Turning on a tap in our homes for a cool drink of fresh water is taken for granted. Imagine walking for miles to your water source each day - and then carrying your daily water needs back to your home. Imagine doing this every day of every year. The job of water fetching is often borne by women and young children and it can be an exhausting, time consuming and even dangerous activity (in some communities the risks from wild animals and sexual predators are very real). Kids’ education is also often compromised as their time is given to carting water.
Sanitation systems give a community the ability to remove dirty, unsafe water and waste that result as a part of everyday life. From activities like cooking food, washing utensils, laundering clothes, bathing, showering and using toilets, waste is a regular by-product. In developing communities, images of putrid water ways, open running sewers and fetid, rubbish filled dumps is due to poor or non-existent sanitation systems. There is simply no effective way to remove the waste products. The dirty water and refuse simply accumulate becoming dangerous breeding grounds for disease and sickness, putrefying the air and polluting the land.
It’s simple to trap people into an ever perpetuating cycle of poverty and misery. Simply restrict their education – and ensure that they cannot read or write. They will only ever be able to work the lowest paid jobs, and with their meagre wages spent on the most basic of needs (food, clothes, rent, debts) they will be incapable of paying for their kid’s education. Their children are raised in poverty and so the cycle continues.
Health. Sickness. Disease
Diseases spread easily and quickly in communities that have poor sanitation and unreliable water sources. Cholera, typhoid, trachoma, hepatitis, dengue and malaria are some of the most serious dangers – but in poor areas even untreated diarrhoea and vomiting can result in severe dehydration leading to death in adults and infants alike. Without the basic knowledge of hygiene, simple things like washing hands or covering mouths when sneezing can be constant sources and threats of infection. When it can take hours or even days to get help from a doctor, it can mean the difference between life and death. In some cases, health services are just too expensive to access and this can mean a death sentence to poor people.
Issues that arise from gender discrimination within communities remain significant and troubling. Serious problems exist and include: the sanctioning of violence against women and girls (including honour killings, beatings and sexual abuse); the forced labour of young children in places like sweat-shops, rubbish dumps, mines or quarries; restricted access to education; the violation of female genital mutilation; forcing young girls into marriage (which destroys their educational opportunities and forces them into early, frequent and dangerous childbearing).
Homes made of rubbish – tin, bamboo, sticks, plastic bags are a common site across poor regions as slums spring up when people have nowhere to live. Poor sanitation, a lack of clean, fresh water and food, and cramped living means that slums become breeding grounds for disease, sickness and danger. Tiny, crude huts can be shared with up to 10 children sometimes complete with pigs and poultry – in this environment children struggle to stay healthy and have little hope of finding a quiet place to study for school. If you do have a home to live in, there are poor protections over tenancy rights and land ownership and the risks of eviction are always a troubling possibility.
Financial hardships can affect any family but when those who can work are confronted with limited opportunities for employment, or lack the necessary skills or education required to secure a good paying job, a downward spiral begins. Subsistence farmers are particularly vulnerable if they cannot feed their families as they are forced into the labour market to survive. Without skills, experience or access to capital to start their own businesses it can be a desperate and hopeless situation.
If you are a person living with disability, life is particularly tough. In some religions and cultures you are considered as ‘deserving of your punishment’ (e.g. karma implies that your suffering today is deserved as punishment for the sins of your past lives). Where there does exist the resolve to help, there often is little capacity to practically assist a person with physical or intellectual disabilities (e.g. provide a wheelchair). And so the problems associated with living in a poor community with a disability are amplified.