This article appeared on June 16, 2020 in the National Geographic magazine and examines the key question of inequality across the world that was laid bare by a pandemic. Handwashing can prevent many diseases, if you have easy access to soap and water. Some three billion people don’t. If you add up all the situations in which international authorities such as UNICEF recommend washing hands during this pandemic—after visiting a public space or touching a surface outside the home, after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, and of course after using the toilet or taking out garbage and before and after eating—it easily amounts to at least 10 times a day. That’s a lot of handwashing. A single 20-second wash plus wetting and rinsing uses at least two liters of water, more than half a gallon. A family of four washing 10 times a day each would use 80 liters just for handwashing. In the United States, where the average person consumes up to 100 gallons daily (around 379 liters), that’s no big deal. In much of India and other parts of the developing world, it’s an unimaginable luxury.
The International Commission of Jurists cited it in their briefing paper on Right to Water in India and Covid-19. Composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law; secure the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers; and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession.
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