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Clean, safe water is a 'luxury'

There is a flood of concern about water today.
That concern is related to the environment, to human rights, to politics, to security.
Think of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water that contained lead and other toxins.
Many water delivery systems throughout the United States use lead pipes, and lead breaks down over time, especially when exposed to corrosive water.
According to the American Water Works Association, there are 6 million lead lines in American water systems today.
And according to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 2.5 percent of children in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their blood, a direct result of drinking contaminated water.
Water privatization – when private corporations buy or operate public water utilities – is often suggested as a solution to municipal budget problems and aging water systems. This often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service and job losses, notes foodandwaterwatch.org.
Some consider water scarcity a major threat to national security.
But government and private agencies are helping to make clean water more accessible. According to the World Heath Organization, in 2015, 91 percent of the world’s population had access to an improved drinking-water source, compared to 76 percent in 1990; 2.6 billion people had gained access to an improved drinking-water source.
Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such including cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.
“It’s a human right to have access to clean, safe water,” emphasized Carolyn Crowley Meub, executive director of the Rutland-based Pure Water for the World, adding that provisions must be made to pay for the infrastructure. “In developing countries [those who] go in and build a system need funds for [future] maintenance and repairs. You need the money to keep the infrastructure going.”
Pure Water for the World is a non-profit organization with a mission to improve the health and livelihood of children and families, living in underserved communities in Central America and the Caribbean, by providing effective tools and education to establish sustainable safe water, hygiene and sanitation solutions.
It receives support from a variety of sources including Catholic parishes, schools and religious.
But water issues revolve around more than potability; for some, water is non-accessible or it is non-existent.
Imagine if everyone in France spent every working hour collecting water. The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water. That's the same as an entire year of labor in all of France. That's time that children could be spending in school and parents could be conducting income-generating activities.
In 2015, 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa did not have access to an improved, reliable drinking water source.
Father Romanus Igweonu, pastor of St. Bridget and St. Stanislaus Kostka churches in West Rutland and St. Dominic Church in Proctor, grew up in eastern Nigeria where he experienced what he called three categories of water users: those in rural areas, suburban areas and cities.
He recalled growing up in a rural area in the 1970s and 1980s, riding his bicycle over rough terrain for 15 miles to get 20 liters of drinking water in jerry cans for his family of seven. Though the water was potable, his father – a teacher – insisted the family set an example and boil and filter the water before drinking it to prevent diseases like Guinea worm.
At other times, Father Igweonu walked about three miles to fetch water in pottery jars from a pond. The water had to be purified and filtered and was used for cooking and bathing.
But fetching the water was not a chore; it was recreation. “We chatted and walked together with other families,” he recalled. It was a way to build community.
The family moved to a suburban area when he was in high school. The government had built dams to create ponds as a water source. The distance to walk for that water was about a mile, and it had to be boiled.
When the pond dried in the dry season, people dug holes to reach the water about five feet below the surface. “When you dug it, it became your spot,” Father Igweonu said.
If that water source dried up, the nearest spring was about 15 miles away, and there people had to stand in line to get their water, an endeavor that could take a whole day.
It was a “noble trip” to get drinking water for the family during water scarcity, he said.
Later The United Nations International Children's Fund built a bore hole so people could access water with a hand pump, water that did not have to be boiled. But there was not enough water: Father Igweonu likened it to all of West Rutland having one water source. And sometimes people were impatient and tried to cut in line or fought while waiting in line.
When he lived in an urban area, water was available in homes, but the water delivery was unreliable because the electricity needed to power it was unreliable; some people kept a bucket of water for use during a power outage.
As a priest in Nigeria, he had to have someone get his water so he could be available for his priestly work in a parish with 12 churches. “Here [in the United States] it is easy to get water. It is a luxury for me.”
But he cautioned that the developed world must have a plan so that water resources are sustainable.
“Clean drinking water, safe hygiene practices and proper sanitation are essential to thriving communities. They are prerequisites to human health and wellbeing and play a fundamental role in economic stability,” Meub said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to every community’s water problems. Instead, we partner with communities, working together to develop customized, sustainable solutions that meet their needs and eliminate waterborne illnesses.”
It’s easy to take water for granted and get “cranky” if water doesn’t come out of the faucet as it should, she said.
She encourages vigilance about water practices even in Vermont.  “Just because we have it now doesn’t mean we always will.”
  • Published in Diocesan
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