This summer, my family took an extraordinary and illuminating vacation in Africa. We covered five countries, where we saw an abundance of wildlife, including thousands of giraffe, zebras, elephants and other animals. My personal highlight was visiting a Maasai village in Kenya where I showed a classroom of students how to juggle.
It was at this village, though, that the region’s struggles with access to water struck me hard. We witnessed women, young girls and old ladies, laboring to carry water to their homes, hunched over with jugs strapped to their backs. Our host told us that delivering water was a woman’s most important responsibility.
Indeed, water was a constant theme in our travels. In Zimbabwe, the thundering beauty of Victoria Falls astonished us, as did the crocodile-filled Zambezi River in Zambia. At the same time, we saw the prevalence of bottled water, along with the discarded bottles and stench of burning plastic from trash fires.
The facts are stark: According a 2015 United Nations report, 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to safe sources of drinking water. These are nations contending with lack of basic infrastructure, such as taps and toilets. But they’re also facing new threats, from fracking in South Africa to privatization in Nigeria.
Of course, Africa isn’t alone in facing water challenges, as we see in the United States. In Detroit and Baltimore, residents are struggling to prevent water from being shut off in their homes. Communities from Florida to California are resisting fracking. New York’s Rockland County is combatting United Water’s capricious management of their drinking water system. And across the country, we are dealing with drastically reduced federal funding for water infrastructure.
In Zanzibar, I was asked to lead a conversation about energy policy with other guests at the eco-lodge where we were staying. We discussed fracking as the waves of the Indian Ocean crashed on the nearby shore. We were joined by a local fisherman, who shared his concerns about pollution’s impact on his livelihood.
Food & Water Watch is proud to have helped win the passage of a UN resolution in 2010 explicitly recognizing the human right to water and sanitation. My trip to Africa further inspired me to stand in solidarity with people of all nations to build the power we need to fulfill that right.