By Paul Vallely
The children of the Grace Revival School do not have far to go when they need the lavatory.They get up from their ramshackle desks and move just outside their corrugated ironclassroom to the vast dungheap that stands beside the building.There are no latrines for the 74,000 people who live in their section of Kibera, the biggestslum in Africa, which lies either side of the main railway line between Nairobi and Mombasa inthe Kenyan highlands.People there use what, with dark humour, are called "flying toilets". They defecate in a plasticbag and then throw it into the street or on to one of the vast dungheaps. Some just visit theheaps and relieve themselves directly. The heap next to Grace school is about 20 feet highand the size of a quarter of a football pitch.The stench is unimaginable. When it rains, a noxious black liquid runs off the heap, andthrough the school, over the dirt floor of the classrooms. It seeps into the drinking watersupply pipes, which run beneath the dump.There is more to this story than a piece of prurient poverty pornography. It has a point, whichis the one made more genteelly by the UN's annual Human Development Report, publishedtomorrow. For Kibera is but one stark example of what is perhaps the greatest developmentalchallenge facing humanity. More than one billion people live without clean water. Some 2.6billion - half of the developing world's population - lack access to sanitation. The two issuesare inextricably linked, for without proper sanitation pollution of drinking water is almostinevitable.At the start of the 21st century, 5,000 children die every day for want of clean water. That iswhy, in the sprawling slum of Kibera, where typhoid and dysentery are rampant, KevinWatkins, the chief researcher of the UN report, found that child death rates run eight timeshigher even than in the rest of Nairobi. We know from our own history that providingsanitation and clean water is the biggest single thing that can be done for the poor. Dysentery,typhoid and cholera killed as many children in Manchester and London in early Victorian timesas they do in Africa today. The increasing wealth from industrialisa-tion boosted income, butchild mortality barely changed - until the introduction of sewers. It was the same in New York,Birmingham and Paris.Water and sanitation are among the most powerful preventive medicines available to reduceinfectious disease. The presence of a flush lavatory in a house, the UN report says, reducesthe risk of infant death by more than 30 per cent. Sewers save more lives than antibiotics.Astonishingly, then - despite one of the Millennium Development Goals being to halve thenumber of people without water and sanitation - the amount of aid to this sector has,according to the Commission for Africa, fallen by 25 per cent over the past decade.The problem is twofold. The first is that such basics are unfashionable among Western donorgovernments. The second is that many African and Asian governments do not priori-tise thearea; in Ethiopia the military budget is 10 times the water and sanitation budget; Pakistanspends 47 times more on guns than on sewers and clean water. Why? Because water andsanitation are problems which disproportionately affect the poorest, women and children inparticular, - a class which has no political leverage with urban Third World elites.Water is about power. The most striking political example of which, the report shows, is thatIsraeli settlers take six times the water from the West Bank as local Palestinians. But there arecountless eco-nomic examples. In Ghana the poorest, who use standpipes provided by privatecompanies, pay treble what the better-off pay for water piped to their homes. In Kibera theypay five times more. People living in many of the world's most squalid slums pay more perlitre for water than people in New York and London. The perverse rule operating in watermarkets is that the poorer you are, the less you get and the more you pay.To set aside the financial resources to fulfil the Millennium Development Goal to halve thenumber of people without sustainable access to safe water would cost about $10bn (£5.3bn)annually over the next decade. It requires sustained efforts and specific strategies. Generaleconomic development is not enough. It can be seen by contrasting India - which has abooming economy but no proper targeting on clean water and sewers - with Bangladesh -which has less growth but effective water strategies. India's people are becoming wealthierbut not healthier. Some 700 million people there lack adequate sanitation - and in cities suchas Delhi and Mumbai the water systems are collapsing, with rivers being transformed into fetidsewers. As a result infant mortality is down by just 22 per cent since 1990, compared with adrop of 40 per cent in much poorer Bangladesh.The UN report is full of examples of strategies that have worked, and those that have not. Itcites success stories in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam and comparative good news in SouthAfrica, where water was once a symbol of apartheid division, but a system of entitlement hasbeen introduced. It should be extended across the world, the report says, with allgovernments legislating for water as a human right, with a basic minimum of 20 litres perperson per day - less than half of what we in Britain each flush daily down the lavatory.To do that, the report says, would increase aid spending by about $4bn a year. That is lessthan Europe spends on bottled mineral water.Liquid assetsThe average Briton flushes 50 litres of water down the lavatory each day - ten times whatmany Africans have for drinking and washing.One in six of the world's population lacks clean water and one in three lacks proper sanitation- that's pit latrines, not sewage systems.The average European uses 200 litres of water a day compared with less than 20 per personper day in Africa. (Americans use 400 litres.)1.8 million children under five die each year from diarrhoea caused by contaminated water.Every $1 spent on sewage saves $8 in lost productivity.The $10bn the Millennium Development Goal needs to halve the number of people withoutclean water equals five days of global military spending.
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