Recently, I looked at pictures of clean and dirty water taken during my last trip to Niger, West Africa. There were a few shots of the surrounding village of Tchibarey. These photos remind me that while much of Africa struggles to find clean water sources, during the wettest season, the ‘marigaux’’ encircling the village was high enough to force us to get out of the car and walk through the water embankment so we could get to the village. Although locals were happy for the rain, one can’t help but wonder why countries throughout Africa are not taking better advantage of methods to recapture water for future use.
In the July 29th issue of “The Week,” one of my favorite publications, an eye-opening article appeared with the above title, excerpted from a book by Charles Fishman, “The Big Thirst.” “Water warriors” like me and others spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the lack of safe water in the developing world. But what about water in our own backyard? Was there a time in the history of the United States when people died of unsafe water? Absolutely. And what did we as a nation do about it? Plenty. Unfortunately, many governments in the developing world can’t afford to help their people adequately and so they suffer.
Why is providing clean water so important and why Africa? First and foremost,
water with pathogens kills 4,900 African children per day. This translates into
more than one child per minute! This is a travesty considering that clean water
for the people of Africa significantly improves health conditions, combats hunger,
increases educational opportunities for allows girls to go to school, frees up
time for women to establish small businesses and cumulatively improves the
“Beware of Do-Gooders Bearing Money and Gizmos:” How PlayPumps Crashed While “Wells Bring Hope” Soared
Last summer, I lived in Senegal, West Africa, for two months. I lived with a Senegalese family, took sustainable international development classes with local university students, and conducted personal field research on water issues in the rural town of Guede-Chantier (“Geh-day Shon-tee-ay”).
As you wake up every morning, part of your daily ritual will include turning your faucet on, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee or tea then heading out for work. Where I was born, Niger, West Africa, the morning ritual begins at dawn, grabbing a container or bucket, and heading for the nearest water source to start the day. In rural areas, most women and young girls begin the day by making multiple treks to the local pond so that the household can have water for drinking and cooking. Showers and laundry are done by the pond after the water supply quota has been met for the day.
Development projects that bring clean and accessible drinking water to sub-Saharan African communities bring empowerment to women at both local and regional levels. Girls who might otherwise spend up to four hours a day walking to fetch water are free to spend that time in school. Women are suddenly granted more time to pursue income-generating activities, and more flexibility to apply for microcredit loans. These improvements are critical steps toward empowering women, promoting gender equality and increasing female self-sufficiency, which contribute to the overall social and economic stability of developing nations.
As the summer blockbusters debut, here are some movies on water and sanitation that you might want to catch and some from the recent past that you might remember.
Excerpts from remarks by Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. June 13, 2011
Around the world, women and girls in developing countries walk an average of 6 kilometers a day (3.75 miles) carrying 20 liters (or 42 pounds) of water—often in isolated, unsafe areas, putting them in harm’s way. In some areas, the journey takes more than 15 hours a week, making it difficult for girls to go to school. Less education means fewer economic opportunities for women, which in turn hurts the local economy. And thus the cycle continues.
Covering global systems and megatrends, the “Future of Water” virtual conference examined how different fields, sectors and stakeholders can meet the challenge of providing a growing global population with clean and sustainable water. 60 leading thinkers each spoke for one minute, conveying their perspectives and thoughts about what is needed to solve the clean water problem.