News / USA

Fight for Water Hits Crisis Levels Worldwide

Films explore variety of conflicts over life-sustaining resource

"Dhaka’s Challenge" explores the limited access to safe water and adequate sanitation in one of the fastest growing cities in Asia.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Nearly one billion people around the globe lack access to clean, safe water. It's a common problem in many parts of the developing world, but its severity and human impact are not widely known, according to experts at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a Washington-based news organization.

As part of the United Nations’ annual World Water Day observance, the center is screening a slate of documentaries about international water issues at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. The films portray a variety of conflicts over water and the efforts to protect this life-sustaining resource.

The challenge in presenting these films, says Peter Sawyer, projects coordinator at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is to share with a wider audience the urgent issues surrounding water security.

"Our goal for this screening is to just get these issues out there," he says. "We don’t feel that they are in the public consciousness and we think that they should be and we think that they should be because they are really important."

Dhaka's challenge

In "Dhaka’s Challenge," filmmaker Stephen Sapienza explores one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. He says one-third of the 15 million people in the Bangladeshi capital live in slums, where access to safe water and adequate sanitation is limited.

"And you can see it everywhere when you are riding around in Dhaka. You see people cuing up to go to public toilets," says Sapienza. "You will see hanging toilets where people will actually defecate on the top of an open river or creek."

It’s a sanitation disaster at the heart of this year’s World Water Day theme - Water for Cities. Each year 400,000 newcomers join Dhaka’s urban poor, putting pressure on its already crowded slums. City water from Dhaka’s Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) comes at a price, available only to land owners. The film documents how a non-profit group helped change the law to give the same water privileges to the urban poor.  

Diabalok Sing Ha is the group’s founder. "A win-win situation actually occurred because Dhaka WASA, they wanted their revenues and on the other hand, poor people, they wanted the service and they immediately see the economic advantage of getting access to Dhaka WASA water supply because that is cheap in comparison to the private market, so they immediately buy in."

Sapienza says more groups are seeking those rights, an effort that has already begun to scale up in Bangladesh and could become a model in other parts of the world.

"My story was just trying to point out that these problems are solvable on some level even if you have to start small and it’s possible in the long run to save many, many lives."

Flood damage

A second Pulitzer Center-sponsored film is focused on Pakistan. Floods in 2010 covered one-fifth of the country, claiming 1,600 lives and destroying towns and farmland.

"Water Scarcity on the Indus River," directed by Fred de Sam Lazaro, journeys to Pakistan’s northern border with Afghanistan, where aid worker Maqsood Alam helps restore flood-damaged farms and irrigation canals for the half-million local people who depend on them.

In a place better known for militant extremists, Alam says his major problem has been putting a lot of farmers back to work.

"Farm families that have (this) subsistence kind of agriculture, they have lost their source of income generation."

That recovery will take time, says Pakistan water activist, Simi Kamal. "Really to help these people get back on the land, help them stay away from diseases as much as they can, help them with their own food needs, help get the kids to school, you know, help them get over this winter."

The film also explores the irony that Pakistan is laced by rivers fed by the melting glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains, but suffers from chronic shortages because water distribution is managed so poorly, and complicated by disputes with neighboring India.

China lake

Water scarcity affects one-in-three people on every continent, according to the World Health Organization. A third Pulitzer Center-supported film documents how China’s second largest fresh water lake has shrunk by half since the 1940s. Dongting Hu Lake is used to quench the thirst of local communities while also meeting the competing demands of farms and factories. Increasing levels of silt from economic development are diminishing the lake even further.

"It’s true that fish are less and less," says Chinese ecologist Jiang Yong. "There are several reasons. First, the demand for fish has become greater. The population is growing and there are more and more people around the city. They love to make fish and make several dishes. People have a conception that eating fish is a must when you come to Dongting."

Yong adds that awareness of environmental protection is not enough. People need to find a way to live with the lake and not over-exploit it, if the lake is to survive.

US water fight

In the southeastern United States, people in three states have been squabbling for the past 20 years over access to the waters of the Chattahoochee River. The documentary "Chattahoochee: From Water War to Water Vision" takes viewers along that winding river - through Georgia, Alabama and Florida - to meet the people whose livelihoods depend on it.  Producer Jonathan Wickham says the solution to competing urban, agricultural and business needs will require a new way of thinking about the shared resource.

"And if you live upstream, that means you can make reasonable use of the water supply as long as you don’t deprive your neighbors downstream," says Wickham.

The 52,000-square-kilometer watershed serves six million people - from Gulf of Mexico oystermen to the 3.5 million residents of metropolitan Atlanta. The city is currently facing a court order to share local water resources with neighboring counties which could cut the city’s supply in half.

Katherine Bliss, director of the water project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says what this story and the others from around the world have in common is that solving these complicated water problems requires that people become educated and engaged.

"I think each of the films, by highlighting the human struggles, relates not only to the kind of negotiations they are talking about, but education and awareness, conservation and promoting a greater understanding of the fact that water is a shared resource."


You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs