Pulitzer Center Update

World Toilet Day is no joke

Peter Sawyer and Maura Youngman, Pulitzer Center

Lede Comp

On November 19, World Toilet Day 2009, sanitation advocates at the U.S. Capitol made the point that going number two in the absence of sanitation is nothing to giggle about -- and that access to clean water is nothing to take for granted.

Nearly 2.6 billion people worldwide, 40% of the world's population, lack access to basic sanitation; 1.1 billion do not have access to clean water. One result is that 1.8 million people, mostly young children, die each year from easily preventable water related diseases. In sub-Saharan
Africa complications from the lack of sanitation and clean water are holding back economic growth -- to the tune of 5% of the region's current GDP each year, or more than the region's entire share of international foreign aid.The technology to solve the clean water and sanitation problem already exists. Only political momentum and awareness are in short supply.

Representatives from Water for People, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Water Advocates (which organized the event) were on hand to describe the depth of the crisis and possible solutions. Click below to hear their perspectives.

Katryn Bowe, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Caetie Ofiesh, Water for the People

Heather Allen, Natural Resources Defense Council

Middle school students from the
OysterAdamsBilingualSchool in
Washington, DC were also at the Capitol. They were raising awareness about the difficulties of not having a private, sanitary place to defecate and the attendant consequences: girls dropping out of school for lack of privacy, children and adults stricken with water-related diseases causing them to miss school and work, and women being forced to walk miles daily for water that may not even be safe. The students organized a walk-a-thon with the added burden of carrying buckets of water -- and in the process raising money to build a latrine for a school in
Nicaragua
. The experience gave them a sip of the daily struggle to find water in areas with limited access and taught them about their ability to address issues of global concern. You can hear about their efforts in this video.

The stories the students told recall the work of Sarah Stuteville, a reporter funded by the Pulitzer Center. In the course of her travels, Sarah joined residents of Dillo, Ethiopia on their daily trek to a deep crater holding a small pond of brackish water. She describes the trial of carrying 50 lbs of water strapped to her back with old ropes. The Washington students mentioned their sore legs; the women of Dillo contend with broken limbs, and worries of miscarriage should a pregnant woman fall. Worse yet, the water they fetch is disease-ridden and kills around twenty residents of the village every year. Learn more about the women of Dillo.

For related reporting, visit the Pulitzer Center's interactive Gateway Portal, WaterWars.