Making Strides Toward Ensuring the Right to Clean Water

New York, N.Y.  Like most Americans, I take easy access to clean drinking water for granted. “But it’s a fundamental human right,” Edward Buckley is quick to point out. “We all have a human right to clean water. Without it we cannot enjoy our other human rights.”

Buckley, an Atlanta lawyer, has a passion for ensuring that right. He raises money to drill and install water wells throughout Haiti, with the assistance of Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the United States.

The good news is that the world has achieved Millennium Development Goal number seven, reducing in half the number of people who do not have access to potable water—well before the 2015 deadline.

According to a joint World Health Organization and UNICEF report , from 1990 to 2010 more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells. At the beginning of this decade, 89 percent of the world, or 6.1 billion people, had access to sustainable clean water sources.

But it’s premature to pop the cork. About 10 percent of the world’s most impoverished, nearly 800 million people, are still without access to safe drinking water, and billions without sanitation facilities, the report states.

Edward Buckley and villagers near a Food For The Poor water well that he raised funds to install in 2010. Courtesy of Food for the Poor.

Haitians, especially in rural areas, face the daily challenge of finding clean water. According to a Washington Post report, only 51 percent of the Haitians living in rural districts have access to improved water sources—chlorinated and delivered through pipes or a well protected from contamination. That is 30 percent below the global of 81 percent of rural residents with access to clean water.

“In Haiti, people often have to take a long walk to find clean water, and it’s usually in short supply,” Buckley noted. “Mostly women and children have to walk miles with a 5-pound bucket of water on their head. I tried carrying one of these buckets uphill for one mile, and it’s not easy.”

He stressed that fetching these buckets often result in compression fractures and other types of injuries. Furthermore, this dangerous daily chore negatively affects school attendance for children and forces woman to carve out hours in their day at the expense of more productive activities, such as earning income for her family.

When Buckley and his team visits sites in Haiti, their mission is to facilitate projects, which involves working with engineers and project managers, initiating new projects, and evaluating ongoing projects. Ultimately, they have to report back to donors.

What’s a typical price tag? A recent project in Grand Boulage cost about $140,000. This project involved pumping water from a low-lying gulley that is dangerous to access by foot. The water is pumped uphill to a mountain reservoir and pushed back down the mountain to kiosks strategically placed where people could access the clean water. That type of project takes about 12 months to 18 months to complete and could serve about 7,500 families.

“This is not a handout,” Buckley said emphatically. He added that the Haitian people he encounters are always “willing to pitch in with digging, masonry work and learning how to maintain and repair the pumps.”

Residents of Vialet, Buckley recalled with a smile, “rolled out the red carpet” for him and his team. They made speeches, sang, and danced to the music of a marching band that played with homemade instruments. Vialet is a site where the community joined in digging a well and Buckley’s team furnished a water filtration unit.

(L to R) Amanda Farahany, Sheryl McCalla, and Edward Buckly at a water pump in Leogane, Haiti. Courtesy of Food for the Poor.

While we’ve made a significant leap forward, there’s much still to be done. The WHO/UNICEF report highlighted regional disparities among developing nations in access to potable water that must be addressed.

For example, only 61 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to improved water supply sources compared to 90 percent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Africa, and large parts of Asia.

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Nigel Roberts
Nigel Roberts is the Communications Committee Chair of the J. Luce Foundation. He's also a communications consultant and freelance writer. His clients have included (now retired) U.S. Congressman Ed Towns.

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