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The Quality of Fiji's Water is Misrepresented by its Bottled Ambassador
The quality of Fiji’s water is drastically decreasing with the relentless presence of rotting pipes, inadequate wells and improper water treatment plants becoming more frequent.

Climate change continues to cause droughts in Rakiraki, Fiji. Throughout history, half the country has needed emergency water supplies of at least four gallons a week per family. Dirty water has led to outbreaks of typhoid and parasitic infections.

Fijian hospital patients have reported fetching their own water, and children have found shells, leaves and frogs in their school’s pipes. People resorted to breaking into fire hydrants and manipulating water truck drivers just to get a regular supply, according to Mother Jones.

Children die from a waterborne disease every minute. There are 750 million people worldwide without access to clean water. In 2014, the Water Authority of Fiji gave its allegiance to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, aiming to complete 60 percent of its protocol.

However, the quality of Fiji’s water is under scrutiny by international experts across the African Continent because they are below the average sanitation levels, even though the Fiji Water company claims it helped roughly 40,000 people get clean drinking water access. Warwick Pleass, the rotary pacific water chairman, tested the quality of Fiji’s water and found it is worse than Uganda in Africa.

Fiji Water, established in 1995, brought business to the impoverished country, but also benefits from tax exemptions. While co-founder David Gilmour stated in 2003 that he wanted Fiji Water “to become the biggest taxpayer in the country,” the tax break scheduled to end in 2008 has not yet expired.

When the Fijian government tried to impose a tax on the company in 2008, Fiji Water protested by temporarily shutting down the plant, describing the taxes as draconian. While the Fiji Water company is featured at the hands of celebrities and politicians in full-page ads, the country of Fiji is riddled with faulty water supplies and plagued by typhoid outbreaks.

Among the volcanic foothills with metal shacks and wooden homes, the Fiji Water factory is located in the Yagara Valley, immersed in cow pastures and swaying palm trees. Chickens roam through these vibrant houses and at the feet of market locals. A sweet smell of burning sugar cane fills the air, according to Mother Jones Reporter Anna Lenzer.

Only half an hour from the bottling plant is the small town Rakiraki, riddled with dusty marketplace shops. A sign advertises a “Coffin Box for Sale – Cheapest in Town.”

Even though Lenzer’s destination guide claims the quality of Fiji’s water is unfit for human consumption, Fiji Water bottles line grocery store aisles for 90 cents a pint, roughly the same as U.S. market sale prices.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

Poor water quality in Indonesia

Climate change, poor urban infrastructure and pollution resulting from rapid urban development and environmental destruction have led to poor water quality in Indonesia.

Although Indonesia enjoys 21 percent of the total freshwater available in the Asia-Pacific region, nearly one out of two Indonesians lack access to safe water, and more than 70 percent of the population rely on potentially contaminated sources.

Poor water quality in Indonesia is directly related to a life of poverty, as poor individuals are unable to afford clean drinking solutions.

To combat poverty and improve the lives of individuals, USAID has partnered with local governments and civil society organizations to weaken the agents of poor water quality in Indonesia by strengthening biodiversity and climate change resilience.

Climate Change

Climate change threatens to disrupt seasonal variations and thus water quality in Indonesia. The dry season may become more arid which would drive water demand, and the rainy season may condense higher precipitation levels into shorter periods, increasing the possibility of heavy flooding while decreasing the ability to capture and store water.

Increased flood conditions and rainfall facilitate the spread of disease in areas where the population lacks access to clean water and sanitation.

USAID works with the Indonesian government to help the most vulnerable areas of Indonesia become more resilient to climate change effects. The agency builds local government and civil society organizational capacity to understand the effects of climate change and to implement climate change solutions in agriculture, water and natural resources management.

More than 13,000 people have been trained in climate change adaptation strategies and disaster risk reduction. As a result, USAID has worked with more than 360 communities to develop action plans addressing the impacts of climate change, which in effect improves the poor water quality in Indonesia.

Environmental Destruction

Environmental destruction associated with unmanaged development and deforestation has left many parts of Indonesia extremely vulnerable to landslides, tsunamis and floods.

An environmental disaster furthers the cycle of poverty in Indonesia as individuals are left with even fewer resources than before. The country has lost around 72 percent of its forest cover over the last 50 years.

Large barren hillside areas and the underlying soils, both subject to heavy precipitation, greatly increase the likelihood and severity of floods. When flooding does occur, urban infrastructure is quickly overwhelmed which leads to sewage spillover and further contamination.

