others. One case found today means dozens more prevented tomorrow.

The second critical strategy is to support the work of public health authorities: to identify cases, isolate and treat them, and trace and quarantine their contacts. Sadly, this elementary advice is still taken lightly by many.

Lockdowns, slowdowns and shutdowns may slow the spread of the virus, but the work of public health authorities to stop virus transmissions from one person to another is what will be crucial.

Finally, physical distancing. Consistently keeping a distance of at least a metre from others, as well as washing our hands, avoiding touching our faces and sneezing safely – these will maximise our chances of evading infections and protecting those around us.

It is rather the beginning of a new normal for all of us, just a way of being that minimises the risks of Covid-19 and allows us to earn our living, educate our children and keep our health system functioning.

A new normal where governments and populations must be prepared to respond to outbreaks by quickly implementing or re-implementing measures that ensure physical distancing while ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, has access to the necessities that make such measures bearable.

Prem Kumar Nair

Kuala Lumpur

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