A new project in Sierra Leone shows us the importance of ensuring water and sanitation in schools to reverse the impoverishment of neglected rural areas. Passing on to students the ability to manage the facilities turns them into educational agents in their communities, ensures sustainability, and gives them an empowered future.
In this turbulent 2022, we have helped people displaced by war and improved the lives of farmers and schoolchildren. The rights of women and children to access water, sanitation, and hygiene have remained our main focus. We have participated in major international debates on climate and water, promoting dialogue and awareness. But it is not enough; we must continue to move forward to turn water and sanitation from a problem into a solution.
Violence and the climate crisis have already displaced 100 million people worldwide. The meeting "Sanitation in Conflict," which we organized with World Vision, UNICEF, and UNHCR on World Toilet Day, revealed little-known aspects of a humanitarian crisis that is spreading and that, in many cases, we tend to forget.
In a new project in Malawi, we address menstrual hygiene and education in schools as a comprehensive and irreplaceable element of any approach to access to water and sanitation. Beyond clean water and safe latrines, school children need dedicated facilities, access to supplies, teacher training, and cultural changes among the children, their parents, and the rest of the community. Only then can we talk about complete sanitation.
International cooperation must not remain just a goal. Achieving effective global alliances is essential to confront the climate and humanitarian crises we are experiencing. We must move from declarations of good intentions to tangible and binding commitments. Civil society is responsible for mobilizing and pushing political and institutional power in this direction. This is especially evident in the problems of access to water and sanitation.
In recent years, severe droughts and heat waves have triggered a water crisis in the basin of the Euphrates, Syria's main river and the cradle of the first civilization in history. Its deterioration threatens the survival of a population exhausted by more than a decade of war in which lack of water has been used as a ruthless weapon.
Achieving universal access to sanitation requires us to develop decentralized alternatives that, disconnected from sewerage networks and centralized treatment, allow the most disadvantaged communities to obtain the minimum conditions of health and dignity. They are a valuable option in slums and remote rural areas where neither a sewerage network nor centralized treatment plants are feasible. They are an option for communities to reap the benefits of the circular economy and self-management.
Small-scale rainwater harvesting enables many families to drink, cook and wash when supplies fail. It is an increasingly useful resource when aquifers are polluted or depleted, and a tool for adapting to climate change in many dry and depressed areas.
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