The United Nations recently declared “access to clean water and sanitation a fundamental human right.” This may raise a few eyebrows for many reading this article; it would seem obvious and no need for declarations that access to clean drinking water is a human right. Let’s picture for a moment a world without access to clean, fresh drinking water, a world lacking effective sanitation facilities. A bit hard to imagine for most, but not so hard for the 40 percent of the global population-more than 2.6 billion people around the world-who wake up everyday to disease-ridden water so saturated in filth and raw sewage, it is undrinkable. Of that number, 1.6 billion people worldwide lack the means to safely eliminate excrement and other waste.
In places like Brazil, Haiti, Pakistan, Iran, Africa, Venezuela, Mexico, Sudan, Cuba, China and Egypt, to name a few-the water crisis for these people has reached epic proportions. According to an article taken from GreenAnswers, in Sudan only 37 percent of the country’s population have access to drinking water. A lack of water not only puts the Sudanese health at risk, but leaves them struggling to grow enough food to feed their families. Instead of spending their days in school getting an education, the children of Sudan spend their days traveling great distances on foot to access water sources to bring back to their families.
In many of these Third World countries and cities, people live in slum areas that lack toilets, running water, and drinking water. They are forced to use what is called “flying toilets, “ which is waste collected in plastic bags and tossed into the streets. This unsanitary practice leads to the contamination of water sources where people come into direct contact with feces, causing diarrhea, cholera, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid and other water-borne diseases that most times end in death.
According to the United Nations agencies it is estimated that two million people die from water born diseases every year. 1.2 million are children under the age of five, a number that has surpassed the HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles death toll combined. A number that is so avoidable.
What is the solution? The answer may seem like an easy fix but it runs the full spectrum of complexity for many Third World countries, such as, Haiti and many other countries that lack the underground sewage infrastructure and running water needed to simply install Western-style toilets and bathrooms as a remedy. If only it were that simple. The technology does exist to fix this crisis, however it will require a full commitment from the politicians governing these communities and tragically this issue continues to remain a low priority in many countries. After all the people who suffer the most are the poor and least influential.
One may see some light at the end of the tunnel with the UN declaring “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for full enjoyment of the right to life.” This resolution passed with 122 nations in favor and none against, is a direct urge to the international community to ”scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all.” While this may be a step in the right direction, for some countries it simply is not enough. According to BBC News, Barbara Plett, “some countries feel the resolution does not clearly define the scope of the human right and the obligations its entailed.” It is clear that what these people need most is less talk and fast action…now.
On a grassroot level, the process to providing clean water to these countries, while daunting can be done with a workable budget and political support. It would involve drilling wells, running pipelines and building water purification plants. Such projects have cropped up in Haiti, with one group called International Action, managing to install 110 neighborhood water tank chlorinators in Port-au-Prince. However, these efforts have simply fallen short of what’s needed to fix the crisis in Haiti and many other countries.
One organization working tirelessly to improving the sanitation conditions in these countries is WaterPartners International, a nonprofit organization committed to providing clean drinking water in developing countries. Their efforts has led to an annual event called World Water Day, funded water and sanitation project grants in Honduras, Ethiopia, Kenya, India and Bangladesh in 2008 that reached 153,000 people and provided access to clean drinking water, improved sanitation, and hygiene training.
It is organizations like WaterPartners International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is currently taking a multi-tiered approach to resolving the global water crisis, needed to raise awareness of this crisis and call to action much needed philanthropic support and help in these countries.
Bill Gates is providing $41.5 million in new sanitation grants for his project to reinvent the toilet. Toilet 2.0, the name he has coined his new toilet design, is the next frontier in sanitation facilities in these Third World countries and will be designed to not only eliminate waste, but turn it into an environmental asset, in the form of compost, fertilizer, inexpensive fuel or renewable energy, and here’s the big take away-transform urine into drinking water-a water purification process successfully implemented in northern Orange County, California and providing drinking water to 2.3 million residents.
These toilets will be very basic in design, easy to install, use and maintain, affordable with sanitation services costing no more than 5 cents per person per day and above all else water will not be the primary component for it to function properly. What most of these countries are lacking is massive amounts of water and sewer infrastructures, so a waterless toilet system is imperative to the success of this project. With this design in mind, Bill Gate’s goal is to begin production on several new toilet prototypes within the next year and have the new toilet systems in developing countries in the next three years.
Many people in the United States are not privy to the global water crisis facing the people of these countries today, many may also be missing out on the looming water crisis that has started to hit a bit closer to home. With water resources diminishing in the United States at rapid speed due to climate change, pollution, excessive droughts, flooding and careless consumption, one has to wonder what the future holds in US talks to privatize of our fresh water supply. With our largest natural resource possibly becoming a profitable commodity, with any product sold in society, there are those that can afford to have and those that can not. Will privatization create a system of the “haves” and “the have nots” when it comes to access to clean, drinking water?
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/cristic/423806317/