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"In their daily search for clean water, women in rural sub-Saharan Africa literally and symbolically walk the social, economic, and geographic paths along which, scholars argue, the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be mapped."

It was back in 2002 when Kofi Annan identified women as the backbone of Africa, and sounded the dire alarm that the combination of famine and AIDS was disproporationately impacting African women "who keep African societies going and whose work makes up the economic foundation of rural communities."

"For decades, we have known that the best way for Africa to thrive is to ensure that its women have the freedom, power and knowledge to make decisions affecting their own lives and those of their families and communities," Annan wrote in a New York Times article IN AFRICA, AIDS HAS A WOMAN'S FACE."At the United Nations, we have always understood that our work for development depends on building a successful partnership with the African farmer and her husband."

Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and, eventually, of whole countries.

But today, millions of African women are threatened by two simultaneous catastrophes: famine and AIDS. More than 30 million people are now at risk of starvation in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa. All of these predominantly agricultural societies are also battling serious AIDS epidemics. This is no coincidence: AIDS and famine are directly linked.

© Photo by Tyler Hicks, The New York Times, AIDS In Uganda

Women,HIV/AIDS & H2O Facts

*Households in rural Africa spend an average of 26% of their time fetching water, and it is generally women who are burdened with the task. (UK DFID)

*The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 20kg, the same as the average UK airport luggage allowance. (HDR) Link

In 2007, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS reported that
*33.2 million people throughout the world are living with HIV.
*Two-thirds of these people reside in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.
*Among those living with HIV in this region, 62 percent, or 14 million people, are women and adolescent girls.
*Among people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, 70 percent are women of African descent.

African women, HIV/AIDS and the water crisis

In a Spring 2009 article An Issue of Environmental Justice: Understanding the Relationship among HIV/AIDS Infection in Women, Water Distribution, and Global Investment in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa, Tulane University's Nghana Lewis makes a powerful case for reframing HIV/AIDS as an issue of environmental justice by connecting the epidemic with the continent's water crisis and the disproportionate impact this co-existance has on the region's black women.

In the context of rural sub-Saharan Africa, understanding the HIV/AIDS crisis as an issue of environmental justice warrants consideration of policies that result in the inequitable distribution of clean water in this region, precisely because these policies place indigenous women at disproportionate risk of HIV/AIDS infection.

"From New York to Nairobi," explains Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, CEO of the International Partnership for Micro-bicides, an anti-HIV vaginal gel currently in large-scale testing, women "bear the brunt of this epidemic, and they are most at risk for biological reasons, and they are at risk because of their lack of social and economic power" (The End of AIDS).

Discussing "the politics of scarcity", Lewis suggests that institutionalized public policy restricts women's access to the infrastructure which would connect them to vital resources necessary for health and survival.

In Kenya, for example, where, because of HIV/AIDS, the current life-expectancy for women is fortyeight years (World Factbook 2007), the Royal Nairobi Golf Course "has sprinklers operating on a 12–hour-a-day basis," and, Watkins observes, "right next to the seventh green, you have [former Kenyan President Daniel] Arap Moi’s house, which has a swimming pool and a very green lawn" (Watkins 2006b). Rather, the restrictions apply disproportionately, if not exclusively, to Africa’s poor, the people lacking the wherewithal to organize politically and demand change. Policies governing these restrictions reflect varying legislative and judicial strategies that postcolonial African states began pursuing in the 1960s to concentrate economic power in the hands of indigenous African elites who replaced retreating European imperial admininstrators. As Native Ghanaian, Associate Professor of Economics at American University, and President of the Free Africa Foundation George Ayittey crudely puts it: "In [postcolonial] African pork-barrel politics, elite barracudas absconded with the bacon, leaving the people to starve" (Ayittey 2000, 591). And, I would add, to thirst.

Women & the Millennium Development Goals

It is impossible to underplay the importance of sub-Saharan women in the realization of the eight MDGs by 2015.

MDG3: Gender Equity: Poverty has a woman's face. Global prosperity and peace will only be achieved once all the world's people are empowered to order their own lives and provide for themselves and their families. Societies where women are more equal stand a much greater chance of achieving the Millennium Goals by 2015. Every single Goal is directly related to women's rights, and societies were women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development in a sustainable manner.

