« Van Creveld: Just Withdraw | Main | Today's Bush Joke »

November 29, 2005

Clean Water For The World's Poor Development

Now for some (potentially) good news. The House and Senate have passed a bill that identifies clean water as a priority in foreign development aid. OneWorld (via Commondreams):

The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 "puts water as a top priority and a cornerstone for foreign aid," and will get clean water "to people in greatest need," said Camille Osborne, director of public affairs for Water Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental organization (NGO).

Named after the late Senator Paul Simon (D-IL), a water safety trailblazer, the House overwhelmingly passed the Water for Poor Act in early November and the Senate unanimously followed suit on November 16. [...]

"Water-related illnesses and disease are the number one cause of death in the world," according to Osborne.

On average, about 3,900 children die every day because of water-borne illnesses, often after drinking from holes in the ground where water has been stagnant. That means that every 15 seconds, one child dies due to a lack of access to safe water and sanitation.

The Act expresses the need to make more money available for water and sanitation programs by amending the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, and charges the State Department with pinpointing high-need areas.

Under the bill, the Secretary of State must develop a strategy with specific timetables, benchmarks, and goals to bring together all federal water programs. [...]

While the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) put about $500 million into water projects around the world last year, much of that assistance went to Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank, and Gaza. [...]

Under the Act, the Congressional Budget Office expects U.S. government funding to Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America to double, with $50 million going to Africa. [...]

Other water groups also commended the bill, but warned that new money should be spent on small, on-the-ground projects that will truly reach the 1.2 billion people without access to clean water. [...]

"There will have to be thousands of little micro-projects around the world that are working with these impoverished communities. Thats what's going to start to make an impact on that 1 billion figure," Sauer told OneWorld.

Another concern for safe water advocates is that monies go to people and groups already working on the ground, and don't disappear into foreign bureaucracies. [...]

There are various "simple" ways to protect groundwater, said Brown, like building shallow, closed-off wells.

For about $2,500 — more than most communities can afford — locals can establish protected wells capable of providing clean water to some 1,000 people. [...]

Besides causing over 80 percent of illnesses in the developing world, unclean water is widely understood to impact education, economic development, poverty, women's empowerment, conflict, and environmental sustainability.

The Water for Poor Act shifts the United States closer to meeting its commitments to halve the percentage of people in the world without access to water and sanitation by 2015, a promise it made back in 2002 along with 184 other countries that agreed to pursue the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. [Emphasis added]

This is better than nothing, but the world water situation is scandalous. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only a half to two-thirds of the population has access to clean water. Too often, when foreign aid money is allocated to water projects, it's spent on mega-projects that are wildly inappropriate for the host country and doomed to fail. What's needed are large numbers of small, inexpensive wells, not billion-dollar water treatment complexes. The cost of the war in Iraq could have provided clean water for the whole world many times over.

It's difficult to prove, but it may be that the true number of deaths due to unclean water is significantly understated. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, much of what is categorized as AIDS may well be due instead to the effects of unclean water. If a person with chronic diarrhea and wasting (common symptoms of water-borne disease) has HIV antibodies — or, more commonly, is presumed to have HIV antibodies, HIV tests being too expensive to be performed in the majority of cases — that person is classified as having AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa, which is the worst region in the world for clean water, is also the region of the world with the most AIDS cases. That proves nothing, but it's worth thinking about it. Health workers with an AIDS mindset may presume AIDS in cases where unclean water is the root problem: to the man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. Why is this important? If we misjudge the cause of disease, we cannot treat it successfully.

Posted by Jonathan at November 29, 2005 09:28 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb