|© UNICEF video|
|Villagers like this child in the semi-arid region of Paraguay must travel long distances in the dry season to fetch water that is often contaminated.|
By Thomas Nybo
A Latin American Sanitation Conference, entitled 'LatinoSan 2007' and hosted by the Colombian Government, is now under way in Cali, Colombia. The following story illustrates some of the water and sanitation challenges in the region.
NAZARETH, Paraguay, 12 November 2007 – Like many communities in Paraguay’s semi-arid region, Nazareth receives nearly all of its rain between the months of November and March. During this time, safe drinking water is plentiful.
But once the rains stop, families must either walk great distances to fetch water or drink from possibly contaminated sources.
Digno Bogarin lives in a modest wooden house with no electricity and no running water. He, his wife and their five children share one room, surviving largely on produce from the small field of crops that Mr. Bogarin grows alongside their house. Like more than 2.6 billion people worldwide, the family lacks basic sanitation facilities.
|© UNICEF video|
|To provide year-round access to safe water, UNICEF Paraguay supports a rainwater-harvesting system that stores water in covered wells during the dry season.|
Illness from contaminated water
“The main problems here are water and health,” says Mr. Bogarin, who has lost one child from severe diarrhoea. “I’m very worried because we don’t have enough water.
“Before, there were some people who taught us how to clean dirty water using chemicals. But now we can’t even afford the chemicals, so we just drink dirty water, and this makes us sick,” he adds.
His children spend hours each day walking to a pond to collect water. The pond is also used by animals, so the water frequently makes the children ill. Their plight is shared by many indigenous communities in the region.
Harvesting rainwater saves lives
UNICEF’s response to this threat to childhood survival is a simple system that allows each family to divert the heavy rains during the wet season and store water through the drier months of the year.
Rain falls on the roof and runs into metal gutters that funnel it into a long pipe. The water collects in a large, covered well dug into the ground. A simple handpump allows each family to access water whenever it is needed.
UNICEF has installed 20 such rainwater-harvesting systems and is working with the Government of Paraguay to expand the programme into other areas.
‘Focused on early survival’
“UNICEF is working to promote child rights, and the rights of indigenous children are the most vulnerable,” says UNICEF Project Assistant Ana Ramos. She notes that the organization “is focused on early survival, so we want to guarantee that children have reliable access to clean water, good nutrition and an adequate health system.”
Worldwide, more than 1 billion people use unsafe drinking water sources. As a result, thousands of children die every day from diarrhoea or related infections.
Water collection systems like the ones being implemented in Paraguay not only save lives but also allow communities to focus on other important concerns, such as sustainable development and education, which are critical to the long-term well-being of children and families.