Guinea Worm Disease
“[I want the] last guinea worm to die before I do.” Jimmy Carter may soon get his wish. The former President of the United States has spent the last 30+ years on a number of humanitarian missions through his namesake nonprofit—The Carter Center—but people may undoubtedly see one particular mission as ranking among its magna opera. That mission is to eradicate Guinea worm disease (GWD), and frankly, those worms are unpleasant at best.

What is Guinea Worm Disease?

GWD is a parasitic infection in which extremely small worms enter the human body through contaminated water, leading to crippling, painful blisters about a year later when the matured female worm emerges. It has been infecting people since ancient times, and in the mid-1980s, an estimated 3.5 million cases existed across at least 20 countries, including 17 in Africa. In 2019, however, there were only 54 cases in humans.

Success in Reducing GWD

This is thanks largely to the efforts of The Carter Center, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. This partnership has been leading the charge against the disease both in introducing preventative measures in hotspots on the ground in Africa and by raising awareness in the developed world since 1986. Since no vaccine or other modern treatment exists for Guinea worm disease, The Carter Center’s strategies most often include working with health ministries and community-based volunteer groups in order to stop the spread of GWD and bring attention to it via health education.

The attention is important because of the rapid ability of the disease to spread. One missed case can lead to 80+ new infections over one year and delay a country’s ability to control the disease for just as long. This is partly why the WHO has strict criteria when assessing the disease in a given area.

When Can One Consider a Country Free of GWD?

A country must have zero new cases for at least three years for it to receive a declaration of being free of GWD. Despite the rigorous criteria, some countries continue to encounter problems confronting the disease. Chad, for example, has reported almost 2,000 infections in dogs in 2019—a testament to the disease’s stealth and endurance over the years.

In fact, “years” may be an understatement—GWD has emerged in Medieval Middle Eastern and Ancient Egyptian texts under a variety of labels, with some Egyptian mummies even showing evidence of the worm’s presence in their remains. The Old Testament even refers to it as a ‘fiery serpent’ (citing the on-fire feeling when the creature emerges through the skin).

The Correlation Between GWD and Sanitation

In more recent years, the disease received highlight in the early ‘80s as an international threat to clean water—which is where the fight to eliminate the disease originated. Even today, GWD exists primarily in countries—notably Chad and Ethiopia—that consistently rank among the poorest in the world (and are thus most lacking in access to clean water).

The Carter Center has sought to combat this shortfall as well, specifically by introducing a straw-like pipe filter that allows people in affected countries to drink from any water source without fear of contamination.

The eradication of the disease would mean the end of widespread, debilitating illness across several predominantly African nations. Although the fight has gone on for decades, the organizations working to eliminate it now say that the end is in sight. Even Jimmy Carter made his wish—that GWD would go before him—as he was battling cancer a few years ago.

Now, the eradication of all diseases of this sort will be the target of the U.S.’s End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which entered into law earlier in 2020. The goal of the act is to facilitate and coordinate an effective, research-based international effort to end neglected tropical diseases, such as GWD, with special emphasis on impoverished nations.

If the world meets international goals, GWD would become the second human disease (behind smallpox) and the first parasitic disease to experience eradication. It would also be the first disease to disappear without the use of a vaccine or medicine.

– Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

apps improving access to clean waterThe United Nation’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal is devoted to enhancing clean water and sanitation. Specifically, it calls for equitable access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for all by 2030. However, nearly one-third of the global population lacks access to clean drinking water. Some companies are making solutions to this problem in the form of apps improving access to clean water.

The Problem

The World Health Organization defines safe water as 20 liters per person per day of accessible, clean drinking water within one kilometer of a household or business. Without safe water, families must spend more time caring for sick loved ones and fetching water from far-away sources. This often prevents them from joining the workforce and earning an income. Businesses and schools that are unable to provide safe water often struggle to retain staff and students. Overall, communities without safe water are more susceptible to illnesses and destruction from natural disasters. Indeed, diarrheal diseases stemming from unsafe water usage and poor sanitation kills nearly 1,000 children per day.

