Returning from the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France to the Central African Republic allowed me to contrast one of the most developed countries in the world with one of the least developed. (The CAR ranks ninth from the bottom of the list in the U.N.'s Human Development Index.)
How do I explain the CAR to people in France? The CAR is a place where everyone is a subsistence farmer in order to eat. Even people with salaried jobs are subsistence farmers because you never know if your salary will actually arrive at the end of the month. How do I explain France to people in the CAR who make less than a dollar a day, which usually has to go for school fees or meager health care?
Although the World Water Forum focused on the developing world, there seemed to be little interest in places like the CAR. It would be a slight misrepresentation to say that the conference was all about aid agencies and commercial companies in the developed world selling their assistance and products to the developing world. But that was clearly the focus of many. There were, however, others hidden in the corners that were interested in the poorest of the poor.
A major discussion at the Forum was whether water and other services should be provided at cost or at a subsidized price for the poor. The fiscal conservatives argue that subsidizing the price is not sustainable. They are probably correct, but in CAR, my project (PASE) has a difficult time convincing people of the benefits of drinking potable water. If people had to pay for potable water, only the elite in the village would consume it. I have been places where there is not a single latrine in the entire village. It is not a question of money; rather it is the difficulty of changing people's habits and behavior.
I don't want to sound depressing. There were many good things about the Forum. I met Kamal Kar, who started the concept of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) or http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/ I met a couple of old friends, including Michael Campana who has a blog entitled WaterWired or http://aquadoc.typepad.com/waterwired/ I met a new friend, David Zetland, who has a blog entitled Aguanomics or http://www.aguanomics.com/ I found a great resource in French about water in developing countries http://wikiwater.fr and I discovered a couple of NGOs that are teaching manual drilling in Africa [EnterpriseWorks/VITA or http://www.enterpriseworks.org/ and and Practica Foundation or http://www.practica.org/ Lastly, I meet a number of people actively involved in fighting cholera, which has appeared in the CAR.
On this World Water Day 2012, it's good to remember that at least some people care about providing safe water to the and sanitation to those in places like CAR. If you're reading this blog, you're probably one of them. Thank you, for helping us reach those in greatest need!
Joe and Deborah Troester
Baboua, Central African Republic
Photo: Sign in Marseille, France announcing the 6th World Water Forum and stating that "140 countries are mobilizing for water solutions."
Joe and Deborah are ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) missionaries in Baboua, the Central African Republic. Joe serves as technical advisor for PASE, which provides safe drinking water and promotes good hygiene and sanitation to villagers. Pastor Deborah teaches at the Theological School in Baboua. Their daughter, Christa, attends ninth grade at Rain Forest International School in Yaoundé, Cameroon.