Mada Water Issues: Safe Drinking Water

You had to know that you could get through my blog without me talking about water at some point. I plan on posting a variety of blogs focused on water resources in Madagascar so be prepared.

11.7 million people don’t have access to safe water*

88% of Madagascar doesn’t have access to improved sanitation*

over 2,000 children die of diarrhea due to unsafe water and sanitation and it is the leading cause of death for children under five*

While I don’t agree entirely with these statics, I don’t technically have access to improved sanitation and I do just fine. However, this is one of the many areas where I have vazaha privileges. As you can imagine the US government isn’t about to send thousands of citizens overseas without access to water and sanitation. I have a water filter and sur eau (chlorine) so that I have access to safe water. I also have a kabone (outhouse) so I’m not polluting other people’s water source with my waste.

The reasons for the lack of access to safe water go beyond just a lack of resources. Sur eau can be bought in every town, but costs can be prohibitive for those living well under the poverty line. Water can also be made safe by boiling, but this also takes time and I can speak from experience that drinking hot water when you’re already sweating isn’t much fun. Kabones also need to be built and placed properly so that they don’t impact groundwater or other water sources.

There is also the education aspect. People don’t often know that there is the connection between their actions, such as defecating in the open or not washing their hands and diarrhea. One of the main things health volunteers do educate on the hand washing and using a kabone. I think that these behavior changes are just as important as having clean drinking water. Water can be boiled and filtered and chlorinated, but if this is combined with something as simple as hand washing then the problems will persist.

The last main issue is a cultural one. If you grow up urinating and defecating in the open then going in a kabone can be a hard transition to make. As anyone who has gone in an outhouse knows it doesn’t smell the best. In some parts of the country urinating or defecating in a kabone is fady (taboo) because it is seen as disrespecting the ancestors who are buried in the earth. These as well as behavior changes are in some cases more difficult to overcome than the lack of resources.

So far a lot of my town is comfortable with using a kabone, and a lot of them wash their hands afterwards, but not always with soap. (soap is yet another expense) When I’m around little kids, and even adults, I always make of point of showing that I’m washing my hands after using the kabone or before prepping food or eating to help start to getting people thinking about those habits.

 

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Health volunteers teaching hand washing

* Statistics are from http://www.wateraid.org/mg/what-we-do/the-crisis/water

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