Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of infectious diseases which disproportionately impact the poorest populations, causing suffering, disfigurement, debilitation and sometimes death. The World Health Organization (WHO) has prioritized 17 of these diseases which are endemic in 149 countries and affect more than 1.4 billion people, or one-sixth of the world’s population.
If the answer is absolutely nothing or what the heck are you talking about, don’t worry. Although 2015 is the last year of the UN’s International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015, their website for World Water Day leaves a lot to be desired. Links take you to the bottom of the page you requested rather than the top, the list of suggested activities for the day is somewhat lacking and the map showing events for World Water Day bizarrely insists that all 13 events in the US are being held in a small corner of Kansas (they are not). Oh, and there is the now obligatory request to use a hashtag on the day. That may be great for awareness, but it is unlikely to give someone access to clean water.
Two-thirds of Niger is covered by vast swathes of the Sahara desert. It’s hydro-climatic and geographic characteristics create difficult conditions for the country’s population of nearly 18 million. Droughts are common, food security issues are endemic, and are further exacerbated by the increasing arrival of refugees fleeing northern Nigeria and northern Mali. These conditions, when coupled with prevalent infectious disease and one of the lowest sanitation coverage rates in the world, leave the West African nation of Niger with some of the highest rates of malnutrition and mortality in the world. Niger, a country roughly twice the size of France, is the poorest country on earth.
in Natal, South Africa,
a woman carries water on her head.
After a year of drought,
when one child in three is at risk of death,
she returns from a distant well,
carrying water on her head.
According to the Water Resources Assessment of Guatemala compiled, US Army Corps of Engineers explains that, “The quality of surface water resources is generally fresh except along the coastal areas of the country. However, based on established biological and chemical standards, every water body in the country should be considered contaminated. In agricultural areas, pesticides are a primary source of contamination. Sewage from Guatemala City has caused the Rio Villalobos, which receives 60 percent of the sewage, and the Rio Las Vacas, which receives the remaining 40 percent of the sewage, to be considered the most contaminated streams in the country.”
There is increased awareness of the need for clean water in the world. The global water crisis has become both a rallying point for many who strive to address the issues of lack of access to drinkable water and other limited resources. When thinking about fighting about the water crisis, we usually think about the struggle for clean drinking water, and it can be easy to overlook another challenge faced by those lacking access to water – the inability to take a shower and bathe their children.
But for approximately 8 million people in rural Niger, the only water available is downright filthy, and even that is in short supply. It’s usually the same water animals swim in, and it’s often contaminated with bacteria and parasites that can lead to a number of horrible diseases, such as diarrhea, trachoma, and bilharzia. For Nigeriens, the water isn’t “yucky”—it’s dangerous and often deadly. With no other options, though, they have no choice but to risk drinking it. That’s why Wells Bring Hope is determined to drill the 11,000 more wells that are needed to provide everyone with the clean, safe water they need. When a village gets a well, the people in that village get access to clean water—something we in the U.S. often take for granted—and their lives are transformed. For them, water isn’t about washing cars or watering lawns. It’s about survival—another thing many of us take for granted.
ut Niger was different. It was raw. It took that knowledge I had in my head and moved it to my gut. As I rode hour after hour through a barren landscape, the needs became simpler and more gut wrenching. Water is life. Water is everything. There are no other needs if there is no water. There are no other choices if there is no water.
The correlations between human conflict and environmental issues are complex. Environmental factors are rarely the sole reason for conflict, but issues such as access to and availability of clean water inevitably lead to clashes or violence. Environmental degradation, poorly designed trade and aid policies, and reckless exploitation of natural resources imperil human security.
This past Saturday was World Water Day, a day to be grateful for our access to clean drinking water and a time to turn our attention to the millions of people who are so fortunate.
Globally speaking, fresh water is an endangered resource. Droughts are common and water is scarce. According to the U.S. State Department, the domestic need for fresh water will exceed supply by 40 percent by the year 2030. While people are aware of the global water shortage to some extent, many do not realize the implications for the impoverished residents of undeveloped countries.