Water, Water: Not Everywhere

July 20, 2011|By Swanzeta Nciweni
The Council of Organizations and UNA Association of the National Capital Area, in collaboration with USAID’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, held a discussion on Oil of the 21st Century: Water Scarcity and Its Global Impact with guest speakers.

The May 31 event featured Dr. Kellogg Schwab, a professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health; Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch; Dr. Koki Agarwal, director of USAID’s  Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program; and Dr. Winston Yu, senior water resources specialist at the World Bank Group. 

The program was moderated by Swanzeta Nciweni, UNA-NCA’s newest Human Rights Committee member; the discussion, which drew about 60 people, was followed by a reception with the panelists, UNA-NCA members and Council of Organizations members. Swanzeta published her thesis on water privatization in sub-Saharan Africa, as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Schwab referenced his researched, which concluded that “water is an inalienable right.”  The research illustrated evidence that 850 million people lack access to potable water and for those with access to clean water, women and children were the ones to walk great distances to reach the water wells. Dr. Schwab demonstrated the effect by lifting a 100-liter water jug to show the challenges that women especially face collecting basics for their family.
He also explained the link between missed educational opportunities, employment advantages and violence that women contend with in having to get water so far away.   Water remains “finite,” he concluded, despite efforts of water filtration systems, since research is still determining the sustainability of these systems.

O’Callaghan works on efforts to connect homes to clean water and sanitation.  Her discussion highlighted the effect that the increasing global population has had on demand for water, which has in turn increased the need for potable water seven times over.   The privatization of water has also prevented some populations from obtaining what they need.  O’Callaghan works with communities and organizations in the U.S. and around the world to prevent the privatization of public water resources and to promote local control of food systems. She was a lead organizer of the People’s Water Forum, a grass-roots response to the corporate-led World Water Forum in Istanbul. O’Callaghan previously worked as a community organizer in Detroit as well as for New Rules for Global Finance, Rethinking Bretton Woods Project and Doctors for Global Health.

Dr. Agarwal specializes in maternal and newborn health, reproductive health and family planning policies and programs; she has managed and carried out global health programs as Director of the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program at USAID. Her background includes study of public health and demographic analysis and clinical experience in pediatrics and reproductive health. In her presentation, Dr. Agarwal addressed the issues around unsafe drinking water and the relationship that unclean water has with diarrheal disease. She cited diarrheal disease as the top killer of children in rural areas and explained two methods that her program uses to help remedy the problem: treatment of water with ORS and Zinc and hand washing. Access to clean water is essential to reducing mortality rates of mothers and children, she said.

Dr. Yu closed the program by explaining the difficulties of governing and managing water. He learned firsthand about this when he worked with the government of Uttar Pradesh, a province in India, on water management. The state has a population of 200 million, and the water department has more than 100,000 employees. Creating a policy on water is complex, and for centuries has led to conflicts. Indeed, the United Nations has 20 departments that work on water issues, given that the subject is connected to matters of human rights, energy, climate and politics. Many of the conflicts today -- in Kashmir, Sudan, Israel and Palestine -- have a component of water management issues.       



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