Half of the world’s population now lives in cities and within two decades, this will rise to almost 60 per cent or around 5 billion people. The rapid urbanisation in developing countries is placing a huge strain on water resources and sanitation. The situation is most pressing in the many slums which have sprung up around cities across the developing world. Over 800 million people are believed to be slum dwellers and very few have access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation, leaving them vulnerable to water-borne diseases.
With the spotlight yesterday on urban populations without access to water and sanitation, aid agencies were issuing information about progress in this area in Haiti. Even before the earthquake, Port au Prince represented one of the most challenging environments, with only 40 per cent of Haitians having access to safe drinking water. After the earthquake, as huge numbers moved into the temporary camps, the task of providing well over one million people with water and sanitation facilities was huge.
The charity Malteser International says that with all the work by various agencies, Haiti’s water quality has improved, though providing access is still an ongoing task. In terms of sanitation, a water and sanitation engineer for Concern Worldwide reports how six months ago, Haitians living in certain areas of Port au Prince had just one toilet for every 2,000 people. With the threat of cholera ever present, there has been a huge effort to improve on this situation and the charity says that there is now be one toilet for every 50 people. Training is also being conducted among local communities to encourage Haitians to take responsibility for water issues and improving infrastructure.
Sunday’s presidential elections in Haiti went smoothly and official preliminary results are expected at the end of the month, with a definitive announcement on April 16th. Haiti’s people are believed to be cautiously optimistic that they will soon have a stable leadership and government to administer the billions of dollars in promised earthquake aid. The European Union’s policy chief was reported by Reuters as saying it was essential for the election process to “respond to the expectations of the Haitian people and advance the reconstruction and development of the country”. One vital component of this reconstruction will be the improvement of water and sanitation infrastructure. As the United Nations suggested in its third Water Development report, the required knowledge, experience and technology is available and it is therefore up to country leaders and all levels of their government – local, regional and national – to focus on this crucial area and make water management a priority.