National Geographic : 2010 Apr
• listing the principles of infection control. But for four months a year, the water feeding their taps would run out, said Birhane Borale, the head nurse, so the government would truck in river water. "We use water then only to give to patients to drink or swallow medicine," he said. "We have HIV patients and hepatitis B patients. ey are bleeding, and these diseases are easily transmittable---we need water to disinfect. But we can clean rooms only once a month." Even medical personnel weren't in the habit of washing hands between patients, as working taps existed at only a few points in the building--- most of the examining rooms had taps, but they were not connected. Tsega Hagos, a nurse, said she had gotten spattered with blood taking out a patient's IV. But even though there was water that day, she had not washed her hands a er- ward. "I just put on a di erent glove," she said. "I wash my hands when I get home a er work." close to people's homes is key to reversing the cycle of misery. Com- munities where clean water becomes accessible and plentiful are transformed. All the hours previously spent hauling water can be used to grow more food, raise more animals, or even start income-producing businesses. Families no longer drink microbe soup, so they spend less time sick or caring for loved ones stricken with waterborne diseases. Most important, freedom from water slavery means girls can go to school and choose a better life. e need to fetch water for the family, or to take care of younger siblings while their mother goes, is the main reason very few women in Konso have attended school. Binayo is one of only a handful of women I met who even know how old they are. Access to water is not solely a rural problem. All over the developing world, many urban slum dwellers spend much of the day waiting in line at a pump. But the challenges of bring- ing water to remote villages like those in Konso are overwhelming. Binayo's village of Foro sits atop a mountain. Many villages in the tropics were built high in the hills, where it is cooler and less malarious and easier to see when the enemy is coming. But Konso's mountaintop vil- lages do not have easy access to water. Drought and deforestation keep pushing the water table lower---in some parts of Konso it is more than 400 feet belowground. e best that can be done in some villages is to put in a well near the river. e water is no closer, but at least it is reliable, easier to extract, and more likely to be clean. Yet in many poor nations, vast numbers of villages where wells are feasible do not have them. Boring deep holes requires geological know-how and expensive heavy machinery. Water in many countries, as in Ethiopia, is the responsibility of each district, and these local governments have little expertise or money. "People who live in slums and rural areas with no access to drinking water are the same people who don't have access to politicians," says Paul Faeth, president of Global Water Challenge, a consortium of 24 nongovernmental groups that's based in Washington, D.C. So the e ort to make clean water accessible falls largely to charity groups, with mixed success. The villages of Konso are littered with the ghosts of water projects past. In Konsos around the developing world, the biggest problem with water schemes is that about half of them fall into disrepair soon a er the groups that built them move on. Sometimes technology is used that can't be repaired locally, or spare parts are avail- able only in the capital. But other reasons are achingly trivial: e villagers can't raise money for a three-dollar part or don't trust anyone to make the purchase with their pooled funds. The 2007 survey of Konso found that only When clean water becomes plentiful, all the hours previously spent hauling water can be used to grow more food, raise more animals, or even start income-producing businesses.