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A girl leans into a dirty stream to collect water for her family in Namalu, Eastern Uganda. Millions lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities which is a major contributor to deaths and illnesses of both infants and adults.

Water, the hub of life. Water is its mater and matrix, mother and medium. Water is the most extraordinary substance! Practically all its properties are anomalous…Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1972).

I was supposed to have made this post earlier but did not for different reasons; first, I got busy doing stuff: second, I did not think I had compelling enough photos: third, and the real reason is, I procrastinated! It is not because I did not take this subject seriously – I do, and as a matter of fact, it is why I took those photos so that I could show you if you didn’t already know, how this “commodity”, WATER, undoubtedly the most essential need of life, is a major challenge to millions, in fact, one billion people around the world.

Africa and the rest of the developing world has many challenges, and most of these are a direct threat to life. You would suppose that countries like Uganda which has one of the largest fresh water network in the whole world would be immune to problems of water but that is further from the truth. A few weeks ago, I photo-blogged here  about the appalling health-care situation in Uganda. A few days later, I discovered that the New York Times had a similar but even more graphic expose of the worsening health situation. The report and the photo essay titled; In Uganda: A Failure to Deliver can be accessed here. Uganda also grapples with clean water and sanitation deficits in major cities and towns, plus villages. Matters are often exacerbated by natural disasters such as flooding and prolonged droughts.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Clinton Global Initiative (on my computer via live-stream). One of the prominent issues that discussed in the forum and also online was clean water and how it has increased child mortality, weakened maternal health, and yes, hampered economic growth. I am a proponent for less aid and more trade, but in my zeal I had sorely missed the connection between water and economics in Africa. It is estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa, women and children spend more time fetching water than the entire French labor force spends working each year. Yet, women are are a huge part of the economic matrix, thought to be contributing more than 60% of the labor force.

In-spite of the decision by the United nations General Assembly in 2010 to declare access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right, hundreds of millions still lack this basic need. Through the Millenium Development Goals, governments pledged to reduce, by 2015, “the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” In Sub Saharan Africa however, many countries look set to miss this target, with only Rwanda so far meeting the MDG clean water and sanitation goal and exceeding it by 8%. Water is not only essential for individuals but for all aspects of human life. Poverty is so intertwined with environmental challenges, and we can’t overcome the former without first defeating the latter.

To better understand the ramifications of this crisis, the Director General of World Health Organization, Dr LEE Jong-wook quips thus: “Water and Sanitation is one of the primary drivers of public health. I often refer to it as “Health 101”, which means that once we can secure access to clean water and to adequate sanitation facilities for all people, irrespective of the difference in their living conditions, a huge battle against all kinds of diseases will be won.”

These Uganda photos are taken on my random trips in various parts of the country. The Karamoja photos were taken when I made an independent trip to the region in 2008 to document education challenges. I would like to go back there because there are plenty of stories to document there.

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Young Karamojong women walk back home with jerry-cans on head. It is such chores that many girls are unable to go to or drop out of school, which translates into early marriages, and then more children, and yet, lesser and lesser service delivery.

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Youth line up for water at a borehole in Kiboga western Uganda. This is a far cry from most place in the country where water for drinking, bathing and cooking must be collected from very dirty sources.

 

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A woman scoops water into her jerry-cans by the road side in Kapchorwa, Eastern Uganda. Kapchorwa has some of the most amazing underground clean water sources. Unfortunately, like most other parts of Uganda, people lack access to clean water.

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For some families that earn extra buck, the bicycle is such a handy transport tool for collecting water which must be sourced often from long distances.

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A man navigates through the waters of Lake Kyoga in Pallisa, Eastern Uganda. The lake is just one of a plethora of fresh water sources that Uganda has. But even less than half the people in the capitol, Kampala, are connected to the water grid.

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A young man fills up jerry-cans with clearly unhealthy looking and infested water. Waterborne illnesses such as typhoid and diarrhea are easily transmitted. Such water places are also breeding areas for mosquitoes, the insect responsible for transmitting the deadly malaria disease.

 

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A karamojong lass pumps the borehole to fill her container and also share the resource with livestock. By the time I visited, all rivers and streams in Karamoja had dried up in a major exhibit of climate change effects.

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A young girl cycles containers of water

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A mother returns from collecting water and receives home things from her son. Some families also lack big containers to carry enough water.

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Karamoja women carry water containers on their heads as they head home from collecting water. They were walking a distance of about 5 miles, a journey they make at least twice a day, every day!

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The stream is no more. It used to travel distances but now its gone. Climate change! Notice the women in the background as they trek the long distance back from the borehole.

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In Karamoja, men have taken to bathing at the borehole station. Why carry, on your head, 5 gallons of water 5 miles just to power it on your body? Even if it means putting up with the goats like in this photo...every man, woman and child deserves some dignity.