The News Argus
April 16, 2007
Planet’s poorest suffer greatly from lack of clean water
By Scott Canon and Shashank Bengali
MCT WIRE SERVICE
The quiet, thin 19-year-old is up before 7
a.m. each day to walk about a quarter-mile to a
well. Patience Yarkpawolo totes water for her
entire family in the household's sole 6-gallon
bucket. The water must last the day for cook
ing, cleaning, washing and drinking. For seven
Although the town's well is chlorinated
twice a month, Yarkpawolo suspects that's not
often enough. Her twin 4-year-old sisters often
suffer upset stomachs and diarrhea, illnesses
she blames partly on the water supply.
"Somehow, they are always getting sick,"
she said. "We don't know exactly what is the
reason. But we are not so sure about the water
in the well." The West African nation has been
beset by two decades of civil war and political
upheaval that left most of the country's 3.5
million souls to rely on crude wells and bore
Sometimes the cause is war, sometimes just
crushing poverty, but the lack of clean water
hits the planet's poorest people like nothing
"Nothing can more fundamentally change
people's lives than a supply of safe water,"
said Gary White, who heads the Kansas City,
Mo.-based WaterPartners International. "We
take it for granted when we turn on the tap.
That's not life for everybody."
A recent United Nations report declared a
global water crisis as the world's chief barrier
to lifting entire regions out of poverty and
identified the absence of clean water
as a sure predictor of shortened life expectancy.
And the reporf s authors said countries rich
and poor are doing far too little to fix the prob
lem, investing much more in guns than in
plumbing. It noted that more is spent on miner
al water on the dining tables of the wealthy
than for passable drinking water for the desti
There is some progress. The World Health
Organization has had success in pleading with
Photos courtesy of WaterPartners Int I.
Layout by Sharrod Patterson
In many parts of the world, getting the water needed for drinking and other uses is not just a matter of turning on a faucet. The
lack of clean water causes sickness and death in developing nations.
poor families to put a few drops of bleach
into their household water supplies, an ad
hoc but effective way to keep bacteria in
check. A new $3 filtering straw can be
worn around the neck and lasts for a
"Development doesn't happen unless you
have clean drinking water and sanitation.
There's no getting around it," said David
Douglas, president of Water Advocates, which
lobbies on the issue.
Dirty water is expensive. The U.N. estimates
the economic toll — lost labor, added medical
bills, girls kept from school so they can carry
water — at $38 billion a year. In sub-Saharan
Africa alone, the cost is guessed at $15 billion,
equal to 60 percent of international aid flowing
to the region.
Sometimes, the solution lies simply in
smarts. Water fixes need to fit the locale.
A U.N. report issued in September concluded
that imclean water is a greater danger to life
than war. And it faulted both rich and poor
countries for doing too little about the problem.
"It's such a solvable problem," said John
Kayser, a spokesman for Water for People.
"We're just not spending enough money."
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