Sanitation and dirty consciences [Archives:2008/1141/Viewpoint]

March 27 2008

This year's World Water Day celebrated on March 20, was dedicated to sanitation. UN General Assembly declared 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, in an attempt to raise awareness and to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to reduce by half the proportion of the 2,6 billion people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

UNDP 2006 Human Development Report on power, poverty and the global water crises categorized Yemen as an emergency case, indicating that Yemen has one of the world's lowest fresh water availability and the amount is dropping far below the global average.

A 2005 Yemeni parliament report indicated that 55,000 children die annually due to diseases related to water pollution. The report, which warned of the spread of contaminated water use, confirmed that 50 percent of childhood death cases in Yemen are due to water pollution, 20 percent due to diarrhea and 30 percent due to malaria and typhoid.

According to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) there were more than three million death cases registered in 2000 due to water pollution-related diseases mostly among rural people who represent 77 percent of Yemen's population. Polio, typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, diarrhea and bilharzias are diseases caused by contaminated water and very common in Yemeni villages and countryside where people are forced to use unsafe surface water for drinking.

However, this is only half of the story. In a press release by Transparency International on water and corruption it highlights that the same UN report on water and development, says that corruption is the primary reason why clean drinking water remains unobtainable for 1.1 billion people.

Corruption ranges from petty bribery in water delivery to procurement-related looting – from covering up industrial pollution to manipulation and distortion of fundamental water management and allocation policies. Whether within governments, between them and the private sector, or between officials and consumers, corruption in the water sector hurts everyone.

Households pay with their physical health, as poor quality or non-existent water supplies increase their vulnerability to deadly diseases. Irrigation and hydropower are made unviable, shutting the door to more abundant crops and sustainable electricity.

Young children are kept from school, forced instead to collect the household's daily water supply. The poor must often pay bribes to connect their households to water pipes or tankers. Corruption helps inflate the cost of small-scale infrastructure like boreholes, and diverts irrigation water away from poor villages through biased distribution decisions. For many, daily life is a constant struggle for access to water.

In its Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector, Transparency International delves into the obstacles and opportunities for making the water MDG a reality.

Yemen cannot cope with the water crisis it is facing as it is, and with corruption the problem is made worse. What we need is a transparent, just and effective governance of water for safer water and better health for our people.