For those of us concerned about the billions of people worldwide without access to clean, safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, the G8 was disappointing, to say the least. While Bono and Geldof rightly criticized the political posturing and pointed out the devil that lurked in the detail of the G8’s pledges, at least the fight against HIV/Aids was mentioned, allowing a platform to raise the issues once more. Once again, however, the G8 have done nothing to address the development issue, totally ignoring the UN’s Human Development report on the global water crisis. As this report points out, time and again, if the world is serious about ending poverty and attaining the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, then a genuine commitment to the provision of clean water is paramount. The reality is, you can’t deal with a developing nation’s health problems unless you deal with contaminated water, because half the hospital beds are taken up with diseases directly related to dirty water . There’s no point in building schools with the aspiration of educating children if you don’t first remove the need to walk for hours a day just to fetch water to meet basic needs. (In sub-Sahran Africa alone, it’s estimated that 40 billion hours are spent each year collecting water, and this mostly by women and children). Neither can you build a viable economy if your potential workforce is either sick or absent because their need to collect life-sustaining water is greater than their need to turn up for work.
If all this weren’t enough, a week on from the G8, I read that the Journal of the National Cancer Institute have published a report in which it’s claimed that millions of people worldwide are developing cancers directly linked to drinking water contaminated with high levels of arsenic. Though the report centers around research done in Chile, it’s clear that this is a worldwide issue and certainly prevalent in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia – a country HOPE International/UK are concerned with, of which I am a trustee.
There is some hope, as next year’s G8 in Japan will take place during the UN’s International Year of Sanitation. Sadly, before our leaders meet again, another 1.8 million children will have died for lack of clean water – 5 times the number who will have succumbed to Aids related disease.