Water crisis…coming soon, to a city near you!

Group of women in brightly colored clothes carrying water in jugs on their heads

Photo: Irish Aid

Often when we think about a lack of access to water, we get mental images of women and children spending half their day walking for miles through rural countryside to some distant water source. And that certainly is the case for many people throughout the world.

But with half of the world’s population living in rapidly expanding urban areas, the world’s cities are facing their own water crisis. The two main water concerns for urban areas are a lack of access to clean water and sanitation and increasing water disasters.

Rooftops of Mumbai slum

Photo: Kaustav Bhattacharya (Flikr)

Access to Water

Even though great strides have been made in access to water, population growth and urbanization is outpacing efforts to bring clean water to everyone. Inadequate infrastructure and increased pollution (from both industrial and human waste) are just two factors that make urban areas vulnerable to water problems. With just 5 years to go until the MDG deadline of 2015, 884 million people still do not use an improved source of drinking water, and 2.6 million lack access to basic sanitation!

Water disasters

The recent floods in Pakistan represent another major issue for urban areas. Water related disasters such as floods, tsunamis, droughts, and water born diseases and epidemics have escalated since the turn of the century. In fact, in just 40 years, the economic costs from such disasters has risen ten times!

Image of urban area

Photo: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Unplanned urbanization is outpacing city leaders’ ability to provide the needed infrastructure, and playing catch up is difficult and expensive. Despite water being a “gift of nature,” it takes money (and lots of it) to manage water resources (like watershed and river basin development, storage, risk management, etc), to create and maintain water services and utilities, and to develop, research and administer policies.

Funding for these expenses can come from either taxes, sales, or aid. But most funding only supports the creation of new assets and facilities, and ignores the management and maintenance of existing resources.  The estimated yearly investments for water and sanitation are $15 billion – half of what is needed to meet the MDG targets.

Cover of WWAP's Urban Water Briefing NoteTo highlight this issue, “Urban Water Management” will be the theme of the next World Water Day, coming up on March 22, 2011.  The UN World Water Assessment Program has released a briefing document, Water for Sustainable Human Settlements, which details many of these issues and the impact that urbanization is having on the world’s water.

Blog Action Day – Water!

This year I’ll be participating again in Blog Action Day on October 15, 2010. In case you don’t know, Blog Action Day is a day when bloggers around the world come together and discuss the same issue. The purpose, of course, is to bring awareness and generate discussion on a topic that impacts us all. This year, that issue is water!


But this issue is too important for just one day. So, for the next few weeks, leading up to Blog Action Day, I’ll be highlighting some of the major topics within this larger issue.

Logo for the Millenium Development Goal #7, Environmental SustainabilityIts a terrific choice, especially on the heals of the MDG Summit week last week in New York. One part of MDG7 targets water specifically: Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

The issue of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one that affects all areas of development. Access to clean water affects child health, poverty alleviation, gender equality, maternal health… the list goes on and on. And each region in the world faces its own unique water issues. I’ll be covering these over the next few weeks, as well as looking at ways that media and communications can contribute to their solutions.

In the meantime, take a look at these two maps, from WorldMapper.com. The first shows the world in terms of poor water quality, the second shows domestic water usage.

Map of the world, redrawn to indicate levels of poor water quality

Poor Water Quality

Map of the world, redrawn to indicate levels of domestic water usage

Domestic Water Usage

What the ICT4D Panel missed…

Technology can either provide increased access for people with disabilities, or it can result in greater alienation. In your experience, how have technology based development projects taken people with disabilities into account? Is accessibility something that is thought of in the design of the project, or is it mostly an afterthought?

This is the question I posed to the ICT4D: Innovation & the Millennium Development Goals panel at the UN Week Digital Media Lounge last week. But the answer I got from Wayan Vota, from Inveneo confirmed my suspicions (you can watch the panel below- my question begins at 37:14)
Vodpod videos no longer available.

I have 2 problems with Mr. Vota’s answer. First off, he said, “Most of the time we’re using tools that are already existing, so if the accessibility is built in we work with the accessibility.” OK. But just because a website meets Section 508 standards, doesn’t mean the person in Port-au-Prince has the hardware to access it.

But what he said next really blew me away.

He said, “Oftentimes in the developing world, accessibility has a different definition. Language is a huge accessibility factor. We’re all speaking English…but in many countries English is an elite language. And the local language… is not English. And often its not even a written language, just a verbal language. How do you transfer that to a device that you look at or that you read. And how can you expect the people in that community to read an English website and have any relevance with it whatsoever. Its definitely a challenge. And a lot of it has to do with getting the local people excited about writing with their own content.’

Wait…, what? People who use a non-written language need to write their own content? And, wasn’t I asking about people with disabilities? Not speaking English is NOT a disability.

Of COURSE language is an issue, but if your development project considers language an accessibility issue, you’re not working with enough local people. There are lots of examples of programs that created all their content in English, only to find the people they were trying to reach don’t read or speak English. That’s not a new problem, but it is a stupid problem.

A lack of literacy (in any language) is a different issue. And many solutions used to target people who don’t read also benefit people who can’t see. So, I guess in this case, development projects are accidentally making themselves accessible to people with disabilities?

