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Water lessons

Sep 29, 2009

The 'blue gold' remains the privilege of few and a scare resource for a billion and more, says Elena Trentini on the completion of an internation course on community water supply and sanitation. Education is key to communities managing their water better, she adds.

The curtain has been dropped on the first international course “Community Water Supply and Sanitation: challenges for sustainable solutions”, organised by Training Center for International Solidarity of Trento, Italy.

Seventeen participants from ten different countries.
Topic: water. Inalienable good and a universal right. Theoretically. In practice privilege of a few and scarce resource for many.

Like all precious, rare or forbidden, goods, it causes violent conflicts. In many semiarid areas of the world you contend the “blue gold”. In the other areas the contention is reason of dialogue, like Intersos tells us about Darfur.

Almost 40% of the world population depends on river systems in common among two or more countries. Three examples: India and Bangladesh overlooking Ganges, Mexico and United States are joined by Colorado river, Czech Republic and Hungary by Danube.

In Central Asia, five ex-soviet republics contend two rivers: Amu Darja and Sjr Darja. And in the Middle East, Giordano river is the contested in absolute.

Give the numbers. One billion and 400 millions of people don’t have access to drinking water.  In 2025, when we’ll be 8 billion, almost 4 out of 8 will be thirsty. The world consumption of drinking water is ten times more than one century ago but, in the same time, in only fifty years, the availability of water decreased three quarters in Africa and two-third in Asia.

For FAO, today, at least thirty countries have chronic water crisis. The World Water Community indicates 40 litres, in a day for one person, is the minimum amount to meet basic needs. With this amount we have a shower; in Africa a family lives for a day.

Freshwater, potentially available in streams, rivers and lakes, corresponds to 0.008% of  water of the world; distributed, moreover, in an uneven way on the surface. Despite this an American citizen uses 1.700 cubic meters of water in an year; in Africa the amount is 250 cubic meters. Spendthrifts!

At the first place for consumption of water there is the United States, followed by Canada and Italy third.

It’s logic that professor Jan Teun Visscher, the principal speaker of the course, focuses on rational consumption of water resources and on management of conflicts, both in southern countries and in northern countries of the world. 

It is fundamental to attack our imaginary, then "learn to reason" and finally move to a complex and multi-stakeholders environment, where many are the interests and the forces involved, and where it is always necessary for our "me" to step behind in order to jump forward and become "we/community".

Also we have to do our multidisciplinary logic, favoring the interconnections among technical dimension, human, social and environmental dimension.

Clear words from the course: "The local communities must not see the interventions imposed from the external, but they must participate since the ideation of the projects. Risk, the failure of these. Fundamental is being humble promoters/facilitators of self-development, so that the community doesn't need external aids."

Another focus is the educational and training dimension. To wash hands with soap, in the poorest countries, should decrease 50% of the intestinal diseases and 25% of pneumonia. But never take for granted practices that we believe daily.

"In the courtyard of a school in Ghana was built a structure of brick for a closed and sure bathroom," said professor Visscher. "But we don’t teach the use to them. Result? Rather than wait for their turn, the external wall has been used like an open latrine, becoming, inevitably, a receptacle of germs and diseases."

For breaking poverty, all poverties, there aren’t short cuts. The highway seems to remain education.

Elena Trentini is collaborator of Fondazione Fontana, Italy.

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