Latin America is home to 25 of the world’s largest rivers and sees the most annual rainfall per year than any other region in the world, yet clean water and proper sanitation are scarce. As of 2015, 106 million people throughout the region of Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to proper sanitation (WHO, 2015). How does a statistic like that affect everyday life? What does that actually mean? On our most recent trip, we met Desa. Here's her story:
"When Desa wakes up in the morning, usually before dawn, she also wakes her two oldest daughters. She shares a one room home with her elderly mother, two sisters, their husbands, and their 15 total children. Desa and her daughters collect their buckets and old oil containers and begin the walk down the road to the nearest hand pump, miles down the mountain from their home. This walk takes them several hours. When they get to the pump, they wait several hours with dozens of others to fill their containers with the only water in the whole area that they can afford. Some stores sell water in town, but Desa’s family can’t afford the treated water they sell for 10 cents per 5 gallons. Sometimes, every few months, when Desa and her daughters get to the hand pump they are heartbroken to learn the pump is damaged. During those times they have to go without any water at all. If all goes well, with full containers of water, the walk home takes twice as long, sometimes up to 6 hours just to get home. By the time they get home, it’s evening and the girls have missed school, Desa is unable to hold a job, and the youngest children are home with their grandmother who has trouble walking. They drink and use the water as sparingly as possible, knowing the next time they need water it will take them all day to get it."
Availability is usually not the problem, it is access. Inequitable income distribution, social injustice, and government corruption are among the plethora of issues countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean face, and of which lack of access to clean water is a product. Here in the United States, we have faced similar issues in places such as Flint, Michigan. Since April of 2014 when the community’s water supply was switched from Detroit to the Flint River, high levels of lead in the water have led to increased blood lead levels in children. Our government system allows such an issue to be resolved quickly by transferring Flint’s water supply back to Detroit while a solution to Flint River’s lead problem is found. In politically corrupt areas such as Latin America, there is no sound government to provide clean water to citizens, nor is there a government to fix any problems that may arise.
The water and sanitation issues of Flint, Michigan serve as a wake up call. Lack of access to clean water is a global issue. In the United States, we have the resources to solve problems as they arise. If a problem arises in the region of Latin America, residents have to fend for themselves, usually forced to collect water from a contaminated river or spring. We can help to alleviate water poverty far from and close to home by taking action, by being our brother’s keeper. Everyone around the globe deserves to drink clean water.