Access to Clean Water Remains a Challenge for Rural Populations

rights water learning girls
Tuesday, 27 March, 2012 - 12:34

Lack of access to clean water prevent communities from enjoying a healthy lifestyle and also in the achieving of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals

My name is Sandra Dube*. Every morning I wake up at 5h00 to go and fetch water for my family. Sometimes my mother accompanies me to the water source, which is about four kilometres away from our home.

On my way to the water source, I usually meet my classmates who will be already heading to school. I am often late for school and on some days I miss classes as the long queues at the water source usually disappear around 9h00. At times, I cannot attend classes because I am too tired.

Imagine walking for four kilometres with a 20 litre bucket full of water on your head. The doctor at the village clinic once advised us that we must be careful with our water loads as heavy loads can lead to physical damage to our backs and necks. Maybe that explains why my mother always complains about her back and now cannot carry heavy loads over long distances.

I wish we had a clean water source near our homestead. I will be able to go to school everyday. I want to become a nurse when I complete my studies, and this can only be achieved if I excel at school and go to a nurses' training institution. However, it is sad that this may remain a dream for me as I may fail to sit for my Ordinary Level (Grade 10 in the South African context) examinations next year.

My grandmother told me that 15 years ago, government officials identified a site to sink the borehole for our community. The site is very close to our homestead. However, little progress has been made to drill the borehole. The village only gets to hear about the project each time there is an election. Once the election is over, the project dies a natural death. Do politicians really care about us?

In 2010, I lost my one-year old brother to water borne disease. My friend who stays at the next homestead lost her mother to cholera. Many villagers fell sick because people had drunk contaminated water from an unprotected water source.

My teacher told us that according to a 2009 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNICEF) report, nearly 4 000 children under five years old die every day from diarrhoea, caused by contaminated food or drinking water around the world. After the death of my young brother, my mother insists that we boil the water first before drinking it. Boiling water from unprotected sources purifies it.

Dube's story is not an isolated case as there are many families in Southern Africa and indeed Africa who are in the same situation.

Access to safe and clean drinking water is a basic human right and is essential for achieving gender equality, sustainable development and poverty alleviation. According to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), the world's health sectors could save around US$12 billion a year if everyone has access to adequate and clean water services.

In addition, access to clean water is also critical towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. With the 2015 deadline looming, a 2011 MDG Progress Chart shows that Sub-Saharan Africa's progress around halving the proportion of population without improved drinking water is insufficient to reach the target if the prevailing trends persist.

It is sad that citizens like Dube's grandmother living in rural areas are still experiencing the same water problems as they had 75 years ago. Chances are even higher that future generations could face the same water crises if action is not taken.

In light of this observation, there is need for renewed and intensified efforts by all stakeholders to ensure that poor rural communities have access to clean water.
It is also important for all stakeholders to continue raising awareness on the importance of access to clean water. This way, citizens can more fully understand that water is a human right and can demand accountability from their leaders to keep their promises on improving access to clean water.

If the right policies on water development are adopted and implemented, Southern Africa and indeed the whole world will be in a better position to address the socio-economic conditions it faces and promote sustainable development.

Ultimately, young girls who are in similar situations like Dube will be able to be in school and complete their secondary and tertiary education, which are the gateways to secure economic empowerment.

*Not her real name.

- Kizito Sikuka is a Zimbabwean based journalist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service. It is republished here with the permission of Gender Links

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