But this doesn’t get to the heart of my question. Here we are with these great tools, fantastic technology and amazing potential to reach so many people. Are we?

Some studies estimate that 20% of people in developing countries have some form of disability. And in most of these regions disability and poverty dance around each other in an endless cycle. So why isn’t this a bigger focus?

How are people with disabilities included into these projects? Does, for example, the project that uses mobile SMS messages to remind TB patients to take their medications make use of accessible phones? Features like voice output, voice enabled menu navigation, keys that are identifiable by touch are just a few such features (the American Foundation for the Blind identifies 16 features most commonly used by people with vision loss). Are phones with these features being used in mprojects?  What about speech to speech relay (STS) – does that even exist in developing countries? Is it something that could be incorporated into projects? And people with dexterity problems or mobility issues? Are they included? How are their disabilities accommodated?

Mr. Vota’s “other kinds of accessibility” answer then skewed rest of the panel’s answers… Linda Raftree talked about broader access issues related to gender (certainly an important consideration, but not what I asked about).

I didn’t expect to hear that all the programs on the ground have a statistically representative disabled population (they should), but I had hoped to hear that accessibility for people with disabilities was being considered.  Maybe it is. But if it is, you couldn’t tell. My feeling is that if it were a bigger priority, it would have come up in the discussion…

That “other disease” isn’t as sexy…

MDG #6 Logo- Fight HIV and other disseasesIts one of the world’s biggest killers, but it continues to be one of the most neglected diseases. Tuberculosis. It kills more people than AIDS, even though we’ve have the treatment for almost 40 years.

The sixth Millennium Development Goal is “Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases.” We all know about HIV/AIDS. Amazing work has been done in the field of treatment, advocacy, education and human rights within the sphere of AIDS. Billions of dollars have been spent, rightly so, on combating the world epidemic.

But for all the attention and money that has been spent on HIV and AIDS, “other diseases” including TB have been largely ignored.

Craig David and Lee Reichman speak about TB

"If I can use my celebrity to bring awareness to TB, that's good. Its important" - Craig David

And at the UN Foundation/Mashable Digital Media Lounge, UN Goodwill Ambassador and musician Craig David threw his celebrity behind the cause. He was joined by Lucy Chesire, a TB/HIV survivor from Kenya and Lee Reichman, a leading academic in the field.

Closeup of Craig David, speaking about TBThe panel focused on two overarching problems that keep TB in the dark, so to speak: Ignorance and Stigma. Most people in industrialized nations don’t realize TB is still around. And those that do have it are afraid to self-report.

The lack of public interest results in a lack of funding, too. When asked if the profile of TB discouraged drug companies from developing better drugs, Lee Reichman answered, “Yes, yes and YES! Its a non sexy disease. People don’t care about it. Drug companies have to compete for profits…” As a result, there is an increased need for public-private partnerships, in order to get the drugs and treatments that we need.

TB Survivor speak about her experiences

"At the end of the day we are all connected by the air we breathe. And its in the air that TB can spread." - Lucy Chesire, TB survivor and activist

I’ve studied stigma reduction campaigns and have noted that  advocates for many health issues (AIDS, leprosy, some disabilities) have been able to shift the discourse from a medical model to a human rights model. There certainly seems to be some of that shift evident in TB strategies – Ms. Chesire mentioned participatory programs in her own country, Kenya, and the focus on empowering people with TB. I’m wondering what kind of networked advocacy efforts are in place with (for example) immigrant rights groups… I’ll be looking into this further. Any comments or case studies are welcome!

Good media is good development

Media development: reporter in India

Image credit: UNESCO

That’s what the folks at Internews, the World Bank and the Brookings Institute believe, and what they hope to convince funders of as well. In fact, according to Tara Susman-Pena and Mark Nelson, who spoke at the UN Digital Media Lounge today, a healthy, well developed media results in government transparency, civic participation, healthier economies, and citizen empowerment.

NOTE to Internews: I’d be very interested in learn how cross cultural perspectives on civic participation, civil society, public sphere, etc play a role in the development of media in non-Western societies. and whether (and how) that will be taken into consideration in your research.

Need further evidence that a healthy media is important? Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen pointed out that in all the world’s history, there has never been a famine in a country/region which had a free press.

So these three orgs are working together on the Media Map Project – a research project examining media (as a system) throughout the world. It will examine:

  • Journalism (safety of journalists, quality of reporting, professional development)
  • Environment (freedom of the press, supportive policies, ownership structures)
  • Information Culture (media literacy of the public, whether the public uses the information they get from media, how/if media can make their own voices heard)

Evidence for the report will be found through data analysis (access, audience research, market data, etc), donor research (who is giving what, where and why, and what are the results, impact assessments) and case studies (Mali, DRC, Ukraine, Peru and Indonesia).

They also hope to have an accompanying web based tool that will give the public access to the data, make is searchable and with custom visualizations. The website is scheduled to launch on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2011.

Obama to give the “speech of his life?”

Obama speeking at the UN General Assembly 2009That’s what the folks at Oxfam and many in the development field are hoping for. But what would that look like?

