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Posts Tagged ‘water and sanitation’

Wai Water?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Pere Wihongi and the Just Focus team

In Aotearoa New Zealand it feels like there is water everywhere. It fills our lakes, courses down our rivers and streams, falls from the sky, and the sparkling Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea surrounds our islands.

sharplin-fallsMaybe it is exactly because we live in a country that has so much water that it is hard for us to fathom how fortunate we are. We take it for granted that water will always flow when we turn on a tap, or flush the toilet. But it is not like this for everyone, and when we look at the global picture we start to understand how precious water really is.

Water for LIFE

Water is a key component in determining the quality of our lives. We drink it, bathe in it, cook and clean with it, nourish our plants and crops, and feed our pets and livestock. Water is life.

There is always the same amount of water moving through the planet within the water cycle, it just goes round and round and round. We drink the same water that our great-great-great-grandparents drank! Only now, we have a problem. We have the same amount of water, but there are more and more people who need it.

The UN states that the basic requirement per person each day is 20 to 50 liters of water. New Zealanders are big water consumers; on average we use 663 litres a day. Compare this to an average of 5 litres used by Cambodians.

But it’s not just about how much water we need, but what sort of water we need.  It needs to be free from pollution and other contaminants for us to be healthy. Globally, water quality is declining due to our growing population and pollution from urbanisation, industry and agriculture. Right now 1.1 billion people do not have access to enough safe water and a third of the world’s people live without adequate sanitation (sewage, waste disposal etc).

In Pakistan, for example, almost 40 percent of the population receives water that runs through dirty pipelines, which can pollute the water. Research conducted by the Pakistan Medical Research Council shows that a large number of people with diseases in Pakistan suffer specific health problems because of the consumption of polluted water.

According to the World Health Organisation, 80 percent of sickness and disease in developing countries is a result of unsafe water and lack of sanitation.  Children especially are affected. Two million people die every year as a result of diarrhoea, and most of them are children under the age of five.

What is being done? worldwaterdaylogo

On March 22 the international community will mark World Water Day. This important day focuses our attention on the water issues and problems facing communities around the world. Each year there is a different theme and this year the focus is water quality, because in order for people and the planet to flourish we need clean, safe water.

What about the environment?

When people don’t have access to enough clean, safe water then it can severely affect their health. The impact on ecosystems without clean water supplies, or any water at all, is also huge. But how is this possible on a planet where the same amount of water is always circulating and renewing itself? What’s going wrong?

Between the impact of agriculture on our water ways, industry consuming and polluting water in its mass production of the machinery, transport and consumer items, and the impact of growing cities on our water supplies, you can take your pick of the environmental issues affecting our water.

The dead zones

Large areas of oxygen-low, life-destroying water, called dead zones, are appearing around the world. One of the world’s largest dead zones, off the coast of the United States, exists because of farms.

Fertilizers used in farming drain into the country’s streams and waterways. With 40 percent of US water systems flowing into the Mississippi River, this means that during the spring and summer months the ‘Mighty Mississippi’ carries, then dumps, equally mighty amounts of fertiliser straight into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

And fertiliser does in water exactly what it does on land – it prompts growth. A huge abundance of algae is the result. The problem is, when the algae dies, sinking to the ocean floor, the bacteria that makes it rot also consumes oxygen. What is left is an oxygen-deprived, sea floor wasteland. Any life there either leaves or dies, affecting a huge ecosystem and the livelihoods of thousands of people in the fishing industry.

water-dropBringing it back to little old Aotearoa New Zealand…

So what does water mean to people here in Aotearoa NZ?
“Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au”
“I am the river, and the river is me”

Māori people use whakatauki, or proverbs, inherited from our ancestors as inspiration and guidance to help us to understand the world as they saw it. This whakatauki tells us that we should treat nature as we would like to be treated ourselves. Given water has been around for millions of years, this means it definitely deserves our respect!

Tangata Whenua (tangata – people, whenua – land) is the term commonly used to describe the Māori people of Aotearoa. Our whakapapa connections to Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and Ranginui (Sky Father) imply that we are not just people of the land, but that we were born of the land.  Our connection to the land allows us guardianship or Kaitiakitanga over it, as was agreed to in the second article of the Treaty of Waitangi. This means that the world view of Māori in regards to the whenua and wai (water) is that of respect, identity and preservation for future generations.

