"All humans are members of the same body Created from one essence"

"Human beings are members of a whole in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain."

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Believing IN INDIVIDUAL ACTION can move mountains!

A Call for Access to Water for All

Awa walks five kilometers to fetch water five times a day. She has neither time for play nor to go to school and she is exposed to all kind of health problems because of water-related illnesses. Awa lives only two hours away from my house and she is sharing the same 21st century world planet as we do.

Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhoea which could be prevented with access to clean water. According to the United Nations statistics, 443 million school days are lost to water-related illnesses and almost 50 per cent of all people in developing countries are suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by a lack of water (un.org).

The lack of clean water underpins advances in many areas of development; education, health and agriculture. It is a fundamental issue to end water poverty and we should all support the call for a global plan action. We all need to be a part of the solution to end the global crisis in water. An individual action creates public pressure and public pressure creates political will and political will creates action (who.int).

Let us all join UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis when he said “Either we take concerted action now to bring clean water to the world’s poor, or we consign millions of people to lives of avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished opportunities, and perpetuate deep inequalities within and between countries. And we have a collective responsibility to succeed” (UN news centre).

In the light of the United Nations general comments no. 15 (2002) The right to water (arts. 11 and 1 of the Covenant) states “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.”

It is our responsibility to end extreme poverty by improving access to water. If we do not have access to a clean glass of drinking water, we are being denied the basic human need.

Individual action is vital in the fight to end water poverty and this is the message we intend to spread form our classroom to the rest of the world. We do believe like Mohammed Yunus that individual action is as important as the actions of big institutions in bringing an end to global poverty.

Awa does not have the luxury of a decent education. The boys do not have to carry water and they go to school. Millions of girls just like Awa do not have access to education because they are responsible to carry the water back home. These girls grow up illiterate and they become unable to take care of themselves.

“I cannot go to school” complained Awa too me last week when I have visited her at her rural village, “because I spend so much time walking to collect water”. She has to get up at four o’clock in the morning to get water for the cooking. Then she has to do the same thing four more times during the day before it gets dark. Girls are denied an education because they are tasked with fetching water. In addition, thousands of women and young girls in Benin are forced to spend hours collecting and carrying water, restricting their opportunities and their choices.

During our history lesson with the middle school students, we have discussed how people were poor during Victorian times in the United Kingdom. In Victorian times cities were associated with squalor, poverty, child labour and disease because of a lack of water and sanitation.

Well, here in my African nation, this situation is still the life of 1.1 billion people who have no access to clean water and hygienic sanitation. In developing world countries like Benin, four-fifths of all illness is caused by water-borne diseases, with diarrhoea being the leading cause of childhood death. People drink contaminated water which has been infected with the feces of animals or people. Water-borne diseases include cholera, typhoid, shigella, polio, meningitis, and hepatitis A and E. Human beings and animals can act as hosts to the bacterial, viral, or protozoal organisms that cause these diseases. Most villages like Awa’s village draw water from disease contaminated intermittent streams and rivers.

For instance, people in Niger bath and wash their clothes in water contaminated with urine and feces. According to Niger’s Ministry of Health, almost a quarter of Nigeriens suffer from billarzia, an infection spread by bathing in this contaminated water. Some three million of Niger’s 13.4 million people have been diagnosed as suffering from the parasitic skin infection, also known as schistosomiasis. It causes rashes and flu-like symptoms. It can create urinary problems and by the same time it can damage the bladder, liver, lungs, bowel and nervous system.

People in the rural areas of Benin suffered from a parasitic infection called Guinea worm disease, a water-born parasitic infection transmitted through drinking contaminated water. This terrible disease is transmitted exclusively by drinking stagnant water contaminated with tiny water leas that carry infective guinea-worm larvae. Inside the body, the larvae mature into worms, growing up to 1m in length. Guinea-worm disease or dracunculiasis is a painful infection which physically disables people for long periods disrupting their life and pushing them into extreme poverty. The affliction can be avoided entirely through the use of simple intervention methods such as health education and the use of cloth filters. It is simple to write it on a paper for people who have been to school and attended meeting in advanced countries but is it simple for these people who struggle everyday to get a heavy bucket of water on their head five times a day?

Without adequate water to produce food, people become too sick and too weak to work. The agricultural productivity is being reduced year after year and it is definitely exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition on the African continent. Then, do we still need to demonstrate the existence of a relationship between the lack of clean water and extreme poverty?

Although I am not an expert, I believe that the proposal to fight water poverty does not need big budgets which will be anyway diverted by corrupt bureaucracy or big budgets in the hand of some non governmental organizations which spend more money on their expatriate staffs than on effective projects.

In September 2007, I have decided to take an individual action. My students and I have decided to raise money through a sponsor reading, a water cycle play… and we were able to install a water pump in Awa’s village. They have joined into the project with a lot of enthusiasm and a great sense of responsibility. They are indeed proud to be a part of the solution. They have learned how they can end water poverty and that everyone has the right to clean and safe drinking water. We are taking a strong stand against it.

Last Saturday Awa and the other inhabitants of her village were all so excited to see the engineers and the workers who had started digging for the well.

The need to improve access to water to end poverty is our responsibility as human beings who are sharing the same planet. As Ban Ki Moon declared in his speech “Every dollar invested in water and sanitation yields an estimated seven dollars worth of productive activity. And that comes on top of the immeasurable gains in cutting poverty, improving health and raising living standards” ( Ban Ki Moon ).

Awa is able to go to school now because the water pump has been installed and she does not have to walk every day to fetch water.

We all can make a difference. We just need to act before it is too late and to keep in our mind to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Believing in individual action can move mountains.

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