UN Calls Water a Top Priority
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world on Thursday to take action against water shortages. Whether we are talking about global health, economic growth, or global peace, how water is managed, used, and shared must be taken into account. As a developmental and humanitarian issue alike, water shortages will need to be addressed nationally, regionally, and globally.
Darfur seems to have become the cautionary tale concerning water shortages. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ki Moon states that the conflict(s) in Darfur were touched off by drought. He also noted lack of water contributed to poverty and hardship in Haiti, Somalia, Chad, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and Sri Lanka.
It would be hard to name countries that are not, or at least could not be, affected by water shortages. Even in the United States, the richest country in the world, drought has had negative economic and social consequences in the south. I seem to remember the Governor of Georgia holding a prayer session for rain - couldn't hurt but a faith based approach to water management will not help us adapt to a world in which water may become a scarce commodity, or as the Chairman/CEO of Dow Chemical Company put it, the "oil of the century."
Ki Moon went on to state that where people need water, guns are often fired instead. As complicating factors, he cited population growth and climate change. He cited an International Alert study that identifies 46 countries with 2.7 billion people where water crises could create a high risk of violent conflict. This is enormous. In short, water shortages will curtail health, economies, and stability on a global scale.
Considering the global nature of the issue, Ban said he will invite world leaders to a high level meeting this Septmber to discuss how water realtes to meeting the U.N Development Goals, which have been, for the most part, embraced by the international community (albeit with varying levels of commitment). Concerning water, the goal is to cut in half the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.
The focus is on Africa but the issue is vitally important to a country such as Haiti. A person can survive a very long time without food but the same cannot be said for water. Try to go a day and a night without drinking water - not easy. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we experienced (we'll spare you the details) what unclean drinking water does to a person. We've been in villages where people water their animals in the same areas where they gather water because they had no alternatives. Despite the Haitian proverb which says "dont cut the trees, at the source" we have also seen how extensive deforestation threatens the very sources of water communities depend on.
There is a place for well building. But Haiti, and other countries like it, need water systems and the will/technical expertise to manage them without dependence. The country is scattered with handpumps that broke down and noone could find parts to fix them, or if the parts were there, noone knew how to do it. Solutions must be approrpiate to the context.
You might be interested in reading more about the WEF Water Initiative. It contains information on dialgoues, public private partnerships, and regional initiatives. An interactive map of access to water and sanitation is included - Haiti is documented as having 71% access to water (of what quality?) and 31% access to sanitation - naturally the two are linkes and 2008 has been set as the "Year of Sanitation." We hope to see that very low figure go up, and by extention the national health indicators of a country we care about very much.
Finally, I recommend signing up for the UN Wire, a daily email digest which is put out by the United Nations Foundation each day. It is a convenient and useful resource for tracking water/sanitation and other global issues.
Perhaps we should talk more about what exactly is "aprpropriate technology" and what "sustainability" means in the Haitian context. Welcome your thoughts on this.