Dylan R. Massachusetts

Access to Water in Sub-Saharan Africa

The lack of access to water and proper sanitation endangers the lives of many African communities.

Dear President Clinton:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, “over 40% of people live in absolute poverty” according to Our Africa, having no access to food, health, shelter, and education, along with clean water, depriving them of basic human rights. You, the president of the United States, must try to fix the lack of access to pure water in parts of Africa by setting up funds to go towards the fight for clean water and sanitation and by trying to fix the violent conflicts and corruption in African countries. It is important for you to help the African people because they are humans and deserve basic rights, and because the lack of clean water access could spread disease and eventually cause a global epidemic. This is a case of human decency and empathy; millions of people don’t have the basic resources to give them and their children a better life-and that needs to change.

Children in Africa are getting harmful diseases and dying because they don’t have access to clean water. This situation is illustrated in the article by Fred Oluoch “Lack of Clean Water Kills More People Than War”, which states “1.8 million African children die from [diseases] that could be prevented with just one glass of clean water”. So many innocent young children, who dream about a better future, are having their lives ripped away from them because they don’t have access to something so simple as pure water. An article by Jude Njoku titled “334 Million People in Sub-Saharan Africa Lack Access to Clean Water” suggests that “no fewer than 334 million people representing 39 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean drinking water. Similarly, about 600 million people which is approximately 70 percent region's population, lack access to sanitation”. Lots of African women and children have no access to the thing that sustains every single life on Earth, causing them to be deprived of the resources that could provide them with a better life. Not having access to clean water causes guiltless and impoverished children to have a lack of proper health, economic growth, sustainability, education, and deprives them of the right to not live in a severely impoverished environment. ‘“Women and children [living in poor, rural areas] make up over 60% of those….who do not have access to potable water”’, stated Chrispin Sedeke in Charles M. Mushizi’s article “Southern Africa-Majority Still Lack Access to Safe Water”. Children in these countries will often have to walk many miles to fill even a jar of water every single day, preventing them from earning an education and trying to have a better life. Setting up funds and building wells, water reservoirs, and aqueducts would allow many children to go to school and be able to survive their fifth birthday.

The lack of access to clean water poses a greater threat to African nations than war or conflict, yet it is not seen as an urgent issue due to corruption. In many of Africa’s countries, such as Ethiopia, “the military budget is ten times that of the water and sanitation” (Oluoch). Many governments also do not want to fix the lack of clean water and sanitation because it only affects the impoverished. Military budgets and security are very important to maintaining a country, but human rights issues, such as pure water, are important for maintaining life in general. Oluoch’s article also states that “only five percent of overseas development assistance is spent on water and sanitation”. Not only are the African countries not paying enough attention to their water crisis, but international associations are also not focused on it, showing that the military is seen as more important than people gaining the most basic of human rights. For the Sub-Saharan African countries’ economies to grow and for people to have proper water and sanitation, “governments should spend at least one per cent of their GDP on this sector, given that most developing countries spend less than 0.5 per cent” (Oluoch). Governments spend such a tiny fraction on clean water and sanitation, when in fact they lose more money because the economy can not grow due to disease that comes from the lack of clean water and proper sanitation. The poor don’t have the money or resources to participate in a system that relies on corruption, therefore losing when they attempt to gain access to clean water from government officials. The article “In Africa, Corruption Dirties the Water” by Kenneth Odiwuor states that “In Kenya, for instance, poor people in the capital, Nairobi, pay 10 times more for water than their wealthier counterparts”. The absolute poor are being cheated out of clean water and proper sanitation by more powerful people whose actions need to be strictly regulated. If you and the U.S government could help regulate budgets and keep the corruption level low in Sub-Saharan Africa, “water prices could decrease by 30%” (Odiwuor). Many poor Africans would have not be as affected by corruption and would have access to clean water and a brighter future.

The lack of access to clean water and sanitary practices also introduces many Africans to harmful diseases that can eventually cause epidemics. These brutal diseases include AIDS, HIV, diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, malaria, typhoid, and parasitic worms. According to Magdalena Mis in “Lack of Access to Clean Water Hampers Fight Against Aids in Africa” the lack of clean water and proper sanitation causes Africans living with HIV and AIDS to lose “the fight against HIV/AIDS” because it “[reduces] the effectiveness of life-saving drugs”. Pregnant women are put at a huge risk of dying and losing their children because of the lack of clean water, improper sanitation, and diseases they might come into contact with. Epidemics such as the Ebola crisis were made much worse due to there being limited sanitation in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, “causing two in five people who got Ebola in this outbreak to die”, according to the CDC. The lack of sanitation and clean water caused the disease to spread like wildfire, “from having contact with blood and bodily fluids [and] and handling the body of someone who died from Ebola” (CDC). The Ebola outbreak would not have been as bad if the affected countries’ governments had taken the time to build clean water reservoirs and teach proper sanitation. Cholera is also a major problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, “with the African continent having the worst case fatality rates” (CDC). Outbreaks of cholera are caused by impure and dirty water, which could be easily preventable if people had access to pure water. Many African people are not completely mended from cholera due to the fact that cholera is cured by massive rehydration, which would require a lot of clean water per patient, which governments aren’t willing to spend money on. If water reservoirs, wells, and aqueducts were built in remote villages in Sub-Saharan Africa, disease wouldn’t spread so violently, saving thousands of lives, and preventable epidemics would decrease, causing world health organizations and governments to spend money on other crucial issues.

