Fighting COVID-19 in Venezuela With Soap and Water and Expertise

September 15, 2020

UNICEF Venezuela's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program is working to keep children and their communities safe during the pandemic.

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The COVID-19 pandemic took us by surprise as a globalized society; in addition to overwhelming our health care systems, it has challenged us as social beings. It made us miss hugging one another, taught us to communicate in new ways, to relate, to prioritize, to connect and to reinvent our way of working.

As Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at UNICEF Venezuela, I am working with my team to implement solutions that allow us to decrease the risks of contagion, despite the circumstances.

UNICEF Venezuela is fighting COVID-19 through education, hygiene and sanitation supply delivery and technical support to hospitals

Since the very first day of the quarantine, we have been supporting key prevention measures like handwashing education, delivering hygiene and sanitation supplies and providing technical support to prevent intra-hospital infections in around 180 health centers. 

UNICEF Venezuela Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) chief David Simón shows his UNICEF colleagues the inner workings of the water system that provides water to 75 percent of the population of the state of Táchira. © UNICEF/UNI3486501/Poveda

Part of the UNICEF team moved to the western state of Táchira to rehabilitate pumping systems and plants that supply safe, chlorinated water to the population, the same as we are doing in other parts of the country. 

Saying "stay at home" or "go to the hospital" has many implications for the most vulnerable people. Many times, leaving the house is the only way they have to get soap and water. For front-line responders and humanitarian workers, nurses and doctors, staying home is not an option.

UNICEF staff are rehabilitating pumping systems and water treatment plants across Venezuela

In mid-May, I traveled by highway to the state of Táchira, approximately 800 kilometers from Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, to provide support to colleagues in the local office and to reinforce our response so that communities, shelters, schools and health care facilities have access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

It is essential to go into the field, get firsthand information and always work as a team. It is also genuinely admirable to see how, despite all the difficulties, doctors, nurses and social workers remain committed to finding viable solutions. For me, sharing with these people is key to understanding the needs and defining workable solutions together.

A UNICEF team delivers lights and reflectors for installation inside and outside a water treatment plant in Táchira, Venezuela on June 30, 2020. © UNICEF/UNI348522/Poveda

In the field of humanitarian communication, we join the efforts carried out by social workers, doctors, water service providers, authorities, families and others. In my eyes, their resilience is awe-inspiring. I keep thinking about the stories and the struggle behind this resilience.

Social workers, doctors, water service providers, authorities and families work together to keep children safe and healthy

Part of the success and responsibility of our work lies in correctly understanding the situation, the needs, the social norms, the barriers and in defining the appropriate solutions. Lessons from similar contexts or other types of humanitarian crises allow us to connect information and reality with possible solutions. 

We must build every solution based on the knowledge and the perception of the people we work with, combined with our own experience.

UNICEF workers inspect a water treatment plant in Táchira, Venezuela in June 2020. The state's main plant provides drinking water to 13 municipalities in Táchira state. © UNICEF/UNI348481/Poveda

On the ground, we can see that essential needs are on every corner, in every conversation, in every gaze. Places like hospitals, shelters and schools must have soap and water. Our projects are implemented based on finding the pathways, the will and the connections that create the most significant impact in the shortest time possible.

Right from the beginning, I worked to support my colleagues in the Táchira field office in speeding up the implementation of COVID-19 prevention projects. We worked to get more water and more soap out there wherever it's needed. And we are also working on repairing and maintaining the infrastructure, which will allow for more sustainable solutions. 

Improving water, sanitation and hygiene conditions for families living in temporary shelters 

This journey also brought me twice to Guasdualito, in the state of Apure on the border with Colombia. As a border city, Guasdualito is a center of movement and cultural and commercial exchange. In addition to the previously existing challenges concerning water, health care, protection, education and nutrition, the response to the pandemic has required opening temporary shelters where Venezuelans returning from across the border can spend time in quarantine.

In the shelters, UNICEF works to strengthen maternal and child health care and to promote dignity and equality. To do this, UNICEF is working with partners to improve water, sanitation and hygiene conditions.

I have had many conversations with parents, children, teenagers and workers. They have many concerns about when the COVID-19 pandemic will let them return to their homes and how long they will have to remain in the shelters. Behind each number and each case, there is a story. And each story, each situation, each number needs to be heard and addressed. Our responsibility as humanitarian cooperation professionals is to produce change, to work beyond the numbers and to share these stories. 

Your generous gift will help UNICEF reach children and families in need in Venezuela.

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Learn more about how UNICEF Venezuela is working with partners to help children and young people get the education and job skills training they need, despite the pandemic. 

Top photo: Children watch as UNICEF staff and partners install a water tank which will provide access to safe water to an estimated 24,000 people a month in San Antonio, Tachira state, Venezuela. © UNICEF/UNI208186/Montico