Urban water services in the coronavirus crisis

Now that we are almost at the end of the first stage of the global crisis arising from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, origin of the disease known as COVID-19, which has greatly affected our society, it is an opportune time to assess the extent of its effect on the urban water sector.

 Normality

If a very concise summary were required, we could say that citizen perception of the urban water scenario remains perfectly normal. Once again, our sector has proved capable of guaranteeing the provision of these basic, vital services efficiently and robustly, despite the lack of knowledge of the pandemic, its virulence and aggressivity.

Can we imagine what the situation might have been if there had been incidents regarding water quality or interruption of the service? Can we imagine the resulting chaos in a scenario of domestic lockdown over such a long period? What would have been the fate of the aquatic environment if failures in wastewater treatment had occurred?

Contingency Operating Plans

Operators in the sector, the majority of whom are highly qualified professionals, are accustomed to managing risks. They demonstrate this on a daily basis in the multiple tasks associated with urban water supply and/or sanitation services. But this capacity to manage risk comes to the fore in situations such as the current one and other emergencies associated with climate that we have overcome in the past.

Accustomed to planning as it is, we can conclude that the sector has managed this crisis with security, foresight and efficiency in terms of: organisational structures; staff and management training; the very varied and multidisciplinary activities that characterise the sector; sectoral cooperation, participation and association networks; prior planning of preventive measures and actions; adaptive procedures; and ultimately, risk management.

Lamentably, our sector does not have a high profile and little attention is paid to it, even by the authorities with responsibilities for urban water at state level. Despite our warnings, communications and complaints, this situation has not changed in the least. We only become “visible” when incidents occur.

Fernando Morcillo, President of AEAS 

Published in: FuturENVIRO Nº 69 AprilMay 2020