Saturday, October 29, 2011



By Mildred Ngesa

This is a battle we can win without a doubt. 

If only the pens of journalism could focus on water and sanitation as a basic and most fundamental human right – if journalism could anchor its cameras towards nothing but the priceless flow of clean drinking water then the battle will most definitely be won and by far.

Five years to hitting the targets of the MDGs and availability of clean, safe drinking water still remains a mirage to millions across the world. Only five years and communities are still choked by challenges of sanitation that threaten to reduce the planet we live in into a massive sea of sheer garbage. 

Thus declares MDG 7: To halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. A very bold declaration indeed but sadly shy and notably lacking in sustainable gains compared to other MDGs. 

Water and sanitation ought not to be “invisible” anymore; why should it when the Media across the globe can make the necessary noise to ensure that this basic human right is provided for and achieved? 

Peace Pen Communications calls for the media across the region to rise up to the responsibility of making access to clean water and sanitation a priority to all nations and governments especially in sub-Saharan Africa where availability and accessibility to these basic rights are almost none-existent. 

Statistics are glaring and disturbing. The urban poor settlements in major towns in the country agonize under severe shortages of water – in some places; access to clean drinking water is completely unheard of. It is in this area where sanitation issues are as remotely important as the need for an ostrich feather on a hat – nobody really gives a damn! 

Flowing raw sewages, mountains of stinking garbage and the unavailability of toilets and waste-disposal systems have become synonymous with the wretched poor of urban towns. 

But the urbanite is not the only victim to the intricacies of water and sanitation. Rural settlements have for eons decried the existence of dying water points made uninhabitable because of pollution. In other areas mainly inhabited by pastoralists and animal-headers perennial conflicts and raids have resulted to deaths and constant displacement of communities – all in the name of fighting for water points and water sources for animals. 
The situation is much worse than illustrated. This is why the media like any other stakeholder in this issue must act and act fast. 

Articulating water and sanitation needs amidst the realm of persistent poverty calls for a complete paradigm shift of how media recollects, digests and reports issues on water and sanitation. It calls for strategy and redefinition of what the role of the media is in advocating positive change especially in areas such as water and sanitation where critical masses are so in need. 

True, water & sanitation may not be as “sexy” a subject as the vibrant politics of the day. The media docket in an ordinary newsroom may not even consider water as a lucrative enough subject to invest in so unless the story-angle is scandalous or controversial mere reportage may never see the light of day. 

But media is wrong in this presumption. Just the mere fact that nations and governments fail to guarantee clean water and sanitation to its citizen as a basic human rights requirement as stipulated under the law is in itself a major anomaly. By denying citizens clean flowing water from the taps is by all means breaking the law! The new Constitution of Kenya for instance guarantees this right in no uncertain terms; Article 43 (1) b & d; - Every person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities…and a right to reasonable standards of sanitation. 

For a dedicated and critical media surely the glaring gaps in this regard should be fodder enough for ground-breaking meaningful stories on water and sanitation all year round! If media is keen to act as the agitators for rights of disgruntled citizenry then reportage of the flying toilets of Kibera and other slums would not cease until all slum areas are provided with decent toilet and waste management facilities regardless of the circumstances!
Fodder to keep the media interested in water & sanitation stories is in plenty. 

Children walk for unbelievable kilometers every day in search of water on their way to school and back, women are attacked and raped at night when they venture out of their houses, especially in the slum areas to go to the only toilets available, communities kill each other in the name of water in cattle rustling battles that have mistakenly gained roots and become the norm, while contaminated water is sold to unsuspecting desperate consumers at exuberant rates as governments turn a blind eye. Such are stories that should and must keep the media busy enough to ensure governments are kept on toes to deliver vital services. 

It takes the pooling together of all stakeholders in the water & sanitation field for this towering reality of MDG 7 to be realized especially in Africa. It means that policy makers, financial strategists, technical and resource services, governments, the donor community and the media should re-think and re-define the path towards achieving this goal. 

It is only through a well-coordinated consistent and holistic approach to the water & sanitation crisis that tangible results can be achieved and celebrated. This will include a steady collaboration and partnership with the media to articulate and drive advocacy and implementation matters making them newsworthy enough to elicit reaction from responsible quarters charged with turning things around where gaps in terms of provision and services looms high. 
It is the media that can put a face, a name, a voice and much credibility to the debate on access to clean drinking water and sanitation – it is the media that has the ability through proper packaging of issues on water & sanitation and articulating them to the various selected publics that the two issues can gain prominence and importance. 
It is only when water persistently and continuously flows from the pen that the real impact of MDG 7 will be realized. 

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