Bangladesh: ‘Water, water …’
In water-rich Bangladesh, it’s shocking to think that millions of women and children still have to spend hours, even up to a whole day and night, travelling and queuing just to quench their families’ thirst. In a country where clean water’s simply not on tap like it is for most of us, it is usually women and children who have to carry the can as a result of this most basic and unnecessary inequality.
With this in mind, Commitment for Life is helping to support an innovative water project in five of the most ‘water-stressed’ parts of the country. Run by local NGO, the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), the aim of the project is to reduce health risks of the poor and women by increasing their access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The project has already established water-user groups, called Pani Parishads, in 54 villages to access resources and garner support from the local government to assist the poor and women to address their water, sanitation and health problems for long run.
But providing safe water is not a simple matter because of the variety of different ecosystems across Bangladesh. The project has had to develop suitable water technologies for a variety of ecosystems, including drought prone north-western districts, flood prone riverine charland, salinity affected coastal villages, arsenic affected central Bangladesh and the hilly areas.
To solve the water problem, everyone needs to work together – communities, local government, NGOs, and especially women (who play such a vital role in water provision). Most importantly, poor people have to be involved in devising the best solutions for their communities as they understand the contexts in which they live. However, beyond the development of suitable technologies, to improve access to water, the experts at BCAS think the answer lies in poor people and governments understanding that water is not just a need or a luxury, it is a right.
In Bangladesh, women have traditionally been the main collectors, distributors and preservers of water. Yet, in the past, women have been left out of the process of water solutions entirely as traditionally they are not valued as decision-makers in their families, in the community or in society at large. As any water solution would affect them directly, their voices must be taken into account. In fact, all the Pani Parishads established by the project are at present headed by women and they are playing a vital role in relation to accessing drinking water, sanitation, health services and their rights at family and community levels.
This important and ground breaking work has now received international recognition. The Flora Family Foundation from the USA recently named BCAS as its medium size organisation of the year for 2010.
A state of emergency was declared for Kingston and St. Andrew in May 2010, which lasted until July. This was in response to attacks on police and military by the supporters of an alleged gang leader who was due to be extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges, among others. During this period, curfews were imposed on sections of Kingston, and 74 persons were killed. Thousands of people, mainly young men from depressed inner-city communities, were rounded up for questioning, often in contravention of their human rights. While the violence was mainly restricted to West Kingston, the city was effectively shut down for two days, as businesses closed to protect staff and customers.
The drought being experienced for the last year finally broke with the advent of the hurricane season. To date all storms have passed the island and we hope this continues.
Jamaica passed the last two IMF tests. Although there are some small signs of recovery in some sectors of the economy (e.g. bauxite) there is continued dissatisfaction from public sector workers (most notably police and nurses) regarding delayed implementation of agreed wage increases, and there is the threat of strike action.
These are anxious times for Zimbabwe.
It is just five months until their new constitution – in process of being written – goes to referendum in January 2011. If the constitution is accepted, then a general election is expected in early in 2011. Whatever the outcome, Christian Aid’s partners are doing all they can to limit the likelihood of a recurrence of the violence that marred the last election in March 2008. The situation remains peaceful so far but conflict is not far below the surface. Fellow civil society organisations and aid agencies, including Christian Aid partners, are reporting increased verbal attacks, and access issues to some communities due to the constitutional consultations taking place there.
Partners are also striving to ensure the constitutional process is open, transparent and truly representative.
In previous reports we have highlighted the work of partners Habakkuk Trust and SCMZ (Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe). As reports come through of mounting tensions with the constitution writing process, these two partners remain crucial for Christian Aid’s focus on aiding an outcome genuinely determined by the will of the Zimbabwean people.
The Habakkuk Trust reports that ‘the programme (of constitutional reform) is two months behind schedule and political parties appear to be controlling the process … Civil society, although represented in the process, is playing a cameo role as powers of negotiation lie largely with the political players.’ With fears that the constitutional reform process may not be transparent, the Trust reports how it has been investigating its impact in communities.
Meanwhile SCMZ report on their recent initiatives designed to promote the non-violent political participation of youth in Zimbabwe’s democratic transition.
Two other partners, ZimPro (Zimbabwe Project Trust) and Dabane Trust, are this year working on a combined project, co-funded by the UK government, that will help families grow more and diverse food. They report no restrictions to movement. Christian Aid staff in Zimbabwe are optimistic that in this coming hunger season (Jan-March 2011, when families tend to run out of food), the numbers reliant on food aid will drop for a second year running.
Extracts from Christian Aid report to CforL Reference Group September 2010
DATES AND ACTION
This year Micah Challenge wants to change the world through millions of tiny promises.
They believe the poor of our world are being forgotten. So the’re asking people to commit to remember them. The’re offering the chance to make a promise as a way of saying ‘I’ll do it’ and the chance to inspire others, including the new government, to say they’ll do it too. To find resources, visit www.micahchallenge.org.uk
Christian Aid’s Supporter Day & Mass Lobby of Parliament. Join Christian Aid for a jam packed and inspirational day – starting at 11am in Methodist Central Hall. Hear from Revd Jesse Jackson, civil rights campaigner and CA’s new Director, Loretta Minghella. Then attempt to lobby as many MPs in the new parliament as possible to make sure climate change is at the top of their agenda. Reserve your place by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org