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Friday, 31 May 2013

Water wars or water peace?

Have you ever considered that twinning your toilet could make you an instrument of peace in our troubled world?

In the 21st century, water is being dubbed ‘blue gold’ and the prediction is that wars will be fought over it, just as they have been over oil and other resources. Certainly there are regions of the world, principally in the Middle East, where water is in critically short supply. Yemen has the dubious honour of being tipped as a country about to run dry.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the USA, is reputed to have said
‘When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water’. How much more true that would be if you had had to walk for several hours to reach the well in the first place. And how tempting to stop off on the way at a polluted source, leading to illnesses such as diarrhoea and cholera.
Tapping in: the journey to reach this water source may have been a long one
Photo: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

At a local level, tensions often rise where shortages are found: human nature makes sharing a challenge, and queuing for water can be one burden too many in an already difficult day.

Add into this mix the fact that one in four people in the world live in countries which are officially termed ‘fragile and conflict-affected states’. And they are the very same people who are most likely to be without access to safe water or improved sanitation. For shortages are not necessarily absolute as in Yemen: often they are down to poor infrastructure, and are entirely fixable.

In the DRC, the government is known to be an unreliable provider of services. As one man commented ‘Who is the government? Who are they? I have never seen them. They have not brought schools or clinics to the village.

Toilet Twinning uses a ‘community-led total sanitation’ approach to development - you could call it a ‘bottom up’ strategy. The local community identifies their own needs and resources, and are trained, helped and encouraged to achieve their goals. And it’s called ‘total sanitation’ because Toilet Twinning works to enable water supply, hygiene education and sanitation, not just latrines.

In Afghanistan, for example, locally-trained manufacturers have developed and installed water purification systems in a school, giving children access to clean and safe drinking water. The school has now seen a significant improvement in the health of the students and hygiene education has been integrated into their regular activities.

Educating and empowering people to come up with their own solutions brings dignity and sustainability. And that has to make for a more peaceful world.

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