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Water Woes: Japan, Haiti and Kenya Among World’s Trouble Spots

Couple surveying damages in Japan (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

In northeastern Japan, where people are still sifting through wreckage from the March 11 tsunami, more than a million households are without water. While in Haiti, health workers are scrambling to stave off a cholera epidemic. Still, in other parts of the globe, the quest for clean water is a daily challenge tied to governance, infrastructure and other issues.

As World Water Day arrives Tuesday, we looked at a few of the world’s trouble spots n terms of clean water supply and sanitation with William Fellows, UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene cluster coordinator.

JAPAN: Waterless households on the rise

FELLOWS: Japan is a disaster is on top of a disaster. Right now, there are about 1.8 million households in Japan that do not have water, and that number is still going up. That’s not because the situation is deteriorating, it’s because the assessments are still going on. The Japanese government has still not managed to reach all of the affected areas, so we still don’t know the total magnitude of the problem. Given that all sanitation in Japan is waterborne, once you don’t have water, you don’t have sanitation. So there are probably 7 million to 8 million people who have neither water nor sanitation.

Tent camp outside Port au Prince Tent camp outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti

HAITI: Fighting a double front

FELLOWS: Haiti now has a couple of emergencies going on. We’re still in the recovery phase of the earthquake, and we’re just now getting to the point of serious reconstruction: the laying of pipe and rebuilding of the urban system, while trying to fight a cholera epidemic, which caught us all by surprise and on which we’re playing catch up. But it just underlies the intense vulnerability of the country as a whole. So basically we’re slowly trying to make up for 100 years of lack of development.

To control cholera, you need to work on sanitation and hygiene, especially in urban areas. In a place like Port-au-Prince, where the water supplies are actually ground water, transmission is much more through food and hygiene. So we’re spending a lot of emphasis on food hygiene, personal hygiene, distribution of soap and messages through all channels, including churches and civic organizations, to get the message out in the streets: basically, wash your hands, while working on the sanitation issue. The sanitation situation in Haiti was appalling before the earthquake and hasn’t improved much since. The underlying causes need to be addressed eventually, and now while you have people’s attention is a good time at least to get started on it.

Flooded town in Pakistan in December. (Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)

PAKISTAN: Lingering flood troubles

FELLOWS: Pakistan is an ongoing problem. The flood displaced probably 20 million people, and most of those people are still without water and sanitation. So that work continues and will continue for at least a couple of years.

SUDAN: Post-referendum conflicts

FELLOWS: We’re monitoring very closely the situation in Sudan. We were prepared for a major humanitarian catastrophe around the referendum. Thankfully that didn’t happen. But there is still significant reason to worry. You have a large number of people returning to the south from the north, who really don’t have any place to return. And there is conflict along the edge of the north-south border, attacks which will displace people, along with renewed violence in Darfur.

SOMALIA AND YEMEN: Lack of governance

FELLOWS: Somalia and Yemen are places that have fundamental resource issues. In Somalia, there’s renewed fighting overlaid by a drought. And Yemen (grappling with anti-government protests) is getting close to running out of water. The lack of good governance and civil unrest create an environment in which it’s not possible to do long-term planning with what is an extremely finite resource.

KENYA: In pursuit of water

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Jake Naughton reported recently on an all-girls high school in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where the students describe how the pursuit of water for everyday use such as cooking takes up much of their day and sometimes night:

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, to mark World Water Day, Steve Sapienza reports on an innovative approach to securing access to clean water for new arrivals to one of the world’s fastest growing cities: Dhaka, Bangladesh. His report was part of a partnership with National Geographic magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting that examines population issues around the world.

Plus, watch a previous report in the series from NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro, who explores how rapid population growth in New Delhi, India, is straining water supplies:

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