Posts Tagged ‘Womens eNews’
Latrice Davis of Women’s News reports that even though there are efforts to get clean, safe drinking water to the women who need it most, it is unlikely any of the programs working toward that goal will have much of an impact.
Here’s the full story:
Improving water quality and access can help lower maternal mortality rates, say advocates. Now a new fellowship program is being launched to explore various solutions to the maternal health problem in the world’s poorest nations.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Knowledge has long been cited as the tool most needed to lower maternal mortality rates, but Global Water, a volunteer organization based in Oxnard, Calif., says what women in developing countries also need to combat this problem is water.
“Not having the proper amount of water on a daily basis puts stress on the body, which affects a woman’s life span,” said Ted Kuepper, the organization’s executive director, in a telephone interview. “It also affects their ability to further their education and break out of poverty.”
To help disrupt this cycle, the New York-based international reproductive health organization EngenderHealth is launching a fellowship program with Ashoka, an organization of social entrepreneurs with headquarters in Arlington, Va., to focus on improving maternal health in the world’s poorest nations. The initiative will concentrate on parts of the world with the highest maternal and child mortality rates, says Tim Thomas, senior advisor of the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth.
“The rates are highest in Africa and South Asia,” he said in a telephone interview, but added that “we’re not committing to any particular countries at this point.”
That’s because EngenderHealth and Ashoka–who plan to recruit 32 candidates through its Changemakers online competition–are seeking proposals that focus on applicants’ areas of interest. Those selected for the program will spend nine months working on a tangible solution to a specific maternal health challenge, starting in September 2010.
Water Use Soars
Water use has grown at more than twice the rate of the world’s population over the past century, mostly for agricultural purposes, according to the 2009 United Nations Millennium Development Goals Report. This has left 884 million people at risk for–or already facing–a water shortage. The situation poses a huge threat to maternal health, but Thomas said it’s not the only contributing factor.
“There’s a panoply of factors that contribute to maternal mortality–everything from (the drug) misoprostol not being available to treat postpartum hemorrhage to the insufficient distribution of magnesium sulfate for preeclampsia in rural clinics,” he said. “This is where research is needed to coalesce and bring consensus, and that’s one of the jobs of the task force.”
Grace Lusiola, director of the EngenderHealth office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, works in conjunction with the government on strategies like the One Plan, a federal campaign unveiled in April 2008 to reduce maternal and child deaths. The campaign’s contributions to policy development include providing post-abortion care.
“Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal death in Tanzania,” Lusiola said in an e-mail interview. “We’re increasing the number of facilities at the community level where women who have had unsafe abortions can go for medical care. Being able to get emergency care locally and not having to travel (long distances) saves lives.”
Another way to improve maternal health is through building latrines and hand-washing stations. Global Water assembles such facilities for elementary schools in rural areas, working with the Peace Corps to promote good hygiene and halt the spread of waterborne illnesses such as cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis and typhoid fever. On one visit to a village in Guatemala, Kuepper said, volunteers taught children about hygiene–despite lacking the basic tools.
“Those schools didn’t have any water, so they had the students pretend to wash their hands and brush their teeth,” he said. “It was an amazing sight.”
Still, good hygience practices are not common in many countries. A 2009 study published in the journal Health Education Research found that only 29 percent of 802 women surveyed in Kenya washed their hands with soap after using the bathroom, often due to lack of time and energy. (Washing one’s hands with just water is the norm throughout the country.)
“Key motivations for hand washing were disgust, nurture, comfort and affiliation,” wrote lead author Valerie Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Fear of disease generally did not motivate hand washing,” as 43 percent of the women polled felt that diarrhea “is a normal part of growing up.”
Contaminated water is also commonplace in developing countries. The World Health Organization, or WHO, and the United Nations Children’s Fund issued a report in 2004 that found the definition of “safe water” varied from region to region. WHO has issued guidelines for maintaining water quality around the world since 1982, but leaves it up to each country to implement their own standards. Such inconsistency is why Global Water bypasses the government when it comes to installing water treatment systems.
“We’re trying to fill a void that’s been created by the leaders of the developing world themselves,” Kuepper said. “There’s a real lack of concern among these leaders to take care of their own people.”
The U.N. Millennium Development Goals Report indicates that at the global level maternal mortality rates fell by less than one percent annually between 1990 and 2005–far below the 5.5 percent annual improvement needed to reach the world body’s 2015 target. Of the eight Millennium Development Goals–U.N. benchmarks to reduce poverty and improve health–originally set in 2000, it’s the area that has seen the least amount of progress.
“Women’s health and empowerment is at the heart of all the development goals. I don’t think any of them can be achieved unless we scale up a full range of reproductive health services and policies for women in every part of the world,” Thomas said. “There’s such great momentum around maternal health because the crux of women’s reproductive health and rights is the saving of lives of women who are dying needlessly because of pregnancy or childbirth.”
Improving women’s access to clean water is directly linked to increasing their life expectancy. For example, a 2006 WHO survey found that women in countries such as Tanzania were only expected to live to the age of 51; one of the causes of death was consuming excessive levels of fluoride found in contaminated water. Those who do survive in countries with unsafe water have to deal with side effects like stiff joints.
“The body acclimates to some degree to accommodate the level of contamination in the water,” Kuepper said. But he pointed out that such adaptation only applies to microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, not minerals like fluoride and arsenic. Since water contamination remains an environmental hazard to women and children in the world’s poorest nations, he doesn’t envision the development goals being fulfilled within the next six years.
“I don’t see anything on the horizon to fix the problem. There’s not enough funding efficiently being spent in water-short areas of the world,” he said.
