Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Amazingly, a couple of months have passed since the Zambia trip. You may recall that the graduation at the Helen De Vos School was a smashing success, attended by two Cabinet Ministers and a number of other dignitaries, the computer lab is now up and running, and talks are underway with a number of folks about our next step: bringing water sanitation to the more remote regions of the country. As audacious as that sounds, everything that has been accomplished thus far by ACE and CAC-Z was improbable and, with the backing of corporations, advocacy groups and NGO’s we have spoken with thus far, the outcome seems imminently achievable.

As with every developmental project – especially in the societal development workspace – progress seems to come in fits & starts due to everyone’s ops tempo and, like the pursuit of any stretch goal, there are also numerous opportunities to give up. However, the need keeps calling. This week I received a set of pictures of Kenyama in the rainy season, which were quite motivating:

Kenyama in the rainy season – misery

Boy carrying water

When we toured the schools in Kenyama, we were told over and over again that their “capital improvement goals” were, in descending order: a roof, water, a wall fence, electricity, etc. (fyi, no one asked for a football stadium). Ironically, electricity is last on this list: a lot can be done in natural lighting and extra clothes can compensate for a lack of heat, but it’s hard to justify even conducting classes without a roof, without water, and without physical security.

Building roofs and walls has its challenges, but on the surface the solution seems relatively straightforward: funding + materials + labor. The water issue, though, is confounding: there is plenty of water in Zambia, just not enough that is potable when & where it needs to be. In some of the schools, a spigot is cited as huge progress (it’s better than nothing), however, the water is tainted, causing illness and disease. From there, the water-related issues seem to spiral out of control: wells that are unusable for lack of maintenance; latrines without flush toilets, separate facilities for girls (which discourages their use) and teachers (which adds yet another disincentive to the profession).

Thankfully and, again, contrary to popular belief, America has stepped up and is providing assistance with water sanitation in Zambia. On May 12, 2012, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced that it had signed a five-year compact with Zambia to reduce poverty through sustainable economic growth there. The first significant project under the compact will address water sanitation concerns in Lusaka by building sewers, treatment facilities and other water-related infrastructure. The American people will contribute about $355 million to this project during its term.

That’s great and we should be proud of our efforts (wow, a good U.S. government story!), however, it’s not just the people of Lusaka that need clean water. After the compact was announced I asked The Hon. Harry Kalaba, a member of Zambia’s parliament representing the northern region of the country if his constituency would benefit from the MCC work. The answer was sadly, no. According to Hon. Kalaba: “It is actually a fight to make people understand that rural areas are just as important. My hope is that eventually many will come to appreciate what we are going through in rural Zambia.”

Our (very preliminary) research thus far says that there are ways to bring relief to these people. Bringing clean water (and of course roofs and wall fences) brings education, which supports democracy, freedom, job growth and prosperity. So, we press on. Our friends at the WASH Advocates have taught us a lot and will continue to help us as subject matter experts as we move forward with this initiative. Corporations with critical engineering and logistical support have indicated interest in the project, and our friends at K&L Gates  have provided critical public policy insights. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, the needs of the folks in Zambia are real and current. Therefore, if you want to learn more about the work of ACE/CAC-Z, visit childreneverywhere.org. Please leave behind a donation if you’re so moved.

CAC-Z carrying teachers to school

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

About Denis

Business Leader, Consultant & Social Entrepreneur. Proven senior executive leader with deep experience guiding companies throughout various lifecycle phases including start-up, rapid growth and maturity. Principal of YellowPark Garden, providing executive leadership expertise and assistance in economic and societal development initiatives.
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