This morning, a homeless young Haitian boy kneeled down near an open drainage ditch that had been overflowing due to the vast amount of rainfall from the previous night, meticulously washed his face and drank some water to start his day. In the minutes that followed, several other boys did the same. The statistics for water-related illnesses are overwhelming, but pale in comparison to witnessing several children slowly taking tiny sips of contaminated water in the palm of their hands. It is heartbreaking. A basic human necessity is in the palm of their hands, but little do they know that the water in their hands could potentially prove fatal. I was once that little boy.
Growing up in Port-au-Prince, I knew what it was like to go without the most basic of human needs – clean water. There were no water kiosks, reservoirs, and certainly no home faucets in the impoverished shantytown where my family lived. We had to walk for miles to fetch water and carry the buckets home on our heads. And, even then, we were not sure that the water was safe. At times, when we could afford to, we boiled some of it on our small charcoal stove. Other times, we would squeeze a lemon into the water before drinking it. When the aforementioned alternatives were unavailable, as a last resort, we would pour the water through a strainer to remove the dirt particles and tiny worms that were often visible under the candlelight. Often, I have asked myself: When will the world realize that life without clean water is humiliating, embarrassing, and painful—in every sense of the word?
Safe drinking water is a basic need and should be a fundamental right. The solution to the problem for the 1.3 billion people who lack access to clean water doesn’t need to be complicated nor expensive. For example, simple and affordable water chlorination treatments are taken for granted by developed nations, but are a luxury for undeveloped countries.
Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, put it this way, “What is a power, but the ability or faculty of doing a thing? What is the ability to do a thing, but the power of employing the means necessary to its execution?” Our time to act is here and now. Today is our opportunity to recommit our resources and ourselves toward justice for the 1.3 billion people who do not have access to clean water. Today, let us start restoring their dignity.
Wesley Laîné is Program Manager for International Action, which is rebuilding the water system in Port-au-Prince, Haiti following last year’s disastrous earthquake. International Action has developed a tank and chlorination system that can supply safe water to thousands of people, neighborhood by neighborhood, helping to prevent cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and chronic diarrhea, the leading killers of children in Haiti.