Thankfully, technological innovation for accessing clean water is on the rise. New technological solutions range from fog-to-water conversion systems to easy-to-use water filters. Below are three apps improving access to clean water by collecting, harnessing and sharing important water systems data around the world.

mWater

John Feighery, a former NASA employee, and his wife Annie Feighery created mWater in the mid-2000s for Android devices. After working for a company testing well water in El Salvador, Mr. Feighery learned that the process of testing for clean water was cumbersome and expensive. He collected samples with heavy machinery, transported them to a far-away lab for testing and recorded locations by hand. Mr. Feighery decided he could simplify the process using technology he used with the International Space Station.

He and his wife created mWater, which records the results and precise locations of water quality tests on a mobile device. Anyone with the app can view the data. Users can add pictures and write notes on scent and appearance. Additionally, they can add data from new tests they’ve conducted using the $10 water testing kit available from the app.

With its global water quality database and expedited process of identifying safe water, mWater is one of the most comprehensive apps improving access to clean water. Today, more than 75,000 governments, NGOs, health workers and researchers use mWater for free in 180 countries. They include UN-Habitat, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and The Water Project. Altogether, mWater receives and records 250,000 water surveys per month for public use.

Akvo Flow

One of the few apps improving access to clean water is Akvo Flow. Peter van der Linde and Jeroen van der Sommen founded Akvo Flow after meeting at the World Water Week conference, in Stockholm. They wanted to improve the way that water quality data was presented via open-source technology. This allows governments and organizations to better address the issue of finding safe water. Akvo works with users to design projects, capture meaningful data, understand the data and act to improve conditions. To date, Akvo has implemented software in 70 countries by working with more than 20 governments and 200 organizations.

It aims to increase accountability, transparency and productivity for each partner organizations. Akvo Flow does this by streamlining the data collection process, which allows for quicker decision making. Some of its partnerships include setting up a sanitation monitoring system in Mauritania and working with Water for People in Peru to design solutions. Additionally, it works with UNICEF and the Ministry of Water Resources to test water quality nationwide in Sierra Leone.

Open Water Data

As the name suggests, Open Water Data makes water data available to the public. Founded in 2017 by a group of software engineers and data scientists from Datameet, Open Water Data only applies to India, where it is based. Extreme flooding followed by water-source depletion in India led the group to question the country’s water management systems. They found that the public is unable to access much of India’s water data, despite the fact that local governments need extensive data to implement water management systems.

In response, the founders created an easy-to-use map-based web app with available data from Google’s Earth Engine. It includes datasets from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Now, the app is one of a few improving access to clean water. It is a one-stop-shop for information on daily rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater and reservoir shortages. Researchers and local governments can create simple models in water-scarce regions and plan for flood mitigation using Open Water Data’s tools. Additionally, plans are in place to create a database that all parties can contribute to.

The Future of Apps Improving Access to Clean Water

In July 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the progress of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Specifically, he cited climate change, pollution and increasing demand as obstacles. If clean water and sanitation remain problems in 2030, global health, education and climate change will suffer. These apps improving access to clean water through data management are just one way that technology can crowdsource solutions to the global water crisis.

McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr

Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

water politicsWater scarcity and unequal water access are two pressing problems facing the global community. The political response to this crisis has created the field of water politics. In order to address this crisis, the global community must consider water as a human right and prioritize implementing sustainable solutions for the future.

The Problem

Water is one of humans’ basic needs. However, every continent has regions experiencing the effects of water scarcity. With experts predicting that one in five people will live in areas with unsatisfactory resources to meet water needs by 2025, this is an urgent issue.

Although water is a renewable resource, restored by snowmelt and rainfall, human practices are depleting the world’s water supply. Diverting water for agriculture, households and industry has become so taxing that some of the largest rivers run dry before reaching the ocean. Human activity can also pollute water sources to such an extent that they cannot support aquatic life or be used as drinking water.

Water Scarcity and Conflict

Water Politics Limited, a geopolitical risk advisory and consulting firm, found that water scarcity could lead to conflict or political instability in many countries. Sources including the Euphrates, Tigris, Jordan, Nile, Danube and Okavango rivers as well as the Tibetan watershed and resources will become insufficient to support the surrounding areas. These sources currently provide water to dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Water scarcity will therefore affect communities across the globe. Importantly, it may spark conflict over remaining water resources, within a nation or even between nations. Anya Groner at The Atlantic points to evidence of past conflicts that have revolved around water. These include the riots in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012, which responded to inequality in the distribution of water resources.