Usually when I post about women and water, I am talking about third world women. But we can’t forget that there is also a water crisis going on in America. Bijoyeta Das reports for We News on the conception of the Women Water Walkers in 2003 and also the global day of climate activism where over 4.400 events in 172 countries have been planned for Oct. 24 to draw attention to the need to cut greenhouse emissions.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Their lips wind-burned, feet blistered, shoes worn out. They keep walking.Sometimes they walk as much as 54 miles in a single day, taking turns carrying eight liters of water in a copper pail and an eagle staff, a six-feet long carved staff with eagle feathers attached, which serves as a flag for Native Americans. At night, they rest in the houses of their supporters or in lodging arranged by a casino. Some nights they camp out in the bitter cold.
For six springs, Mother Earth Water Walkers have walked nearly a month to circle one of the Great Lakes in North America.
Since 2003, they have walked the shorelines of Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and twice around Lake Michigan.
This year they walked up one coast of the St. Lawrence River, starting at Kingston, Ontario, on April 13 and down the other. They ended on May 1 at Riviere-la-Madeleine, Quebec.
Two Anishinawbe women lead the annual event, which started as a Women Water Walk on a cold wet Easter day in 2003 in Odanah, Wisc.
Along the way, many Native American men and women join them.
The goal is to raise awareness that water is essential and sacred.
Call to Lower Greenhouse Emissions
The United Nations Climate Change Conference is scheduled for December in Copenhagen, Denmark. World leaders are expected to clinch a comprehensive global treaty to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Tomorrow, Oct. 24, over 4,400 events–called climate actions–are being planned in 172 countries to stir public awareness and urge leaders to commit to policies that will lower global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million. That’s the level that James Hansen, a scientist with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has identified as needed to sustain human civilization. The current level, according to a dynamically updating monitor on 350.org, the grassroots group organizing Saturday’s events, is 387.
Along with building the buzz online and through posters, the campaign uses off-the-wall strategies, such as baking cookies at 350 degrees F and stringing up 350 socks and pieces of underwear.
The group’s leaders include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid; Liz Thompson, an environmental leader for small island developing states, such as Barbados; and Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist for agricultural practices reform and adherent to the alter-globalization movement. The lead organizer is Bill McKibben, a Vermont writer who authored the first book about the dangers of climate change 20 years ago.
But the Water Walkers are not part of this or any media blitz. You won’t find them on Twitter or Facebook.
“We walk the talk,” said Josephine Mandamin, 67, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and founder of the Mother Earth Water Walks, in a phone interview this week. “We don’t have to be on the media and television. You just walk with the water and the people get the message.”
Great Lakes Landscape Changed
The human population of the Great Lakes basin is approximately 42 million, according to a report “State of the Great Lakes,” which was prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and Environment Canada. Increases in population and urbanization have changed the landscape of the Great Lakes, which in turn may result in an increase in erosion, sediment transport and degradation of water quality in the tributaries and the near-shore areas. Between 1992 and 2001, 2.5 percent (2 million acres) of the Great Lakes basin was subjected to change in land use, according to the 2009 report.
“Some conditions of the Great Lakes are improving while others are deteriorating,” said Phillippa Cannon, a spokesperson for the EPA. One of the current programs of the EPA’s Great Lakes National Office is to clean up contaminated sediments from the most polluted parts, she said.
But when you ask Mandamin about human-made climate change and the havoc scientists say it is wreaking, she says Mother Earth is doing what she can by “cleaning herself” in the form of fires, floods and landslides.
Mandamin described herself as a grandmother “looking after the water for the next generation for the unborn.”
“In every nation, any country, any First Nations that I have heard, women were the carriers of the water, from the wells to the house,” she said.
According to the “State of the Great Lakes” report, the climate in the Great Lakes region is shifting. Winters are shorter, annual average temperature warmer and rain and snow are heavier. The air and water temperatures are increasing, while the lake ice cover is decreasing.
Cannon said that Congress is considering the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in which the president has proposed $475 million to address the problems in the Great Lakes. “That would certainly make a big difference towards continuing the work of cleaning up the Great Lakes,” she said.
Inspiration for First Walk
The idea for the Water Walks welled up in 2002, from the Sundance Ceremony in Pipestone, Minn., where the Grand Chief E. Benton-Banaise-Bawdwayadun of the Anishinawbe reminded the women of a prophecy made about 10 years ago by an Anishinawbe elder:
“In about 30 years, if we humans continue with our negligence, an ounce of drinking water will cost the same as an ounce of gold.”
The leader also talked about how traditionally women have been the carriers of water and that it is believed that one day women would walk all of the Great Lakes.
That prompted Mandamin to initiate the first Women Water Walk.
In 2003, after a send-off ceremony and feast of moose stew, fish, wild rice and Bannok– a traditional native bread prepared by pan-frying–women from different clans came together to pace the 350 miles of the Lake Superior coastline.
For the last couple of years men have realized their duties, too, and are walking beside the women on the spring treks.
Since 2006, men hold the symbolic eagle staff to give strength during the walks; however, women continue to carry the pail of water. “There was a uniting of the minds for the water, with the water and because of the water,” Mandamin said.
Walking All Day
Gary Fourstar, one of the founders of this event, said the female-dominated group led another 10-day walk for the water, starting at the headwaters of the Tiber River in Italy and ending at the Vatican in 2007. More than 80 people, including Native American elders, participated in the walk.
The goal of the water walk is to spur people to give thanks for their water and to realize that water is alive and needs protection, said Debora Fourstar, president of the Many Horses Foundation and married to Gary Fourstar.
She said the Western world has lost respect and connection with nature.
Bijoyeta Das is a multimedia journalist based in Boston.
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