Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Where I am, What I'm doing, and Why I'm doing it

Every year the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which is the branch of the UN specifically focused on development in the world’s poorest countries, produces the Human Development Report, which highlights the current state of the world’s people, specifically by using the Human Development Index (HDI), an annual ranking of the world’s countries using indicators such as life expectancy, adult literacy rate, and GDP per capita. Canada has consistently ranked in the top 10 since the HDI’s first use in the early 1990’s, even holding the number one spot for most of the ‘90s (Norway is currently ranked number one, and has held that spot since 2001). In the 2006 HDI Canada is ranked number 6 out of 177 countries, behind Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, and Sweden. Zambia, on the other hand, is ranked 165 out of 177. The following comparison of HDI indicators between Zambia and Canada clearly shows the disparities between these two countries in which I have lived:

Life Expectancy at Birth (years)

Canada 80.2
Zambia 37.7

Adult Literacy Rate (% age 15 and older)

Canada >99
Zambia 68

Combined Gross Enrolment Ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary schools (%)

Canada 93
Zambia 54

GDP per Capita (Purchasing Power Parity in US$)

Canada 31,263
Zambia 943

Life Expectancy is fairly self explanatory, as is Adult Literacy Rate. Combined Gross Enrolment Ratio is found by dividing the total number of students enrolled in various levels of school (excluding adult education) by the total number of the population falling in the appropriate age categories. GDP per Capita (GDP = Gross Domestic Product = the total value of the goods and services produced within a countries borders during a period of one year) is found by dividing the GDP by the total population, and adjusting it according to the value of the national currency and the relative price of goods and services in the country. The value is given in US dollars.

The theme of the 2006 Human Development Report is water and sanitation, and carries the slogan “Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty, and the global water crisis”. The need for water for basic functions of life has long been recognized and accepted worldwide, and has been labelled a basic human right. Yet still today much of the world is in desperate crisis regarding both water and sanitation. In our modern world more than 1 billion people lack access to clean water, and 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation. In Canada we hardly give water a second thought, but for those included in the previous statistics, lack of access to this simple liquid has far reaching consequences. Every year approximately 1.8 million children die of diarrhoea and other water or sanitation related diseases. In fact, unclean water is now the second leading killer of children worldwide. In many developing communities gathering water is the responsibility of the girls and women, requiring extensive time, involving many kilometres of walking and carrying heavy loads. This keeps mothers from properly caring for their children, and promotes gender inequalities in education and employment by keeping these women from attending school or getting jobs. As well, the physical ramifications of carrying such large burdens over extended distances are visible in the countless women who suffer from back and neck problems. Furthermore, the general ill health resulting from poor water and sanitary conditions that so many suffer from undermines economic productivity and makes it almost impossible to break the cycle of poverty that so many find themselves in. As you can see, water and sanitation goes much further than the luxury of an aesthetically pleasing glass of water, which is pretty much the only thing that most Canadians need to worry about.

To fight this crisis, and others associated with wide spread extreme poverty, the United Nations came up with a set of eight goals, signed by all 191 UN member countries in September 2000. These goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are aimed at reducing the number of people in the world suffering from the effects of extreme poverty, and reducing the extreme inequalities faced by millions of people around the world. Specific to our current topic, the seventh goal is:

“To Ensure Environmental Sustainability” with the sub-goal of “reducing by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water”. It is toward this goal that WaterAid, a UK based NGO (non-governmental organisation) strives.

The crisis of water and sanitation is dramatically apparent in the Luapula province of Zambia. It is both the most remote, and the most underdeveloped of Zambia’s nine provinces. Compared to the other provinces, Luapula has the highest percentage of people lacking access to safe water (approx. 81%), the highest percentage of people lacking access to adequate sanitation (approx. 98%), and the highest infant mortality rate (almost 140 deaths/1000 births). As such, WaterAid Zambia, who has been working in Zambia since 1994, has chosen to begin a new program in Luapula.

WaterAid Zambia does not actually implement on the ground projects, but rather partners with local NGOs and governments to fund and support them in implementing water and sanitation related projects. In Luapula, WaterAid has three implementing partners. The one I will be working with is the Milenge District Council. Provinces in Zambia are divided into Districts, which are further divided into wards. The Milenge District is located approximately 260 kms south and slightly east of the province’s capital city, Mansa. Milenge is a new district, only separating from Mansa district in 1997 This, along with it being so remote and rural mean that it is operating with many council positions vacant. My role with the council will be to aid them in implementing the WaterAid directed water and sanitation program, including the construction of new boreholes and hand-dug wells, the installation of hand pumps on these wells, the construction of household latrines, and the implementation of a hygiene education program. I will work closely with the council members in charge of the project, as well as working with the WaterAid Senior Program Officer. Last year was a pilot year in the district, and this year is the scale up year.

In addition to simply increasing access to water and sanitation, one of WaterAid’s goals is to build the capacity of its partner organisations, and the communities in which they work, to better enable them to implement projects after WaterAid is gone. The goal is sustainable change in behaviour and attitudes, not simply handouts of free pumps and materials to build latrines. In fact WaterAid requires beneficiaries to contribute substantially to projects where they can. This includes performing labour such as digging out a latrine pit, gathering local materials such as sand and crushed stone, and paying the latrine builders or well diggers, either in cash or in kind (payments of chickens or bags of maize are acceptable). This not only seeks to avoid the culture of dependency that is so often produced from aid work, but also gives beneficiaries a degree of ownership over the projects, which results in a much more sustainable outcome, more likely to be repeated in the future without outside help.

I am writing this from Mansa, at the WaterAid field office, where I have been working for the past two days. Tomorrow I will head to Milenge to meet the council and begin my work. I have much to learn yet, and the task of having impact seems more than just a little daunting. I am both excited and apprehensive as I am finally only a day away from beginning the work that I came here over two months ago for.

For more information on many of the topics in this post, please visit some of the links to the right of the page, or the following websites:

WaterAid International

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

United Nations Human Development Report

Millennium Development Goals

I hope that gives you a bit of context for my work here, and will set the tone for many of the posts to come. There is obviously no internet access in Milenge and I am not due back in Mansa for at least a few weeks, so no posts for a while. Keep posting your comments and I’ll give an update when I get back online next!! Also, I finally have an address that things can be mailed it. It's the WaterAid office in Mansa, so I'll get things when I'm back in town. The address is:

WaterAid Zambia

Mansa Office

Room 2410, 1st floor

NAPSA Building

Chitimukulu Road

PO Box 710618

Mansa, Luapula



ashley raeside said...

Teach it brother!!!

Great post to tell us about what you'll be working on and why - those are great links with tons of info Trev!

Good luck in Milenge....looking forward to your impressions and insight!


Sue Titcombe said...

This was a really fascinating post. I haven't been able to follow all the links yet, but I will.

I hope you're doing well and working hard. We'll look forward to the next update, whenever it may come.

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