Why water access matters to poverty reduction
March 21st, 2014
06:29 PM ET

Why water access matters to poverty reduction

By Amanda Klasing, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Amanda Klasing is a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

This Saturday is World Water Day – a day the United Nations and its member countries have devoted to promoting sustainable management of the world's water resources. It seems fitting that it falls in March, women’s history month, because the lives of women and their families are inextricably linked to access to clean water and sanitation.

Over the last eight years, I’ve spent countless hours speaking with women and girls in Haiti about how access to clean water and sanitation shapes their lives.

Long before the 2010 earthquake, women told me how poor drainage and large-scale erosion left many homes, communities, and agricultural plots at risk of flooding. When hurricanes and tropical storms hit, they had watched as their homes, their families’ crops (and livelihood), and the only roads that connected them to the rest of society washed away toward the ocean.

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Topics: Development • Water • Women
December 10th, 2013
06:32 PM ET

Clean water should not be a pipe dream

By Jane Cohen, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jane Cohen is a senior environmental health researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

I met Louisa, a nurse in Harare, when I asked if I could use her toilet. Louisa lives in a sprawling community on the fringe of Harare. I was in her neighborhood doing research on the city’s collapsing water and sanitation infrastructure. As Louisa led me around to the toilet at the back of her house, she apologized profusely. Without running water, the toilet didn’t flush. She gave me the water she had stored in buckets to wash down the toilet, but she often doesn’t even have that. When there is no water, she goes into the field near her house. “Going to the bathroom outdoors is humiliating,” she told me. “All these toilets used to flush, but now there’s no water and we don’t have any choice.”

In the last 30 years Zimbabwe’s water and sanitation situation has deteriorated. Over the past year I visited eight communities in and around Harare. I saw many homes that once had functioning toilets that were now out of order because of lack of water. People told me that sometimes raw sewage would back up through the toilets and spill into their homes. In some neighborhoods, burst pipes let sewage into the streets. Flies – which can carry disease from sewage into people’s homes as they hop from feces to food – were everywhere.

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Topics: Water
Why water is key to Syria conflict
September 17th, 2013
10:32 AM ET

Why water is key to Syria conflict

By Michael Shank and Emily Wirzba, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Emily Wirzba is program assistant for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at FCNL. The views expressed are their own.

The agreement forged by Russia and the United States over the weekend on Syria’s chemical weapons is good news for diplomacy, and bodes well for any restart of the Geneva II peace process aimed at ending the country’s civil war. But the short-term focus on chemical weapons use risks undermining some much-needed long-term thinking on the issue.

Of course, both sides in the Syrian conflict need to be held accountable for their alleged use of (or, in the case of some rebels, their alleged attempts to acquire) chemical weapons. But even after any stockpiles have been accounted for and dealt with, there will still be the outstanding question of how to resolve the ongoing civil war.

And the Obama administration should belatedly be willing to address a surprising source of the current tensions – water shortages. Indeed, the sad fact is that the United States could have helped prevent tensions in Syria from escalating into civil breakdown if it had worked with the international community to tackle a growing problem with this most basic of resources.

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Topics: Syria • Water
March 22nd, 2013
11:09 AM ET

The coming water wars?

This article was originally posted last month. It is being reposted today, World Water Day. For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Global Public Square staff

Imagine a large body of water – about the size of the Dead Sea – simply disappearing. It sounds like a science fiction movie. But it’s not. It’s happening in real life – and we've only just found out.

A pioneering study from NASA and the University of California Irvine shows how the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. As you can see from the satellite imagery in the video, we’re going from blues and greens, to yellows and reds: that’s 144 cubic kilometers of lost water between 2003 and 2009. What do we mean by “lost water”? Most of it comes from below the Earth’s surface, from water trapped in rocks. In times of drought, we tend to drill for water by constructing wells and pumps. But the Earth has a finite supply. NASA’s scientists say pumping for water is the equivalent of using up your bank savings. And that bank account is dwindling.

This could have serious implications. Conflicts over water are as old as the story of Noah – in 3,000 BC. The Pacific Institute lists 225 such conflicts through history. What’s fascinating is that nearly half of those conflicts took place in the last two decades. Are we going to see a new era of wars fought over water?