The Pacific Institute put together a timeline of water conflicts from the earliest records until 2019. Causes of these conflicts include territorial disputes, drought, inequities and municipal water cuts. The severity of conflict may range from protests and theft to more violent killings and bombings. This makes it clear that decreases in water access may lead to political or violent conflict if the world does not take action to ensure sustainable, equitable water access for all.

Water Politics: Managing the Resource

Countries facing water scarcity have the difficult task of allocating a limited resource. To ensure that everyone can access water, these countries must take many different steps. Cape Town, South Africa, is an apt case study. In 2018, a combination of a dry climate, a three-year drought, and high water usage all put the city within 90 days of running out of water. The severity of this crisis required the whole region to pull together to decrease their water usage.

To avoid turning off the taps, the government restricted residents to 50 liters of water a day. Violators faced large fines for overusing water. Further, the government banned wasteful activities like refilling swimming pools and washing cars. Residents also took to social media to share tips about saving water. Specifically, the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” campaign emerged to encourage everyone to resist flushing when applicable.

Social media, however, was not just useful as a tool to disseminate information and motivate residents to conserve water. Perhaps more importantly, it also drew the global community’s attention to the state of the world’s water resources and the consequences of water scarcity. The Environmental Protection Agency has also used social media to inform the public about the value of safe drinking water. The agency aims to get users to create their own water conservation campaigns to implement into their communities.

Technology and Water Politics

However, awareness about this issue cannot solve it on its own. Innovators around the globe have engineered new ways to collect freshwater and provide clean water to communities worldwide. These solutions may be as simple as rain barrels used during monsoon season in Vietnam, or as complex as a nylon net hoisted into low clouds to collect condensation in island nations. Technologies like desalinization and iodine tablets have also helped transform water sources into safe drinking water.

Additionally, Water Politics Limited is conducting research on how to maximize water access through political action. It is investigating water transport and pipeline initiatives, exporting water, worldwide water rights and public participation in water conservation.

Moving Forward

As nations move forward with water politics initiatives, we must pay attention to regions most at risk of experiencing severe water scarcity. Places like sub-Saharan Africa with dry climates have already been plunged into prolonged droughts, facing political conflict as a result. Thankfully, public awareness campaigns, technological innovations and governmental cooperation can ensure that everyone has a right to safe drinking water.

Ellie Williams
Photo: Flickr

The Backwaters of Kerala
The backwaters of Kerala in India are a maze of lakes, streams and lagoons with a unique ecosystem. Over the years, a variety of challenges have affected the backwaters and threatened the ecosystem, such as contamination from pesticides that farmers use in paddy fields, dumping of chemical emissions from factories and sewage from cities, unregulated sand dredging for construction, and in recent decades, the tourism boom that has worsened water pollution.

Tourism and Pollution

Over 15 million tourists visited Kerala in 2017. Backwater cruises in houseboats, called Kettuvallams, are a popular tourist activity. A reported 70% of households along the Alleppey backwaters are involved in providing tourist services in one form or another.

The popularity of the backwaters as a tourist experience led to a surge in the number of houseboats. More than 1,000 houseboats operate on the backwaters, far beyond capacity, and a large number are not registered. A houseboat can produce up to 1,000 liters of waste a day. Due to lax regulations, most of the houseboats discharge sewage directly into the waters. Emissions and oil leakages from the houseboats and dumping of plastics and other inorganic waste have further contaminated the backwaters.

Effects on the Lives of the Local People

Pollution from sewage dumping, salinization of the water, sand dredging and other such disruptions have affected the lives of the locals in the backwaters of Kerala in many ways. Much of their traditions and cultural practices connect to the waterways. The backwaters are their primary water source, which they use for cooking, drinking, bathing, etc. But due to oil leakages, the water has a glossy residue and tastes like oil, making it dangerous to consume. Polluted waters also affect paddy fields that run alongside the backwaters. The contaminated water reportedly causes illnesses such as skin diseases. And there have been reports of tourist houseboats invading the privacy of the residents.

Additionally, over 1.5 million residents depend on Vembanad Lake for their livelihoods, and the ecological decline is a cause of great concern. Fisherfolks experience the most effects as several fish species have declined in large numbers or disappeared entirely.

