Monday, April 14, 2008

Safe Water In The Developing World

Sometimes it seems as though safe drinking water is like the weather – everyone talks about it, but no one does anything. In this International Year of Sanitation, we are seeing some evidence of action.

China's pre-Olympics environmental and sanitation face lift is contributing to the improvements. Earlier this month, Chen Lei – the Minister of Water Resources – revealed that the PRC government spent 24 billion yuan (US$3.4 billion) between 2001 and 2007 to make safe drinking water available in rural areas. This investment, which was supplemented by contributions of 22.7 billion yuan from local governments, provided drinking water to an additional 128 million Chinese. The government's goal is to solve the rural drinking water access problem by 2015.

The government of Tibet is undertaking its own infrastructure improvement program, as well. The regional water resources department began its program in 2005, and has spent 450 million yuan so far – delivering safe drinking water to more than 600,000 rural residents. An additional 230,000 yuan have been budgeted for 2008 to provide drinking water to another 230,000 people.

It's not only governments who have the power to make a difference. Individuals are weighing in as well.

Muhammad Yunus – a Nobel laureate who was recognized for his efforts in providing micro-loans to entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries – announced on March 31st a program to bring clean drinking water to 100,000 rural residents of Bangladesh. The joint venture between Yunus' Grameen bank and France's Veolia Environment group will build and operate water treatment plants in several Bangladeshi villages.

Feliciano dos Santos, a Mozambiquan singer, is using his musical talent and his local celebrity status to further the goal of clean water and improved sanitation. Dos Santos incorporates messages that promote hand washing and the use of slab latrines into the lyrics of his songs. Several years ago, he wrote to the Prime Minister of Mozambique to enlist him in a campaign to promote hand-washing. After being rebuffed by government officials, dos Santos used the occasion of an official dinner to shame the Prime Minister into cooperation.

One has only to read the Cholera, Diarrhea & Dysentery Update, published weekly by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, to realize the importance of clean drinking water to public health. Until this basic need is met, gastrointestinal diseases will continue to be part of the daily life of residents of the underdeveloped world.

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