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WASH for human rights

Published on 20th October 2014


Clean water isn’t just a health issue, it cuts across all areas of life. Peter Brown is volunteering as a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Advisor to World Vision on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. He says, “It’s hard really to think of something that WASH doesn’t impact because everyone needs water to live. Providing secure toilets at schools increases attendance rates of girls because it increases their safety. School attendance can also increase because children don’t have to spend three or four hours each morning collecting water. Post-natal deaths through infection decrease because water is available for washing hands and equipment.”

In Kiribati, Roslyn Clark is volunteering as Water and Sanitation Engineer at the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities in Tarawa, Kiribati. This small nation has its own problems with water, due to its extremely low altitude and high-saline water table. Roslyn’s manager Martin Mataio says “Improvements in WASH would greatly improve the quality of life for I-Kiribati, in particular women and children. Children are more susceptible to diseases, and improvements in water quality would reduce diseases.”

 

People wade through seawater up to their waists, towards a distant island

Onotoa Island Kiribati. (Photo by Roslyn Clarke.)

 

Life for women, especially, improves with easy access to clean, safe water, as culturally they are responsible for collecting it.

 

But, Martin explains, “The water and sanitation in Kiribati is lacking. There is a lack of awareness about good hygiene practices, a lack of planning on sanitation systems and no funds to actually complete the works.”

 

At a practical level, he adds, “within the water and sanitation engineering unit, we lack the necessary skills to be able to drive these larger projects.” Roslyn’s “daily technical support and advice within the office and water engineering team” has helped to build that capacity, he says.

 

Roslyn says Kiribati’s water supply is fragile and at risk of saltwater intrusion from sea level rise.

 

“This water supply is pumped from the Bonriki water reserve, however only operates for approximately two hours, every other day.”

 

Currently, she says, “the lack of space and basic infrastructure increases the risk of contamination from human and animal waste, which causes diseases.”

 

Roslyn is working on a number of projects to make improvements: rehabilitating South Tarawa’s wastewater system, constructing 30 residential toilets in South Tarawa, and a study of king tides and salinity levels of Onotoa, an outer island.

 

Back in Vanuatu, World Vision’s programme is relatively new, but Peter says “people are beginning to wash their hands more and use toilets more so we’ve made a start in the right direction.”

 

World Vision has also built nutrition education in to their programme, because many of the communities in the area have high levels of child stunting, meaning children are short for their age. “This usually means that brain development is affected resulting in reduced ability to concentrate and learn, so they may have difficulties at school.”

 

Malnutrition is caused by poor diet, but also “diarrhea from unsafe sanitation and water. World Vision teaches people how to cook a balanced diet for their children.”

 

The design phase of the water supply programme in Tanna has finished, so Peter will see out his assignment on “working with the rural water supply department to ensure that the water sector is strong enough to support the on-going sustainability of the project.”

 


This article originally appeared in Vista magazine, Issue two 2014.

 

 

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