"ÒYes, I am scared to be 18 and in this village. I really donÕt know what I will do about a husband and familyÓ Excerpt from interview. Rabuor (at the time) has a 33% HIV positive infection rate. 3/04, Rabuor, Kenya." Photo by Amanda Koster
MDG6 Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases: Malaria, together with HIV/AIDS and TB, is one of the major public health challenges undermining development in the poorest countries in the world. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. Many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. Pregnant women and their unborn children are also particularly vulnerable to malaria, which is a major cause of perinatal mortality, low birth weight and maternal anaemia.

water......let's SAVE and use it WISELY! (EXPLORE 22/2.) This is my tought for this weekend---Splendid for all of YOU.... ( this is taken at Epupa,Namibia) Photo by Annamaria

MDG7. Environmental Sustainability: Reducing poverty and achieving sustained development must be done in conjunction with a healthy planet. The Millennium Goals recognize that environmental sustainability is part of global economic and social well-being. Unfortunately exploitation of natural resources such as forests, land, water, and fisheries-often by the powerful few-have caused alarming changes in our natural world in recent decades, often harming the most vulnerable people in the world who depend on natural resources for their livelihood.

7C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

To date, sub-Saharan Africa is further along in meeting the MDGs than any other developing country. Link

Women, Water & Development

MALI DJENNE 001 ©  Devimeuxbe

Sometimes the lack of substantive freedoms relates directly to economic poverty, which robs people of the freedom to satisfy hunger; or to achieve sufficient nutrition, or to obtain remedies for treatable illnesses or the opportunity to be adequatley clothed or sheltered, or to enjoy clean water or sanitary facilities.
-- Amartya Sen

In a 2006 interview, 'Africa: The Most Effective Vaccine against Child Death in Africa is a Glass of Clean Water', Kevin Watkins, the lead author of the UNs 2005 Human Development Report, discusses the significant connections between women, water and development in sub-Saharan Africa. (The report truly spotlighted water inequalities with its revelation that a typical Western toilet flush used 50 litres of water, when as little as 20 litres of clean water daily would save millions of lives while promoting economic development.)

"... globally there are roughly two million child deaths as a result of not having access to clean water," says Watkins. "And Africa is hugely over represented in that number. It accounts for something like a third or more, roughly 40% of total child deaths from water-related problems. That is a health outcome."

Annually, he says, Africa loses five per cent of its GDP because of the long distances women have to walk to collect water.

"And five per cent of GDP is a lot of GDP. It is more than Africa gets in aid! There are more people campaigning on aid and debt relief, but this problem dwarfs what goes into Africa through aid and debt relief. The real burden, when you get down to the household level, is uses of women's time. And I think that people do not understand the problem, to be honest.

In Kibera, you see these little kids, young girls, carrying 20 liter buckets of water. This is more than half of their body weight. Walking for more than an hour in rural areas is even worse.

The minimum amount of water that people need, and what we argue in the report, is 20 liters daily. We say 20 liters should be a right of citizenship. In rural villages in parts of east Africa, and even in urban areas, and people are using 9 or 10 liters of water a day.

Now if you have sick person in the house, and you have nine liters of water  a day for cooking, for washing, for drinking, it's impossible to meet basic public health standards, apart from the huge costs in terms of children who get infected with unclean water. Actually, what we say in the report is that there's a lot of thinking that's going on about immunization – and of course that's critical – but, actually, the most effective vaccine that you can give against child death in Africa is a glass of clean water.

Although Watkins worked extensively in Africa and conducted exhaustive research reading UN and World Bank reports prior to publishing the HDR, he says it wasn't until his visit to Kibera that he really understood "that in the lives of ordinary people, it's hard to find something bigger than water.

"I always used to be struck, when I worked for Oxfam and I used to go to villages in Zambia or Tanzania, that people have this sort of primordial drive to get their kids into school. Similarly, you can try to explain the need for clean water to people in Britain, and they sort of look at you. You talk to people who have lost kids to diarrhea – I mean this is the twenty-first century. This is so wrong, and yet it doesn't even figure on the national political agenda in most countries. At the international level, it's not even a blip on the radar. To me, that's just extraordinary."

Elderly woman in Ouagadougou [Burkina Faso] by digital don

Coming in September: Part II.  The African AIDS Crisis

*First Image: A woman and her daughter watching a filming by Médecins Sans Frontières's project The Heart of the Matter

The EcoJustice series discusses environmental  justice, and the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation and the climate crisis  on communities around the world.

About the EcoJustice Africa series: Since the colonial period, empires have plundered, drilled, and mined the African continent with patent disregard for the dignity, living conditions, and human rights of native populations. Today, Africa suffers from severe deforestation and drought, erosion, famine, and disease: UNEP describes the continent as one of the region's most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. This essay is the part of a series by the Daily Kos EcoJustice Team on environmental injustice in Africa.
EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PDT.

Originally posted to boatsie on Mon Aug 09, 2010 at 07:02 PM PDT.

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