Remedial Measures and Challenges

State and District pollution control authorities have set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) for proper treatment and disposal of sewage and created regulations to ensure compliance and identify unregistered houseboats. However, these efforts are not without setbacks. A Sewage Treatment Plant set up specifically for houseboats had to shut down due to operational problems, and dumping of sewage into the backwaters continued. Despite these challenges, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) emphasized the need for more STP’s and an enforcement wing to monitor the houseboats.

Local residents and organizations such as the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), have also taken steps to control pollution and restore the ecosystem. Every year in May, ATREE organizes the Vembanad Fish Count to document fish species and numbers and evaluate the water quality. Fishermen in Muhamma village, with the guidance of ATREE, have created fish sanctuaries to increase the number of fish. An anti-plastic straw campaign and workshops to spread awareness among women in Muhamma village about the advantages of reusable menstrual products also emerged. And more recently, solar-powered boats and non-motorized canoes are gaining popularity among tourists.

While the tourism boom has certainly benefited the State and created a reliable income source for many locals, preserving the backwaters of Kerala and its ecology is of utmost importance. Initiatives by residents, organizations and advocacy groups who have recognized the need for action and policy have helped spread awareness. And while much work needs to still occur, efforts to contain pollution and reverse the ill effects have intensified.

– Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr

Improved water resources in La Guajira
La Guajira is a department in Colombia, characterized by its limited water supply, underdeveloped infrastructure and desert-like features. In this same vein, the area also experiences frequent and severe droughts. Moreover, many of the rivers and tributaries located in La Guajira run dry due to these unfortunate droughts. Complicating the issue of water insecurity in the department — La Guajira is also home to about 400,000 indigenous people called the Wayuu. As a result, the Wayuu and other people living in La Guajira have to traverse great distances to reach a reliable water supply. Those who do not do this must resort to using wells that sometimes yield contaminated water. Understanding the dire conditions of the people living in this region, the government of Colombia put forth efforts to help create improved water resources in La Guajira.

Government Solutions: An Overarching Strategy

The solution that resulted in improved water resources in La Guajira was the La Guajira Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Service Management Project. The goal of the project was to create a large scale and overarching strategy to further develop the water supply and sanitation services in La Guajira. The project started in 2007 and came to a close in 2018. The project achieved its goal of bringing about improved water resources in La Guajira by recruiting the private sector to help public municipal companies in their delivery of water resources. Also, the project reached rural areas by building reservoirs where water could flow to the people who need it.

The La Guajira Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Service Management Project was a success. There were around 422,269 people in La Guajira who benefited from the project by receiving the water supply and sanitation that they so desperately needed. Of that number, 51% were women. There was an increase from 70% to 90% of water services coverage for 409,160 people living in urban areas. Furthermore, sanitation also increased for 362,131 people in urban areas — representing an increase from 53% to 80% in municipalities that participated with the project. By the time the project ended, it had established a clean water supply for about 90% of households within municipalities that worked with the project.

Impact on the Wayuu People

The Wayuu indigenous people and those living in rural areas benefited greatly from the efforts of the project as well. Ten reservoirs that were created to bring water to people living in out-of-reach, rural areas. Moreover, additional infrastructure was also created, such as fences, drinking points for livestock and safety measures for dams. The project also far exceeded its goal of achieving improved water resources for 3,500 Wayuu people. Instead, the project was able to give 8,881 Wayuu people improved water resources.

While work could still be done to create further improvements in water resources in La Guajira — the Colombian government was overall successful in providing the much-needed water resources for people living in the region. Often it is those living in rural locations, especially in countries with desert-like climates, that suffer greatly from water-insecurity. The Colombian government’s efforts to improve the lives of its rural citizens is both commendable and may act as a model for future nations.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Needpix

Clean Water in Mexico City
Mexico City, built on a lake, gets more rain than London. Yet, the city is facing a severe water shortage due to mismanagement and the massive growth of the city over the last half-century. Founded by the Aztecs in Lake Texcoco nearly 700 years ago, the city is nestled in a valley, making it especially prone to flooding. In ancient times, people got their freshwater from the surrounding water sources, but they drained them over time as the population increased. In the last 50 years, the city’s population has ballooned to more than 20 million people, exacerbating the crisis. Luckily, an NGO has emerged to provide clean water in Mexico City.