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Topics: Conflict • Water • What in the World?
The resource problem you probably haven't heard about
March 22nd, 2013
10:09 AM ET

The resource problem you probably haven't heard about

By Christiana Z. Peppard, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Christiana Z. Peppard Ph.D. is assistant professor of theology and science in the Department of Theology at Fordham University and a Public Voices Fellow with The Op-Ed Project. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

World Water Day today is as good a time as any to consider one of the most important issues you’ve probably never pondered before. It’s a subject you’re going to hear about all the time in the coming decades.  Oil and gas are important, yet there is one resource that is irreplaceable, but which is going to become increasingly scarce, with serious implications for agriculture, health, our economies – even civilization itself.

Fresh water.

If you live in the longitudinal belt of the United States between Nebraska and Texas, then the water used for those fields – and now the suburbs – comes from the Ogallala Aquifer. Unfortunately, it’s depleting and polluted. Or perhaps you live in Israel or the West Bank, atop the Mountain Aquifer. There, a new study by NASA and University of California Irvine charts how groundwater depletion is accelerating. Likewise, Maryland residents may be surprised to learn that last year, the U.S. Geological Survey found the dwindling Patasco Aquifer to be over a million years old.

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Topics: Energy • Water
How to beat Africa’s water crisis
August 23rd, 2012
02:26 PM ET

How to beat Africa’s water crisis

By Michel Camdessus, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michel Camdessus is former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. This is the first in a new series of articles for GPS by members of the Africa Progress Panel, a foundation chaired by Kofi Annan.

Recent discoveries of water reserves under some of Africa’s mightiest deserts raise hopes for quenching African thirst. But the reality is much more grim. From parched desert to tropical forest, roughly 40 percent of Africans, mostly the rural poor, will not get access to clean water any time soon, a fact that exacerbates poverty, hunger, and disease. Indeed, every year, dirty water kills an estimated 750,000 African children under the age of five.

And while rich countries worry about obesity, recent droughts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa have forced millions of Africans to flee their ancestral lands in search of food. To complicate matters further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects climate change to hit Africa harder than anywhere else.

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Topics: Africa • Climate • Environment • United Nations • Water
China's growing water crisis
China said that more than 24 million people were short of drinking water in 2010 because of a crippling drought, the worst to hit the country in a century. (Getty Images)
August 10th, 2011
03:45 PM ET

China's growing water crisis

Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of World Politics Review. For more from WPR, sign up for a free trial of their subscription service, get their weekly e-mail, or follow them on Twitter.

By Elizabeth Economy, World Politics Review

What is the biggest challenge that China faces?

Corruption, the gap between the rich and poor, and the rapidly aging population often top the list of answers to this question.

Yet a closer look suggests that the greatest threat may well be lack of access to clean water. From "cancer villages" to violent protests to rising food prices, diminishing water supplies are exerting a profound and harmful effect on the Chinese people as well as on the country's capacity to continue to prosper economically.

While much of the challenge remains within China, spillover effects - such as the rerouting of transnational rivers and a push to acquire arable land abroad - are also being felt well outside the country's borders.

China's leaders have acknowledged the severity of the challenge and have adopted a number of policies to address their growing crisis. However, their efforts have fallen woefully short, as they fail to include the fundamental reforms necessary to turn the situation around. Meanwhile domestic pressures, as well as international concerns, continue to mount.

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Topics: China • Water
The biggest emergency I have ever seen
A newly arrived Somali refugee waits in a registration center in the Dadaab refugee camp on July 10,2011 in northeastern Kenya. Thousands of Somalis have fled into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia in recent weeks and many have died of starvation while fleeing due to one of the region's worst drought in decades. The over-crowded Dadaab refugee camp was built for 90,000, but is now home to over 380,000 Somali refugees.
July 14th, 2011
01:44 PM ET

The biggest emergency I have ever seen

Editor's Note: Elhadj As Sy is the UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

By Elhadj As Sy – Special to CNN

Not long ago, Hawa Issak realized that if she stayed in her home in Southern Somalia, she would not be able to secure the survival of her two children and herself. She was pregnant with a third child, her husband had left her and the region’s worst drought in decades had scorched the earth creating utter desolation.

She set out with six other families to find help in Kenya. It took them a month to reach Dadaab, on the other side of the Kenyan border, almost 200 miles away. It’s a remarkable feat for anyone. Now imagine thousands - tens of thousands - of people similarly on the move, stumbling for weeks through dust and scrub beneath a blistering sun. Most of them are women and children hoping to stay alive long enough to reach what has ballooned into the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Right now there is a massive and shocking humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa –specifically in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The triple shock of drought, skyrocketing food prices and the ongoing armed conflict in Somalia has created an almost perfect storm of disaster. FULL POST

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Topics: Africa • Aid • Crisis • Human Rights • Water
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