Post by Madison Farabaugh, Honors Civic Engagement
Background Information: What You Need To Know
- 844 million people do not have access to clean water.
- 3 billion people are without access to basic sanitation.
- 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases
- Every 2 minutes a child dies from a water-related disease, and every day more than 800 children under age 5 die from diarrhea attributed to poor water and sanitation.
- 892 million people practice open defecation (more than 1 of every 10 people on the planet).
- As of 2018, 2.1 billion people still live without safe drinking water in their homes.
Questions to consider: How do these statistics compare to your current beliefs about the global water crisis? Do they confirm your previous knowledge? Do any of them surprise you?
The Dominican Republic, located in the Caribbean, experiences devastating mixtures of hurricanes, tropical storms, and long periods of drought. Hurricanes and tropical storms tend to damage pipes and sewage systems, leading to water contamination and the spread of bacterial diseases such as cholera, with the lack of preventative sanitation measures adding to the intensity of the situation. Not only are there fears of bacterial spread, but long periods of drought lead to water scarcity and cause malnutrition for many populations. Women and children are especially susceptible to the effects of water scarcity and uncleanliness. This is because children are more physically vulnerable to disease and both groups are frequently burdened with seeking and retrieving water for their families which takes away from other familial, academic, or work-related needs. Ultimately, the water crisis proves to be a health and financial crisis. Those affected not only experience decreasing personal wellness, but also a decreasing ability to make a living, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty in numerous regions. According to The World Bank, more than a fifth of Dominican citizens work in the agricultural sector. When disaster strikes and water either contaminates or fails to nourish crops, the availability of food and jobs takes its toll.
Despite the country’s overall economic growth in the last decade and its tourist areas that receive a substantial amount of monetary inflow, many nationwide statistics as a whole overlook the impoverished state of rural areas in outskirt cities. These regions have a difficult time receiving the support they need to maintain proper functioning of livelihoods and community services, even though they experience greater suffering from water shortages and the repercussions of pollution. In terms of water services specifically, rural and removed cities get their water from community collection tanks that are frequently contaminated with bacteria, insects, and even dead birds that get trapped inside. Additionally, there are trucks and pipelines that transport “clean” water through cities, but these methods are also prone to boasting more cleanliness than they should.
Additional Statistics of the Water Crisis in the Dominican Republic
- Only 74% of inhabitants in the Dominican Republic have access to clean water, most of which are located closer to cities as opposed to farther removed rural areas and “shantytowns” (SoleaWater.org).
- Diarrhea causes half the deaths of children under age 1 in the Dominican Republic (asu.edu).
Questions to consider: What do you think are the implications of the water crisis for different economic/social classes in the Dominican Republic? How does this compare to water accessibility in the United States?
Current policies, actors, and institutions that are involved
- Investment tends to focus more on building up tourism and service industries than on the needs of disaster-stricken communities.
- Although there is a universal health-care system that covers basic medical treatment, there are still expenses such as medications that residents may not be able to afford. Significant medications include those that help with diarrhea and other bacterial infections.
- Sanitation or other Service Agencies:
- As of 2015, while 84% of the population saw “improvements” in Sanitation facilities, 24.3% of all rural areas did not and while 84.7% of the population experienced an improvement in drinking water, 18.1% of rural areas did not.
- There is a lack of sanitation and maintenance services, especially in rural areas.
- Lack of effective policies
- Limited environmental consciousness and preventative measures for disasters
- Excessive water consumption in urban areas
- Insufficient wastewater treatment
- Insufficient maintenance of treatment plants/chlorination systems
(*Rural makes up 42.6% of the national 38.4% of regions with water systems without chlorination systems)
- Organizations dedicated to the cause
Aside from receiving donations, most organizations have a particular area of emphasis when it comes to the water crisis. Here are a few examples.
- SERV International: delivers food and clean water/water filters
- Students International: helps build water purifiers in rural communities
- Wine to Water: operates ceramic water filter companies
- World Vision: drills wells
Why civic engagement is needed
Water scarcity and water contamination in the Dominican Republic are complex, large scale problems that cannot be solved by local platforms alone, especially in impoverished regions where the economy and public education about the issue or how to solve it are not in their favor. These communities need our help in raising awareness of their current struggles and increasing the attention given to them by authority figures in power. Learning about and understanding the perspectives of community members experiencing the water crisis firsthand will allow us to more conscientiously address its impacts.
How can we address the situation?
- Personal and/or financial involvement with reputable organizations
There are many organizations, both based in the United States and in the Dominican Republic whose missions are dedicated to combating this pressing issue. Individuals who want to get involved can do so themselves through volunteering in service work, missions trips, participating in awareness events such as 5Ks on World Water Day (March 22nd), or by making donations.
- Create awareness campaigns regarding more effective and environmentally friendly lifestyle practices and education about the current state of the water crisis situation (efforts for both in the U.S. and abroad).
More awareness can lead to more involvement and positive behavioral change by being exposed to more opportunities to help change the world. We need to develop more personal concern for our relationships with others internationally.
Examples of potential awareness campaigns for use in the U.S. could include forming campus clubs/organizations dedicated to fighting the water crisis and, in those groups, creating informational pieces for how others can get involved (such as donating, missions trips, and 5k events previously mentioned).
Examples of potential awareness campaigns for use in other countries could center around ideas such as 1. sanitation education (ie. how washing hands can reduce the spread of disease, how to use chlorination to purify water, etc.) or 2. the need to implement National programs such as the National Plan Against Desertification and Drought which prepares individuals for handling dry seasons with water rationing and drought resistant crops.
- Create incentives for urban areas to decrease consumption Incentives provide motivation. These incentives could be monetary or product-based, but would have the goal of providing more water to go around the country and reach other removed towns.
- Deliberation and implementation regarding maintenance, usage, and treatment policies
This is probably one of the more difficult to do but most desperately needed reforms. Government figures need to work with agencies and with community members to figure out what needs to be fixed, what needs more accessibility, and how these things can be achieved.
- Increase funding for wastewater and chlorination treatments, especially in rural areas.
- Increase investment in research of preventative measures for natural disasters.
Additional Discussion Questions
What have been your key takeaways from our discussion today?
Do you have any suggestions on more ways to help the situation or where we should start in the process?
How do we get people to care about an issue such as the water crisis that is so far removed from our own everyday lives here in the United States.