The Situation

Today more than 30% of the water in Mexico City is from far-off lakes and rivers, while the rest comes from an aquifer beneath the city. As people bring water up from the underground aquifer, a new problem arises: the city is sinking. The city has added steps to popular monuments because the bases are now so much higher than the ground around them. Some parts of the city are sinking by more than a foot per year. Many of the pipes that supply the city’s water are over 60 years old and are prone to leaking, with the sinking land making it more difficult to fix them. One government study estimated that Mexico City loses up to 40% of its drinking water to leaks, further draining the aquifer without any benefit to citizens.

While the Mexican government spends billions of dollars trying to manage the city’s water woes, poor residents suffer. Many must depend on unreliable water trucks that bring non-potable water, leaving residents to buy more expensive bottled water or soda for drinking. Trucked water is still valuable for washing dishes and running toilets, but the unreliability of delivery means that one resident in each household typically must always remain at their residence – causing economic losses among the poor.

A Practical Solution

In this precarious and damaging situation, the nonprofit Isla Urbana has found a solution to provide clean water in Mexico City – mass rainwater collection. Isla Urbana installs rainwater collection systems at households in impoverished parts of the city that do not connect to the city water system. A 100 square meter roof is capable of producing up to 100,000 liters of water each year at no cost to residents. The nonprofit describes four key benefits of this system:

  1. It reduces the flooding that plagues Mexico City by preventing water from going into storm drains.
  2. It decreases energy use in the form of pumping water or trucking water into homes.
  3. It provides water independence for families.
  4. It allows aquifers and rivers to heal and grow as people rely on them less for water resources.

Isla Urbana’s system consists of a gutter on the roof, a pipe to drain the water into a simple filtration system, a chlorinated basin underground and a pipe to bring water up after any remaining particles have fallen to the bottom of the basin. The system can connect water directly to a house’s plumbing system. The initial system does not produce potable water, but it is affordable enough that people can add to filtration systems, reducing the need to buy expensive bottled water. The government also does not charge people for the use of rainwater, freeing up income that citizens would have used to connect to the city water network or to pay for trucked water.

Making Progress

To date, Isla Urbana has installed over 20,000 systems, providing over 120,000 people with access to clean water in Mexico City. Currently, these systems collect over 800 million liters of water each year, the equivalent of over 80,000 water truck deliveries. With the help of funding from aid groups and the Mexican government, Isla Urbana plans to install 100,000 of its systems in Mexico City in the coming years. In the fight against extreme poverty, Isla Urbana is filling a crucial role in providing clean and safe drinking water to those in poverty or at a disadvantage.

– Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Zindagi Gulzar Hai
“Zindagi Gulzar Hai” is a popular Pakistani drama based on a book by Umera Ahmad. While the drama first aired on Hum TV in 2012, it is now available on YouTube and Netflix with English subtitles. Since then, the drama has captivated the hearts and minds of an international audience, winning one award after the next. While the drama is first and foremost a love story, what many fans fail to remember is that it provides great insight into poverty in Pakistan. This article aims to draw a comparison between the characters and the lives of millions of people in the country.

Plot Summary

The drama “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” depicts a love story between a lower-middle-class woman named Kashaf Murtaza and a wealthy Pakistani man named Zaroon Junaid. A single mother raised Kashaf and her two younger sisters. Their father abandoned them and remarried after their mother could not produce a male heir. This led Kashaf to distrust men from an incredibly early age, but it also gave her the incentive to receive an education and become self-dependent like her mother.

When she grew older, Kashaf received a scholarship to a prestigious university where she met a man from a wealthy Pakistani family named Zaroon. She instantly grew to dislike him due to his flirtatious and jealous nature once Kashaf outperformed him on several occasions. While Zaroon did not like her at first, he began to see wife-like qualities within her and eventually convinced her to marry him. As the drama progresses, it is clear that there are many differences between his wealthy lifestyle and her lower-middle-class background. Not only do these differences communicate the coexistence of two alternative realities in Pakistan, but they also reveal the challenges that millions of people face in the country today. Here are four aspects that the story reveals about poverty in Pakistan.