To combat environmental destruction and improve water quality in Indonesia, USAID works to conserve and strengthen biodiversity in Indonesia. The agency does so by building capacity in national and local government bodies and associated civil society actors, and by entering partnerships, to promote and strengthen sustainable land-use practices and management in four provinces.

Projects developed by USAID focus on conserving large swaths of lowland and peat forest with high concentrations of biodiversity.

Pollution

Indonesia has become a pollution hotspot due to its economic development and rapid urbanization. Waste from commercial and industrial processes is increasingly making its way into both groundwater and surface supplies affecting water quality in Indonesia. Moreover, Indonesia’s urban slums particularly lack wastewater treatment to combat the growing pollution.

The basic sanitation infrastructure necessary to prevent human excrement from contaminating water supplies is virtually nonexistent. Households simply dispose their domestic waste directly to a river body.

Since many Indonesians are poor and have no access to piped water, they use river water for drinking, bathing and washing. Around 53 percent of the population obtains water from sources contaminated by raw sewage, which greatly increases human susceptibility to water-related diseases.

To improve the poor water quality in Indonesia by combating the effects of pollution, USAID has facilitated access to clean water for more than 2 million people and basic sanitation to more than 200,000 people.

These actions have built one more step for individuals in Indonesia to walk out of poverty, as their low income does not inhibit them from enjoying clean drinking water.

Alexis Pierce

Photo: Pixabay

Water quality in Brazil

All eyes are on Brazil as the nation finalizes preparations for the Olympic Games while attempting to solve a decades-long water pollution crisis. According to 2016 statistics, only 65 percent of sewage was treated before reaching Rio de Janeiro’s waters; a number far behind the 80 percent officials pledged when Brazil first received the Olympic bid.

Efforts have been made to clean the waters near the Olympic stadium, but local waters remain as polluted as before.

“We’ve just been forgotten,” says Irenaldo Honorio da Silva during an interview with The Atlantic Magazine. A resident of Rio de Janeiro, Da Silva lives in one of 1000 favelas — informal housing structures that hold more than 1.5 million people. The low-income inhabitants of these favelas lack adequate sanitation systems, a problem faced by 30 percent of the Rio population.

“About three times a week, sewage overflows and trickles down the streets past the houses” Da Silva explains. When it rains, water pipes crack open and streets are flooded with filthy water.

Those who come into contact with contaminated water risk contracting diseases like hepatitis, worms, diarrhea and tetanus. More than 400,000 Brazilians were hospitalized in 2011 for illnesses related to the poor water quality in Brazil.

Olympians are bracing themselves for venues riddled with disease-causing viruses, which, according to the Associated Press (AP), “measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.” The AP also found that those who ingest as little as three teaspoons worth of infected water have a 99 percent chance of infection.

Nevertheless, the risks for international athletes begin and end with the Olympic Games; Brazilians deal with these problems for life. Water quality is thus a critical issue that needs to be addressed.

Every year 217,000 workers miss an average of 17 hours of work due to gastrointestinal issues; infections caused by poor sanitation. Many children miss school for the same reason.

In fact, studies from institutions like the University of Chicago show that children with access to proper sanitation have higher educational attainment rates than those without. Furthermore, Trata Brasil, an organization dedicated to bringing universal sanitation to Brazil, recently revealed that a lack of proper sewage disposal was linked to lower life expectancies for citizens.

“The problems in [a favela] may be due in part to a lack of consciousness from its own people,” Marcello Farias notes during an interview with Huck Magazine in Rocihna, his hometown and one of the largest favelas in Rio. The majority of Brazilians cite health, security and drugs as the nation’s most pressing issues.

Diogo Rodrigues, a fellow Rocihna native, explains in the same interview that “if the government doesn’t do anything, [we] are the ones that have to be in charge.” He has worked with other favela residents to create different solutions to the water pollution crisis.

For example, the Surfer’s Association in Rodrigues’ hometown not only teaches local children how to surf, but also offers environmental lectures and beach clean-ups. Meu Rio, an advocacy organization, holds demonstrations to raise awareness. In 2014, members sat on toilets on Guanabara Bay beaches every weekend for three months to shed light on the problem with water quality in brazil.

However, many view cooperation between the government, local authorities and civilians as the answer to improving water quality in Brazil.

Government officials announced that they plan to install eight sanitation plants in Olympic venues and upgrade favela water systems. Research from the University of São Paulo shows that investing in sanitation has other beneficial effects — it is more effective at alleviating poverty than spending on education, social security or welfare.

Change often occurs slowly. However, David Barbosa, a professional body boarder from Rocihna, encourages everyone to “keep up the momentum.”

“We may not always succeed, but we ‘gotta’ keep trying.”

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr