Friday, March 16, 2012

Clean drinking water is about people, not pipes

Jamie Skinner in a blog at the International Institute of Environment and Development: Water and water crises will dominate the news this week from Marseille, where the sector convenes for its triennial global meeting, the World Water Forum. Some 33,000 participants attended the last one, in Istanbul in 2009, and similar numbers are expected this year.

There will be plenty of jaw-jaw, from public relations spin to formal negotiations. But the words adopted will be important for whatever replaces the millennium development goals (MDGs)....Progress is being made. Asia and Latin America are on track to meet the target, and the World Health Organisation and Unicef last week announced that – globally – the target for drinking water has been met. This news sparked a predictable media fanfare, but it also obscured some important facts. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are lagging behind and unlikely to meet the target. Moreover, the number of people in rural areas using an unimproved water source in 2010 was five times greater than in urban areas.

The question few people ask is whether the target is even the right one. Does it measure what really matters New infrastructure is being built in rural villages across Africa to ensure supplies of clean water to communities that, for years, have depended on rivers, marshes or shallow surface wells for an irregular supply of often low quality, not to say dangerous, water. But many NGOs will argue that progress is insufficient and too many people continue to suffer.

...The scale of this long-term maintenance challenge is hidden in the wording of the international commitments. They talk about "increasing access" to drinking water but, in Burkina Faso, for instance, this is interpreted as one borehole for every 300 people. It is sufficient to record that a village has a borehole for the criterion to be ticked. What really matters, though, is whether that borehole actually provides water – or whether, like 30-40% of hand pumps in Africa, it is broken...

A well pump filled with gunk, Matt's Camera, public domain

1 comment:

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