4 Aspects that “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” Reveals About Poverty in Pakistan

  1. Polygamy: In the drama, Kashaf’s father married twice because his first wife could not produce a son. While polygamy is not common in Pakistan, it is legal as long as a man obtains permission from his first wife. However, many women, especially in rural areas, do not know that their husband’s second marriage is conditional on their approval. Others fear acting against their husbands because they are economically dependent on them and because of the stigma surrounding divorce in Pakistani culture. This makes the practice problematic.
  2. Education: When Kashaf entered a prestigious university, her father insisted that her mother focus on getting their daughters married instead of having them receive an education. Unfortunately, his mindset is not uncommon in Pakistan. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 22.5 million children are not in school within the country. This includes one-third of primary school-aged girls and about 87% of girls in grade nine. Not only does this problem disproportionately affect females, but it also makes Pakistan one of the worst-performing countries with respect to education.
  3. Lack of Clean Water: When Zaroon visited Kashaf’s home soon after their marriage, the water stopped running while he was washing his face. This reflects how Pakistan is one of 36 countries in the midst of a water crisis. Currently, there are less than 1,000 cubic meters of annual water availability for every person within the country. About 80% of those living in 24 major Pakistani cities do not have access to clean water. One can say the same for 16 million people living in the slums of Karachi. This is due to an increase in population, environmental challenges, mismanagement of water systems in the agricultural sector and the overpriced cost of the water that water trucks provide. If resources within the country continue to decline at this rate, the country will be scarce of water by 2025.
  4. Electricity: When Zaroon spends his first night in Kashaf’s home, the electricity goes out. While Kashaf and her family are used to living without air conditioning in Pakistan’s heated climate, it is clear that Zaroon is not. Approximately 25,000 megawatts of electricity are necessary for Pakistan, and the need increases by more than 5% each year. However, the government has only been able to supply 20,000 megawatts of electricity so far. This has left millions of Pakistanis without electricity at any given time.

The drama “Zindagi Gulzar Hai” highlights the challenges that millions of people face as a result of poverty in Pakistan. This will inevitably spread awareness about the problem, instigate much-needed conversations and inspire the world to take action.

– Rida Memon
Photo: Flickr

Water Services to the Poor
Water services to the poor are severely lacking around the globe. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. Moreover, more than twice as many people lack safe sanitation. Consequently, 361,000 children less than the age of five die from diarrhea, every year. Of the people who do not have safely managed water, 844 million do not even have basic drinking water services. These conditions compel 263 million people to collect water from sources far from home — a process that takes over 30 minutes per trip. A further 159 million people still drink untreated water from surface water sources, such as streams or lakes.

At the current pace, the world will fall short of meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (U.N. SDG) of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. Accelerating efforts to meet this goal will cost as much as $166 billion per year for capital expenditures alone. It seems that to achieve this U.N. SDG, something must change and soon.

A New Funding Approach

Private finance could play an important role in expanding access to improved, reliable water services to the poor. However, most providers that serve the poor are not privately financeable in their present state and will continue to require subsidies. Hence, development assistance and philanthropic funds are of utmost importance to protect the global poor.

A global funding model, known as a conceptual Global Water Access Fund (GWAF), has been established in other sectors to raise additional funds for targeted interventions. It pools resources in a way that provides incentives for access and utility performance for poor households.

This method is tried and tested. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, received $15 billion in pledges and yielded a net increase in funding. Unitaid, an organization that accelerates access to high-quality drugs and diagnostics in developing countries, generated more than $1 billion through a levy on airline tickets.

Investments in the poor are often perceived as having low or even negative returns. Therefore, pro-poor utilities face challenges entering financial markets. This also explains why profitable utilities are hesitant to expand their services to the global poor. GWAF changes this by bridging the funding gap and placing pro-poor utilities in stronger positions to attract capital for further service investments.

Making Individual Change

Though funding seems like a larger issue, there are ways for individuals to support clean water for all. Many nonprofits focus on bringing clean water services to the poor. Here are three organizations that are dedicated to the proliferation of clean water services to the world’s poor.

3 Nonprofits Tackling Global Water Services for the Poor

  1. Pure Water for the World works in Central American and Caribbean communities. The organization aims to provide children and families with the tools and education to develop sustainable water, hygiene and sanitation solutions. They directly connect fundraising dollars with impact, which immediately helps potential supporters see how their donation or peer-to-peer fundraising campaign will make a difference for the people they serve.
  2. Blood:Water is another nonprofit that works to bring clean water and HIV/AIDS support to over 1 million people. They partner with African grassroots organizations to make a change in 11 countries. Blood:Water works to provide technical, financial and organizational support to grassroots organizations. In this vein, they aim to help strengthen their effectiveness in their areas of operation.
  3. Drop in the Bucket’s mission is another organization that works towards water sanitation. They build wells and sanitation systems at schools throughout sub-Saharan Africa, enabling youth to fully harness the life-changing power of education. They teach the importance of clean water, hands and living spaces. Furthermore, the organization encourages girls to go to school, instead of spending hours fetching water.

Remaining on Track

Although sustainable development goals seem a difficult achievement to reach, innovative techniques such as GWAF and individual efforts through donations take steps in the right direction in ensuring water services to the poor. With nonprofit organizations such as the aforementioned as well as assistance from international organizations and governments like, there is still hope in reaching the U.N. SDGs.

Elizabeth Qiao
Photo: Pixabay

Clean Water in Rwanda
On January 10, 2020, Zeke Delgado journeyed down a narrow dirt road to a rural Rwandan village, two hours from the capital city of Kigali. Delgado had visited the village of Ngenda once before. This time, he sought to improve access to clean water in Rwanda by building a $25,000 well.

Jean Hajabakiga acts as a liaison between U.S. native Delgado and the isolated African village. Following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Hajabakiga relocated to Canada for several years before returning to his home country to mitigate extreme poverty. In 2017, Hajabakiga visited Twain Harte, California to share his story with Revive Warehouse Ministries, where he motivated Delgado to join a handful of other men on their first mission trip to Ngenda.

Challenges to Accessing Clean Water in Rwanda

Beyond spreading the Christian gospel, the mission trip aimed to promote clean water in Rwanda. In an exclusive interview with The Borgen Project, Delgado elaborated on the logistical barriers to sanitary drinking water. He explained that “It takes two to three hours to get water from a creek near the village. The water that they do get [from the creek] is dirty, and it’s difficult to burn out the bacteria by boiling it.”

The challenges regarding water access in Ngenda exist throughout the country. According to UNICEF, 43% of the Rwandan population lacks access to clean water within 30 minutes of their home. Consequently, children give up critical time in school to gather water for their families.

Beyond logistical problems, Delgado observed how contaminated water gives way to other complications related to health. He recounted, “Because of the dirty water, the kids’ stomachs were full of amoebas and parasites.” In fact, on a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) traces nearly half a million diarrhea-related deaths to unsanitary drinking water. It can also spread diseases such as cholera, typhoid and polio.

Removing Barriers to Sanitary Water

In 2018, Hajabakiga led his team in constructing a roof on his church that caught approximately 30,000 gallons of rainwater annually. The roof water proved beneficial to the villagers’ health and resolved the need to drink from the distant, contaminated creek. Yet, because the roof relied on rain, dry spells limited the consistency of a clean water supply.

In 2009, the Rwandan government confirmed the issue with climate-dependent water sources. The Rwanda State of Environment and Outlook Report state that “people’s livelihoods are vulnerable to climate variability,” especially in situations where water resources depend on rainfall.

Thus, Hajabakiga compelled his American missionaries to return to Rwanda in 2020 to drill a village well. The well enabled the installation of several toilets, eight showers and a steady source of drinkable water.

The Positive Impact of the Water Well

Delgado celebrates the success of the completed effort, asserting, “Water is life. That’s number one. If you don’t have water, you can’t live. With running water, they have access to showers, toilets, and clean water that improves overall hygiene.”

Though Rwanda continues to suffer from widespread poverty and limited water supplies, small-scale efforts by passionate individuals like Delgado and Hajabakiga offer sustainable solutions. In Delgado’s words, “It’s amazing that for $25,000 you can save so many lives.” He hopes to return to Ngenda every other year to continue promoting access to clean water in Rwanda.

– Maya Gonzales
Photo: Wikimedia Commons