Philippines/global, 21 Jul 2020

Dutch Water Institutes in the fight against COVID-19

“Wash your hands” has been the core message across the world as the first line of defence against the spread of COVID-19. But for the 3 billion people worldwide who lack basic handwashing facilities – two thirds of whom also lack access to even basic sanitation – this is easier said than done. At 09.00 (CEST) on Wednesday 22 July a panel of leading experts will participate in a webinar hosted by the University of the Philippines and United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to reflect on their experiences in working with such communities to provide Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at this especially critical time.

IHE Delft Professor of Sanitary Engineering, Damir Brdjanovic, and KWR CEO, Prof Dragan Savic, join this international panel to highlight the vital role of informed crisis response planning in managing this and future disease outbreaks. Their Digital Epidemic Observatory (DEMOS©) is a new data-gathering concept designed to provide a wide range of evidence required to make just these kinds of decisions.

Savic explains that “The effectiveness and success of the mitigation measures depend significantly on decision-makers relying on timely, evidence-based and informed decision support. The key pieces of information for managing an epidemic are the number of people infected and the spread of the disease in a community. However, due to the limited availability of reliable tests to confirm individual diagnosis during the latest COVID-19 pandemic and the substantial fraction of people showing no or only mild symptoms, it has been demonstrated by serological surveys in blood donors that the numbers of infected people have been greatly underestimated.”

By improving our understanding of the links between (sewered and non-sewered) sanitation and infectious disease, DEMOS© (Digital Epidemic Observatory and Management System©) will support essential decision-making at all stages in crisis planning and management. It works by using extensive data mining to combine the outputs from various methods used to detect viruses and track infectious disease. These include automated sewage sampling, MEDiLOO® – smart toilets, clinical and epidemiological data, socio-economic data – such as medical resources and pollution levels, and other data from, for example, social media and contact-tracing apps. Linking these different types of data together can provide additional clues for developing socio-economic mitigation measures and policies to reduce the wider impact of epidemic crises.

“The key challenge”, says Brdjanovic, “is in linking non-invasive monitoring data at a large scale with local-level clinical and epidemiological information to better estimate the total number of infected people in a given community. The project is highly interdisciplinary and will bring together health, epidemiology, water, environmental, computer, instrument and social scientists with statisticians, modellers and stakeholders.”


The webinar

Co-hosted by UP-CIFAL and UNITAR the webinar  will bring together local and national government officials, academics, WASH stakeholders such as operators and managers of private and public sector utilities, and WASH advocates to highlight the importance of cooperation and participation of communities and institutions in the success of WASH programmes and initiatives. The event is organised in line with the promotion of Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages


The webinar starts at 09.00 CEST. You can register in advance here:


  1. Professor Dragan Savic FREng is the CEO of KWR Water Research Institute, the Dutch drinking water companies’ collective research organisation
  2. Professor Damir Brdjanovic is professor of Sanitary Engineering at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education
  3. The UP-CIFAL Philippines is a program of the University of the Philippines (UP) that serves as one of the 20 global centres affiliated with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
  4. UNITAR provides innovative learning solutions to individuals, organizations and institutions to enhance global decision-making and support country-level action for shaping a better future


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