Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Need

There is a lot of need in this world - we see it every day. If you've been to the global church conferences at First Pres Berkeley, you've seen the vast need to address dire issues in our world, such as HIV/AIDS and human trafficking and sexual exploitation. But because we're simply limited people, with genuinely important personal issues to address, the din just needs to be tuned out.

Sometimes one must start yelling a little bit louder in response, however. Why should access to clean water and sanitation be as important as these other truly tragic issues? The answer is that water is the foundation upon which a functioning society is built. If there's no clean water, people are no longer able to sustain themselves. The result is poverty, and people in their poverty become vulnerable to exploitation, both from nature and tragically, other people.

Crunching the Numbers
Huge numbers can often obscure reality rather than reveal it; and yet the scale of suffering due to unhealthy water calls for such numbers. Helpfully, the World Health Organization has provided some visuals to help better digest some of the data:

About 2.6 billion people (40% of humanity) do not have 'improved sanitation', which means they have no access to even pit latrines, and their excrement is in danger of contaminating food and drinking water sources. Eastern/Southern Africa has the least access to sanitation as a proportion of the population. In sub-Saharan Africa, the richest 20% area 5 times more likely to have access to safe sanitation than the poorest 20%.

Drinking Water
Clean water is closely related to good sanitation. When human waste is properly removed, it doesn't contaminate the water supply. However, diseases can run rampant when waste enters the water supply. Recently, there have been terrible outbreaks of cholera in Zimbabwe and DR Congo because violent disruptions in those countries have forced people to flee their homes and leave safe water supplies behind.

And finally, here's a graphic to give you a sense of how many people, especially children, die each year from diarrhea (which is caused principally through poor sanitation):

Why are so many children dying from something so simple to treat as diarrhea, not nearly so hard to treat as AIDS?

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