Reaching the

Suvecha Pant

As a young journalist yet to reach 20, I believe that I should act as a bridge between the public and the Government in helping to solve the water and sanitation crises in my country. The media represent a powerful tool, able to pressurize the Government to bring in programmes to address these issues.

Infectious, water-related diseases are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality amongst the poor. Some 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe water and 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation.

I am angry that some 6,000 children die every day from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. The number of children killed by diarrhoea alone in the past decade is greater than all the people lost to armed conflict since the Second World War. Around 88 per cent of the incidence of diarrhoeal disease – itself amounting to an estimated 4.3 per cent of the total global disease burden – is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene: it is mostly concentrated on children. Meanwhile, projections for 2025 indicate that the number of people living in water-stressed countries will increase sixfold to 3 billion.

Human right
I believe that access to safe drinking water and hygiene is a human right, something we are failing to provide to the poorest people. The world community spends a small fraction of what is needed on water and sanitation. Sanitation facilities are still centred on the wealthy residents in the main cities. Slum dwellers and people in rural areas have to defecate outside without proper sewage systems. There is a need to develop lavatories, and not just ‘modern’ ones, but those adaptable to the social customs of the people. Just washing hands can reduce diarrhoeal disease by a third.

In my part of the world, South Asia, where almost a third of the world’s population lives, access to water is a major problem. Safe drinking water is limited to the rich in the cities. In rural areas people have to walk hours to reach the nearest well, while clean water is considered a luxury by urban slum dwellers.

Grassroots voices
I hope, through my journalism, to bring out the voices of the ‘have-nots'. I strive to publicize the problems of those at the grassroots, whose voices may be paralysed or unheard. Often, the needs of the rich city dwellers overshadow those of their fellow citizens living in slums or rural areas. The need for a balanced focus on both the city and villages in terms of water and sanitation can be highlighted through the media.

I believe in taking small steps right now, rather than planning a giant leap for the future, in promoting good practices and innovations for water and sanitation. There are so many simple practical ways of solving the problem. I want to reach the people through writing, and through broadcasting on the radio – which is the most widespread form of media in Nepal. To help just one person to a better life would definitely be worth a lot to me

Suvecha Pant is coordinator of the science page and journalist at The Kathmandu Post, Nepal, and a journalist and English newsreader at national radio station Kantipur FM96.1.

PHOTOGRAPH: Eduardo Augusto Mayaert/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Action for tomorrow | Turning words into action | One hand washes the other | People | Fragile resource | Realizing the dream | Washing away poverty | At a glance: Water and sanitation | Music makes magic – Angélique Kidjo | Targeting sanitation | In a city like Mumbai | Flowing from the bottom up | Books & products | Watering a thirsty land | Peace through parks | Reaching the unheard

Complementary issues:
Water, 1996
Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996
Freshwater, 1998
The Environment Millennium, 2000
Poverty Health and the Environment, 2001
Freshwater, 2003