Lack of access to pure water affects all parts of life in Africa, and can sometimes cause an increase in domestic violence and sexual abuse. The absence of clean water can cause major social problems that affect whole villages and cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the article “Villagers Save Community by Solving Water Problem” by Timothy Kisambira a village in Rwanda was affected by problems because “‘it's mainly women who go to get water, young energetic men who had a bicycle took advantage of this situation to go to look for water in exchange for sex. Often, the women saw no other solution and had to accept,”’. Young women and girls were terrorized by these men who took advantage of them and abused them. If remote villages like the one in Rwanda had running water, many women and girls wouldn’t have to travel so far, becoming safer and not having to go through the horrors of being raped. The scarcity of clean water also leads to domestic violence by forcing “wives….to walk long distances and….come back late” (Kisambira). This means that housework won’t be done, meals won’t be served, and children won’t be taken care of. This causes arguments among spouses and “cases of domestic violence” (Kisambira), with the men hitting the women because they were upset with them. Women were abused only because of the fact that their long walk to clean water was time consuming, which shows how necessary clean water is for domestic peace. The amount of time spent by women and girls searching for water in Sub-Saharan Africa “[robs] millions of girls of the opportunity to go to school, as well as depriving women of the opportunity to engage in income-generating activities” (Oluoch). Walking fifty miles for pure water in the blistering African heat is outrageous, and the effect is that girls can’t go to school so they can have a better life and women can’t make money, which would help their families and the economy. Access to pure water is necessary for African women and girls to be safer and have hope for a better future through education, earning money, and gender equality.

While we strongly believe that governments should be accountable for water access in their countries, many people think that water resources should be privatized. In Uganda, after privatization the water industry “transformed from being a highly inefficient, underperforming and loss-making body to a healthy and financially sustainable public corporation.” (Odiwuor). Privatization has worked “success stories” in the cases of Uganda, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire, where corruption has decreased and “service coverage grew from 48 to 74 percent” (Odiwuor). This causes us to believe that in very specific cases, privatization of water distribution does indeed work and can be instrumental in helping the poor. In these instances, privately run but publicly owned water distributors have been successful due to governments decreasing in the way of corruption and provided better management of funds, resources, and distribution. People for privatization do have a point because there are many governments in Sub-Saharan Africa where corruption is so deep and widely spread that it is quite unlikely that the governments would truly try to help the people alone.

Water access should not be in the hands of private companies, but instead lead by the African countries’ governments. One of the countries where privatization worsened the already bad situation was Ghana where “water tariffs increased by 80 percent after privatization, and a third of the country's population still has no access to safe and clean water” (Odiwuor). Although privatization has worked in the select cases of Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal, there have been many countries, like Ghana, where privatization has worsened the lack of clean water. Privatization has, in all cases, “increased [water] prices” (Odiwuor), and sometimes it costed double the amount of money. On most occasions, there have been “ bribes related to a contract award to be 10 percent” towards government officials by the companies investing, causing “46 per cent of all urban water-consumers [to pay] extra money for connections” (Odiwuor). Cleary, on the infrequent instances that privatization has worked, there have still been bribes and corruption involved, causing many people to still have no access to clean water. Privatization would increase prices, putting a life-sustaining resource in the hands of for-profit companies and make the situation, statistically speaking, dangerous. On the other hand, the U.S government could set up funds for access to clean water, build water reservoirs, wells, and aqueducts, and work to minimize corruption in Africa.

Along with many others, we believe everyone deserves a chance to possess basic human rights. By not improving and supporting the cause for sanitation, hygiene, and clean drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa, we are depriving innocent young children and adults from a beneficial survival approach. Every day, thousands of African children are diagnosed with very harmful diseases that can be prevented with a glass of clean water or a sanitary environment. It is also necessary for people to have proper sanitation and access to clean water for the economy, life expectancy rate, and birth rate to increase. With larger communities, the African countries can have more people teaching in schools, becoming educated, constructing homes, gathering food, farming, fashioning clothing, and doing other jobs that need to be accomplished. The lack of access to clean water and sanitary practices also introduces many adult Africans to harmful diseases that can eventually cause epidemics and a massive decreases in population. Domestic violence and sexual abuse is another fault of the absence of pure water and hygienic surroundings. This problem develops when women and girls have to walk far distances to retrieve clean water without anyone to protect them from malicious men. While we strongly believe that governments should be in charge of water access in their countries, many people think that water resources should be privatized, meaning to transfer from public or government control to ownership by private enterprise. The U.S government should work with the African governments to build wells, water reservoirs, aqueducts, attempt to end corruption in these countries, and set up large funds for water and sanitation access. We want to encourage you to help make our ideas come true; to help other unfortunate countries become secure and stable. What if you had to walk fifty miles to retrieve water? You would want the same for our country and our communities. Despite our differences: our appearances, beliefs, customs, and cultures; we are all human, and thus deserve the rights we evolved to have.

In all kindness and love,

Lillian Jackson and Dylan Ratner

Glenbrook Middle School

Grade 7 English Language Arts

The seventh grade students have researched, discussed, and thought carefully about a variety of issues that challenge our nation and the next president. Here are their thoughts about what the next president must do to improve our country and all of our lives.

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