The impact of COVID-19 on women’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene in coastal communities: Lessons from Tambak Lorok, Central Java

One of the key measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19 is an increased vigilance in hygiene practices.


For women who live in areas where their access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is already limited, the need for more stringent health practices has added another layer of concern in their daily lives.

Globally, the measures required to restrict or reduce the spread of COVID-19 have fallen largely on women as additional, unpaid household chores that include making sure there are sufficient handwashing facilities for the home, encouraging behavioural change such as mask-wearing,  and the home schooling of children. This report has found that the women in a village coastal community have had to deal with this in conjunction with long-standing concerns about cleanliness in an environment with inadequate or non-existent sewerage facilities.

Read the full “The impact of COVID-19 on women’s access to water, sanitation and hygiene in coastal communities: Lessons from Tambak Lorok, Central Java” report here

Added to this is a reduction in income as most women who do paid work are in the informal sector. Having less cash has reduced their capacity to buy drinking water, or the water needed for extra cleaning and washing. Overall, poor access to WASH makes people more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The report has also found the pandemic has had some positive impacts on access to WASH, including the creation of handwashing stations outside of homes, and assistance from government and community institutions to provide aid and basic necessities.

This report looks at the experiences of people facing the effects of the pandemic in the low socioeconomic environment of the coastal community of Tambak Lorok. The findings suggest the pandemic has impacted all residents’ access to WASH, but affects women and men differently.

The biggest challenge for women and girls in these communities, however, in terms of access to water, sanitation and hygiene, is the effect of local coastal flooding, which in some seasons occurs daily and can last up to two hours. It occurs because of a number of factors including location (high tides), groundwater extraction and inadequate infrastructure.

Known locally as rob, the flooding brings water into homes, spreads faeces and leads to infections.

Even in the context of the pandemic, the main request to policymakers from the villagers in this study was for improved management of coastal flooding.

This research has identified five key recommendations for government priorities, which can also be used to help inform policy decisions across other low-lying coastal areas of Indonesia:

  1. Facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement in planning the management of coastal flooding and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
  2. Integrate planning for WASH and managing coastal flooding for affected communities.
  3. Explore options for integrated water management at the catchment level rather than multiple small-scale solutions.
  4. Continue to provide social relief packages to residents while exploring long-term measures for strengthening livelihoods through skills, training and enterprise support.
  5. Devise strategies to encourage men at home to help take care of their children.

Image at top: Author