Wednesday, June 06, 2007

water is life

Jena w/ Utamuriza at her current water source

from Barak Bruerd, 1000 Wells Project Manager (BWM) on the BWM Blog

The human body is 70% water. A 3% loss of water can reduce a person’s ability to work by 20%. For your average 60lb school-age child, that amounts to a standard nalgene-bottle full of water. Under exertion, the human body can sweat twice that in an hour. Now imagine sub-Saharan Africa, 90 to 110 degree heat depending on the season and a 2 mile hike to get water... one way. The average size jerry can used to carry water is 5 gallons, which weights a whopping 40lbs. Now imagine that you are a 7-year old girl. And you make this trek 3 times every day.

For a Westerner, this daily hardship is unimaginable. For Utamuriza, in northern Rwanda, it’s inevitable. But it’s not really the hike, or the 1000 extra calories she burns every day that keeps her just slightly malnourished; she could even live with the long lines at the source and fighting when others try to cut to the front or scarcity forces disputes between rival villages. The part that brings a sense of despair is that there seems no way out. Her treks for water comprise over 6 hours of labor every day, a task that often make her late for school, even missing classes all together. In this world, education provides the only future and most children miss anywhere from 4 to 10 days of school a month because of household work like hauling water, or the diseases that come from drinking from unclean sources.

Let’s complicate things. Water-borne disease is not just limited to typhoid, cholera, giardia, amoebic dysentery, ascaris, schistosomiasis, hookworm or trachoma - the combined forces of which infect over 50% of the developing world’s population at any one time and claim the lives of over 2 million children every year. Water-borne diseases also include common parasites like roundworm and tapeworm. Bloated abdomens are the usual indicator, and these parasites can consume up to 30% of the nutrients ingested by their host, exacerbating malnutrition, hampering the immune system, and stunting childhood development at every level. Colds, flu, and respiratory infections all have roots in poor hygiene as do skin diseases such as scabies, and fungal infections.

We’d like to think that putting a clean source of water in a community would be enough - if so, our jobs would be quite easy. But to actually reduce disease, the water has to stay clean and be used properly. Contamination between source and point of use is extremely high without proper hygiene education. Practices your mother always harped on when you were a kid, like washing hands, taking baths, and putting the lid back on containers have to be implemented for health improvements to be actualized. While the idea of hygiene may seem like a no-brainer consider this: it’s not so long ago that western civilization thought that diseases came from lighting and “bad air” and doctors performed open surgery without so much as washing their hands let alone wearing gloves. It wasn’t until the 1860’s when Louis Pasteur proved that bacteria caused disease that our worldview changed to embrace the impact of the mico-world, and even then the magnitude of that discovery took several decades to affect society. We have lived with this idea for only the last 150 years; a mere breath of time compared to the millennia spent hiding from “bad air”. So it should come as no surprise that educating rural communities on the practices of good hygiene is difficult. The processes of worldview change and actual behavior change requires relationships, trust, and above all, time.

“Water is Life” is a slogan I’ve heard repeated in most of the communities we have visited. It’s life in more ways than just one - it’s wellbeing, it’s health, it’s time, it’s education, it’s peace, it’s hope. This year our partners will be initiating a spring development project in Utamuriza’s village that will improve flow rates and pipe water to a central location near the village. They’ll begin a comprehensive program to teach hygiene and assist families in implementing it in their homes. This project will impact three communities on the region and they, along with Utamuriza will experience a whole new life.



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