Monday, March 22, 2010

Access to Water should not be a question of where you are born

World Water Day 2010

In our world today, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water. Over two billion people do not have adequate sanitation facilities. Some four million people die each year from diseases associated with the lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. 4,000 children under five years old die every day from those same associated diseases. Added to this, in times of disaster and crises, the urgency to meet basic water and sanitation needs saves lives, reduces diseases and restores dignity. Water means life for our planet.

Access to clean water is a right and not about where you are born. The little girl's name is Widline (photographed). She is one of the thousands of Haitian children affected by the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January. Next to the camp which is now her home, Widline often comes to the water distribution centre set up by Red Cross volunteers. It is currently the only access she and her family have to clean water, a vital element that helps keep them safe from disease and from the risk of deadly epidemics. In this sense, seen from the outside and compared to others children in Haiti, Widline could almost be considered ‘lucky’.

However, the truth is that Widline is certainly unlucky. Not just because her home was destroyed by the earthquake but, even more importantly, because she was born in one of the world’s poorest countries. In Haiti, mother and child mortality is high and diseases are often endemic, further fuelled by poor access to health services, housing, inadequate water and sanitation as well as urban and political violence. This reality faced by millions of Haitians certainly did nothing to prepare them to face such a devastating disaster.

Bringing emergency help is obviously essential. However, even though we do not know when exactly Haiti will be hit again by an earthquake, we are all aware that this is a disaster-prone country, affected by powerful cyclones almost on an annual basis. So why don’t we use the current tragedy to shift from a purely disaster response approach to a vision that also includes building up the resilience of communities? We must help people to be better prepared for the next crisis as first responders (and not mere ‘victims’) bringing solutions to their own recovery?

Making sure Haitians and people living in other disaster-prone countries have a well-equipped and maintained water and sanitation system will make it easier to quickly restore basic services when another disaster strikes. Access to clean water will also reduce the spread of diseases and epidemics.

Linking water and sanitation activities and programmes more concretely with other health activities such as emergency health, preparedness, and community-based health activities will maximise the effect of both. A more holistic approach that makes water available, improves sanitation, focuses on access to health services, and informs communities on how they can help themselves is the direction to take.

As we mark World Water Day today, lets help little Widline and her family – and the countless thousands like them - to believe in their future, by making Haiti a healthier and better place to live. After all, access to clean water, sanitation and health education should not just be “all about luck” depending on the place you were born. It is a human right that should be given to each and every one, rich and poor. 

To mark World Water Day 2010 we also produced a short video slideshow of what we are doing to ensure access to water is a right and not a matter of luck.


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