“Governments are failing to fund projects to improve access to toilets and other sanitation services in poor countries because the subject remains ‘taboo,’ a director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said on Monday,” Reuters reports. “About 1.1 billion people across the world still defecate in the open because they have no toilets, according to the United Nations,” Reuters writes. “It’s the last big taboo and as a result more than one million kids die every year. Diarrhea is the second largest cause of death after respiratory infections in young children,” Frank Rijsberman, director of water, sanitation and hygiene at the foundation, said at the Global Water Summit 2012 conference in Rome, the news service notes.
Water and Sanitation
Efforts To Fight Cholera In DRC Need To Include Sanitation, Waste Facility Improvements, Behavior Change, UNICEF Official Says
A cholera epidemic that began in January 2011 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is continuing because of “poor hygiene, lack of awareness of the population about transmission mechanisms, very limited access to protected and monitored water sources and lack of sanitation infrastructure,” according to Nona Zicherman, chief of emergency operations in DRC for UNICEF, IRIN reports. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 30,000 cholera cases have been identified and more than 700 people have died of the disease since June 2011, the news service states. Zicherman “noted that emergency and medium- and long-term interventions to limit the spread of cholera needed to be developed,” including disinfecting contaminated areas, monitoring water sources, changing behaviors related to hygiene, and constructing water supply and sanitation facilities, according to IRIN (4/30).
U.N., International Community Should Pledge To Improve Water, Sanitation In Haiti To Mitigate Cholera Epidemic
“The cholera epidemic in Haiti, which began in late 2010, is bad and getting worse, for reasons that are well understood and that the aid community has done far too little to resolve,” a New York Times editorial states, adding that the “Pan American Health Organization has said the disease could strike 200,000 to 250,000 people this year” and “has already killed more than 7,000.” The editorial says the U.N. “bears heavy responsibility for the outbreak,” as it is suspected that U.N. peacekeepers introduced the disease to the island nation, and it notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this month that “cholera in Haiti was evolving into two strains, suggesting the disease would become much harder to uproot and that people who had already gotten sick and recovered would be vulnerable again.”
“U.N. Development Goals for better drinking water have already been reached, but a closer look shows that the measures fail to truly account for the lack of access to safe water,” Scientific American reports in a feature story. “[J]ust because water is pouring out of a spigot does not mean that it is safe to drink,” the article states, adding, “In poorer areas, where infrastructure and sanitation are often much worse, even sources of water that have been ‘improved’ are frequently at risk for contamination by human and animal feces, according to recent analyses.” The magazine details a number of studies on the issue and concludes, “[W]hether there are 800 million or 1.8 billion people who lack safe water, the scourge of preventable deadly diarrheal and other waterborne diseases will continue to plague too many” (Harmon, 5/21).
“As the world’s worst outbreak of cholera continues to ravage Haiti, international donors have averted their gaze,” a Washington Post editorial writes. The editorial notes that a “pilot project to vaccinate Haitians against the disease … reached only one percent of the population, with no immediate prospect of expansion,” and “[o]f the 100 or so cholera treatment centers that sprang up around the country after the disease was detected 19 months ago, fewer than a third remain.” The solution to the epidemic is “equally well known and costly,” the editorial states, adding, “Haiti needs modern water and sanitation infrastructure, an undertaking that might cost $1 billion. But while donors tend to respond generously to emergencies, such as the earthquake that devastated Haiti in early 2010, they lose interest in long-term fixes of the sort that would deal decisively with cholera.”
U.N. Official Calls For More Leadership, Funding, Comprehensive Plan To Address Potential Humanitarian Crisis In Sahel
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos on Thursday “called for strong leadership and a comprehensive response plan, as well as donor support, for the food crisis in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region, warning that hunger could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/24). Amos “met with President Macky Sall in Senegal and Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso on a four-day trip to west Africa to examine the impact of the food crisis,” Agence France-Presse writes. “We can do more to avoid the crisis from becoming a catastrophe in the region but to save more lives we need strong leadership … and continued generosity from the regional and humanitarian community,” she said, the news agency notes (5/24). The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which Amos heads, said that in addition to food aid, “priorities for those in need of assistance include health care and water and sanitation services,” according to the U.N. News Centre (5/24).
In his Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) blog “The Internationalist,” Stewart Patrick, senior fellow and director of the CFR Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, writes about the first U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security (.pdf), which “predicts that by 2030 humanity’s ‘annual global water requirements’ will exceed ‘current sustainable water supplies’ by 40 percent.” According to Patrick, the document says “[a]bsent major policy interventions, water insecurity will generate widespread social and political instability and could even contribute to state failure in regions important to U.S. national security.” He describes several factors that are pushing a “combination of surging global demand for increasingly scarce fresh water in certain volatile regions of poor governance.” Though “the intelligence community has performed a great service” with this report, “the policy response to date has been just a drop in the bucket,” Patrick concludes (5/8).
With nearly 6,000 reported cholera cases, including more than 100 deaths, Guinea is facing the worst cholera outbreak since 2007, and “some residents of the capital Conakry are clamoring to be vaccinated,” IRIN reports. “The cholera vaccine has shown promising results in the handful of communities where it has been used: none of those vaccinated have been infected,” the news service writes, noting, “For now cholera vaccination is not generally done on a large scale.” According to IRIN, “WHO and partner agencies are planning a cholera vaccine stockpile for epidemic control and looking at the possibility of introducing the two-dose oral vaccine into national immunization programs in endemic areas,” but the agency also “says such stockpiles should not detract from other prevention efforts: detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cases with oral rehydration and antibiotics; establishment of a safe water supply; implementation of adequate waste disposal, sanitation, and hygiene; and communication and social mobilization.”
Noting “World Water Week recently concluded in Stockholm with a special emphasis on the linkages between water and food security,” Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of U.N. Women, writes in this Inter Press Service opinion piece, “Creating a water- and food-secure world requires putting women and girls at the center of water- and food-related policies, actions and financing.” She continues, “Women are not only beneficiaries of greater water and food security; they can also enable greater progress in these areas.” Puri states, “Four urgent actions must be taken to unleash women’s potential.”
“Policymakers have agreed on an ambitious plan to create a global monitoring and reporting system to oversee water supply, sanitation and water resources management, a U.N. expert said,” AlertNet reports. “Part of the initiative would be assisting developing countries to collect and analyze data on their water resources,” the news service writes, adding, “The data would likely feed into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are expected to replace the U.N. anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, Joakim Harlin of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said.” Experts are examining how a water goal could be connected to other goals on energy and food, according to Harlin, the news service notes. “U.N. Water is expected to finalize the details of the water monitoring initiative by the end of the year, Harlin said,” AlertNet writes (Mollins, 9/5).