Tuesday, 10 March 2009
World Water Day
Children enjoy clean water in Indonesia. A recognised primary cause of under five mortality is poor water and sanitation linked to unsafe hygiene practices. Hand and body washing, cleanliness in the home, safe water and food storage can all reduce mortality significantly. Photo: Japanese Red Cross Society
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
On 22 March we commemorate World Water Day and I felt it would be useful to reflect on the water and sanitation work we have done in Indonesia since the Tsunami.
So what has the Red Cross done in Indonesia? Almost 300,000 people in the Tsunami operational area now have access to new or improved sources of clean water. Another 221,000 already have access to improved waste management facilities or improved latrines - either family latrines or public latrines, serving 20 people or less per latrine. In many cases, the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) RC/RC partners are the major supplier of such services. An example is the solid waste management programme in Gunung Sitoli, the capital of Nias, which was completed by the Red Cross/Red Crescent in February 2008 and reaches 26,600 inhabitants, or half of the city’s population.
A lot of hard work is behind these figures. In the first days of the operation, Red Cross & Red Crescent water & sanitation experts deployed a combination of mobile treatment plants, tanker trucks, water storage containers and tap stands to deliver safe water to tens of thousands of people. PMI volunteers were trained to maintain the equipment and to perform regular water quality inspections – and the communities themselves have taken over some.
The scale of the devastation in Aceh required a decisive and coordinated response from the water & sanitation teams. At the height of the emergency period, Red Cross/Red Crescent water & sanitation units processed and distributed 1.5 million litres of water per day. And within 24 hours of the cataclysm, PMI volunteers distributed tens of thousands of fresh drinking water bottles. This rapid and massive response is largely responsible for the avoidance of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and chronic diarrhoea which can sometimes kill on a scale matching that experienced in the immediate disaster.
PMI volunteers were trained to deliver PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) programme training to help establish community understanding of the importance of water hygiene, and for water and sanitation infrastructure needs to be locally identified and supported.
Seven Emergency Response Units sent by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from all over the world have been deployed all across Zimbabwe to provide clean water and help with treating people infected with cholera.Photo: Tomas Arlemo/Swedish Red Cross
Diarrhoeal diseases on the rise, warns the IFRC
Diarrhoeal diseases, such as cholera, are increasingly becoming the major cause of recurring disease and death throughout the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, warns the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on the occasion of World Water Day. Its own statistics show that in 2007 and 2008, around 60 per cent of all requests submitted by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for allocations from the IFRC Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF), were directly or indirectly related to outbreaks of acute diarrhoeal diseases. This is about 35 per cent more compared to similar statistics in 2006.
“We have noticed a significant increase in the number of operations undertaken to respond to acute situations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, most recently in Zimbabwe,” says Uli Jaspers, Head of the IFRC water and sanitation team in Geneva. “This trend is the combined result of poor hygiene practices, lack of awareness of disease transmission and a shortage of safe water. Poor sanitation linked to unplanned urbanization is also a major factor. This is further complicated by the effects of climate change which have led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods and related epidemics.”
“Humanitarian efforts have had some impact, but data suggests we may be losing the battle. This is especially true in countries affected by extreme poverty and conflict, where diarrhoeal diseases have become endemic. Such countries now require long-term commitment if this worrying scenario is to be pushed back, says Jaspers.
Access to water remains a major problem for millions of people worlwide. The average distance that many women and children in Africa and Asia walk every day to collect water is six kilometres. Bringing clean water to villages is part of the IFRC longer term action on water and sanitation. Photo: Alex Wynter/International Federation
Just before World Water Day, the IFRC published a brochure explaining simple methods for people to treat water in their homes, especially in emergency situations or when conventional water-treatment facilities are no longer operational.
“As we mark World Water Day on March 22, we need to remember that nearly a billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water,” explains Dominique Praplan, Head of the IFRC health and care department in Geneva. “Ensuring that people have basic knowledge to avoid infection from water-borne diseases is fundamental if we are to reduce the number of deaths caused by the consumption of infected water.”