Many here in New York at looking to Obama to throw some fuel on the fire and lead donor nations toward accountability and responsibility in the final push to reach the MDG’s by 2015. They want him to use his oratory skills to bring a level of urgency to the MDGs, and to explain how poverty affects us all – it undermines our global security, the global economy, and the protection of the rights that we as Americans enjoy. The hope is he will send a clear message to the public, but also to his own government.

Beyond that, most are looking for specifics:

  • how will the US step up and raise the game?
  • how will his admin make deliberate decisions and choices regarding aid?
  • how will the US be accountable?
  • how will US foreign policy (esp Iraq, Afghanistan) affect aid?

Those are some big questions and bigger expectations.  We’ll see on Wednesday….

Media, Mexico, and tools for development

As people from around the world meet in New York to discuss the goals and how to reach them, we can’t forget the importance of media.

Of all the 8 goals, on 6.3 makes any reference to knowledge (Proportion of population aged 15-24 years with comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS). Media and communications certainly play a huge role in achieving this important indicator.

But media plays other, very vital roles in a region, especially in democratic systems. Disappointing news out of Mexico over the weekend highlights the need and importance of a free and developed media system.

Mexican flag, depicted with a spray of bullets and a slain eagleMexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist, and editors at El Diario de Juarez seem to have given up.

On Sunday’s front page of this prominent Mexican daily, is the headline, “What do you want from us?” The headline is directed at the regions active and deadly drug cartels, who have killed the second journalist from that newspaper in a s many years. El Diario is just the latest newspaper to bow to violent pressure from the cartels. Further evidence, according to some, that the Mexican government has no control.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 30 journalists or members of the media have either been killed or have disappeared since December 2006. CPJ contributors Carlos Lauria and Mike O’Connor wrote a special report earlier this month. You can also see what its like to be a crime reporter in Juarez in this short video, Silence or Death (Spanish with English subtitles):

Silencio o Muerte from Dana Chivvis on Vimeo.

Talk of the Nation talks MDG

NPR LogoDriving into Manhattan yesterday I caught NPR’s Talk of the Nation, which did a decent job discussing the Millennium Development Goals and what deveopment experts are saying about them. Guests include Jeffrey Sachs (who was one of the architects of the MDGs) and Melinda Gates.

For a great primer on the goals and to get caught up in the current discussion, listen here.

A preview of what’s to come….

Digital Media Lounge

This afternoon I’m leaving for New York to cover the UN MDG Summit. I’ll be participating in the Digital Media Lounge and will be blogging, pretty much non-stop!

I’ll be covering as much as I possibly can, but here are a few things I’ll be focusing on:

  • ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for development)- how development and humanitarian agencies are using communications and new tech to reach development goals
  • Disaster relief 2.0 – how organizations and governments are using collaborative technologies to better (hopefully) coordinate aid and humanitarian assistance
  • Media’s impact on development- what is media’s role? How can we strengthen media?
  • If, and how, any of these new technologies better include people with disabilities into development, or whether they have been considered…

I’ll also be covering the Obama and Ban Ki-Moon speeches!

You can also follow me on Twitter: LCMoy !

Media, culture and Azerbaijan

This afternoon I attended a brown bag lunch lecture at the World Bank on mobile technology and access to information. It was put on by Intermedia, an organization here in Washington DC that does amazing work on media research. (If you haven’t yet, you have to check out Audiencescapes).

There were at least half a million things I want to blog about in this presentation, so I’m sure you’ll see this referenced quite a bit in the coming days/weeks.

Although the presentation was about the increase of mobile technology and how it might be more integrated into various projects, the speaker, Dr. Gerry Power cautioned us not to forget about radio. In Africa, in particular, radio is still a major source of information, and to ignore it would be foolish. Mobile may be the fun thing to talk about now, but convergence is a more realistic solution.

But when I think of convergence, I think of old stodgey journalists finally learning how to blog. I guess I’ve been seeing it from the print/broadcast practitioner side of things. As opposed to the mobile producer side of things. But convergence, as Dr. Power’s hinted at, is more than that – its the sharing of content. Not only for the broadcaster’s sake, but for the mobile practioner’s sake, too.

A good example of this can be found in Azerbaijan and Armenia. State-owned media in both countries make it pretty hard to get any peace/reconciliation programming broadcast. So pieces that are originally created for television are instead getting audiences online.

Onni Krikorian, blogger for Global Voices, has been writing a lot lately about various media projects aimed at improving relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He does an excellent job describing the projects and the media pieces themselves, so I’ll just post his links here. These are highly produced pieces that aren’t being broadcast via television, as intended, but instead are making it into homes via the internet and mobile.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: Dialogue through Film

More Dialogue through Film (one of my favorites is on this one- check out the film called Download)

and Backseat musical musings….and ethnic conflict

And of course, because its on Global Voices, the conversation going on after these posts are equally interesting.

There seems to be a lot of activity in media for change in the region. The very reason I became interested in Azerbaijan was because of a job posting for a media and social change project in Baku. (It made me realize how much I don’t know about the region!)

Its definitely a region I’ll keep watching…