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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More