The water of our ancestors continues to nourish us, so how can we repay?

Global Action

Bringing the Dead Zone back to life
How do you bring a zone of 7700 square kilometres, (an area just bigger than the entire Northland Region), back from the dead? The environmental version of the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, has been running a project to restore and preserve the Gulf of Mexico for 22 years. And it might just be working: 2009’s dead zone was half the size of the decade’s average. That’s a great start.

Last year, a group of scientists and environmental groups also petitioned President Barack Obama. They want him to fully implement a gulf action plan that could reduce fertiliser runoff and restore the wetlands that filter the harmful fertilisers, before they contaminate the river and Gulf. So the dead zone might not be a lost case after all.

The Orangi Pilot Project
The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was started in the 1980s in the squatter area of Orangi, in Karachi, Pakistan. It was home to over 1 million people. Started by one man, Akhtar Hameed Khan, the OPP utilised the energy and innovative spirit of local residents to solve their own water and sanitation problems.

At the beginning the project focused on creating sewage and storm water systems, using local materials and labour. Almost 30 years later the project has grown to support the establishment of schools, health clinics, women’s work centres and a credit organisation to finance enterprise projects.

water-wellWhat can YOU do?!

•    Celebrate World Water Day at your school, church or at home.

•    Think about your own water use. There is more you can do than just turning off the tap while you brush your teeth! For heaps of ideas on ways to save water check out

•    Support an international campaign or organisation like Water Aid or The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme.

Learn more

World Vision

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome extreme poverty and injustice. World Vision New Zealand currently supports more than 70 projects in more than 25 countries.

How can I get involved?

  • Sponsoring a Child
  • Getting involved in a Charity Challenge (biking round Cambodia or climbing Mt Kilamanjaro are a few examples)
  • Volunteer to help run World Vision programmes in NZ
  • Participating in/running a 40-hour Famine
  • Donating directly
  • Getting involved in World Vision advocacy campaigns
  • Joining/starting a World Vision group at your school or university

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
UNICEF - the United Nations Children’s Fund - is the world’s leading agency for children. UNICEF works closely with children, women and communities as well as governments, other UN agencies, faith-based groups, non-government organisations and the private sector to create a better world for every child.

How can I get involved?

Fundraise – Put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising!  Take part in a run, cycle, or swim while raising money for UNICEF.  It’s easy to make your own fundraising web page!

Campaign for Change - Make some noise and help shape better policies and practices for children.  Whether you write to your local MP about an issue affecting children, fill out one of our surveys or sign a petition, you’re helping affect change for a new generation of kids.  Join UNICEF’s Campaigners for Change by emailing for further updates.

Buy an Inspired GiftDoes your Dad need another pair of socks?  Why not help girls in Ghana go to school instead?  Purchase a bicycle for a girl in Ghana from our online shop and help give a better future to children!

- Your donation will go further with UNICEF! For every dollar donated, we can leverage $10 for children who need your help.

Volunteer - There are a number of ways that you can get involved with UNICEF NZ as a volunteer:

  • You can help out in their Wellington office with administration duties
  • You can help them with fundraising events
  • If you think you have some specific skills and experience that will be of value to them then you can apply for an internship

Save the Children

Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
Save the Children are a humanitarian organization that fights for children’s rights, both in New Zealand and overseas. They desire to see a world which respects and values each child, a world which listens to children and learns, and a world where all children have hope and opportunity.
How can I get involved?
Sponsor a Child - Help transform the lives of vulnerable children. You can either sponsor a child in a region of your choice, or nominate the money to go to the area of greatest need.
Shop – there are 33 shops all across New Zealand, which all sell quality products for mums, dads, children, grandparents and friends at competitive prices. They are run by volunteers and the funds raised help with Save the Children’s work around the world.
Volunteer your time – You can help with a wide variety of fund-raising activites, such as advocacy and awareness raising, staffing a STC shop, or collecting during their Annual Appeal.
Apply for a Small Grants Fund - Save the Children will fund local initiatives that make lasting benefits for children and young people by building their capacity to reach their full potential. If you are under 18 you can still apply, but you are required to partner with a registered organisation for financial and other support.

Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa/New Zealand

Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
This is the arm of the Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) in Aotearoa New Zealand that deals with social justice issues. They aim to give service and create peace in Quakerly ways.

How can I get involved?
If you are a young Quaker (aged between approximately 16 and 39) you can join the ‘Young Friends’. Regular meetings are held in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. At their annual camps, held over Easter, Young Friends have speakers come and talk to the group, where there will tend to be discussion on important issues related to justice and peace. Young Friends also pay to offset their carbon from camps, and aim to shop local and eat vegetarian as a means of reducing damage to the Earth.


Wednesday, January 14th, 2009


What do they do?

Caritas is the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is part of Caritas Internationalis, which is a confederation of 154 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies from around the world. Caritas agencies work in over 198 countries: delivering aid, supporting development, and working for justice.

How can I be involved?


Campaigning – Caritas are involved in many campaigns, including Aid, Children, Cluster Munitions Crime and Punishment, Debt, Environmental Justice, HIV and AIDS, Human Rights Make Poverty History Millennium Development Goals, Submissions to NZ Government, and Trade. They offer excellent resources on their website to help you join with them to take action on these issues.


Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008


What do they do?

Oxfam is a Humanitarian organisation is dedicated to finding lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam New Zealand was formed in1991, and has now developed an international reputation for its development work in the Pacific and East Asia, its focus on practical solutions to the emerging crisis in water and sanitation and its campaigning for rights.

How can I get involved?

  • Become an Oxfam campaigner - Campaign activities can range from spending two minutes on an email action through to fronting up to politicians to ask questions about their policies on aid, trade and debt.
  • Trailwalker Challenge - raise $2000 to help to overcome poverty and injustice by tackling 100km of tough NZ terrain
  • The Amazing Race - race other teams through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to raise money for Oxfam projects
  • Oxjam - a month of music with a message. NZ artists busk and throw concerts to raise awareness about Oxfam’s work. They are always looking for volunteers, organisers and fresh ideas and content.
  • ‘Good Books’ and gifts – Buy your books at the online store, and all profits go to Oxfam projects. You can also buy gifts for your friends and family that directly benefit poor communities.
  • Send them stamps – Yup, Oxfam will sort through your old stamps and sell them to collectors!
  • Volunteer – Oxfam are always on the lookout for help with their programmes.
  • Donate to Oxfam
  • Read a Publication – Oxfam produce high quality, up-to-date publications on Poverty and Development issues around the world. Expand your mind and read one today!

I Helped to Clean Up a River and I Got a Rash For My Troubles

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

By Torrey McDonnell

Source:Torrey McDonnell

Source: Torrey McDonnell

Recently I proudly added a large rash across my stomach to my growing collection of tropical ailments. Unlike the coral infections I have gained from surfing local reefs, this rash was contracted whilst walking in a polluted river. But much like the coral infections, this rash is a small price to pay to get out and enjoy Vanuatu’s waterways and learn more about local environmental management. My first thought upon visiting the river was that I would not swim in it if you paid me, let alone use it for drinking water. The first time I was taken for a walk along the banks by my workmate, we saw a dead dog floating amongst an island of rubbish at a culvert bridge. I was wondering how this could happen to such a beautiful river. Then recently I helped organize, and participated in, a river clean-up day that altered my perceptions of this river and environmental management in Vanuatu.

The river I am talking about is the Tagabe River.  Fed by Port Vila’s abundant rainfall, the Tagabe River Catchment is where Northern Port Vila’s water travels to the sea. The river is important to people in Port Vila for a variety of reasons. Water is extracted from the upper and middle catchment for town supply; adjacent land is used for agriculture, logging and farming; and settlers and squatters live along the banks of the middle and lower parts of the river. Tagabe and Blacksands are two squatter communities on this lower part of the river I have been involved with. The river is a vital part of daily life in these communities, a walk down the river will reveal people bathing, swimming, washing clothes, and collecting water. There are even fresh water prawns to be found.

On the day of the clean-up we started out from the river mouth at Blacksands. We met a Blacksands man having his morning bath in the river, I told him what we were doing and he enthusiastically joined us for the day. Most of the rubbish we were collecting was littered plastic — like washing powder packets thrown directly into the river or food packets washed in from around the catchment. Traditionally litter has not been an issue in Vanuatu as most of the waste has been biodegradable (such as coconut shells and banana peels). The problem is that nowadays much of the food comes wrapped in plastic. Traditional methods of disposal don’t work for plastic litter. Food packaging is just thrown on the ground or in the river after it is used. There is none of the awareness like that which is ingrained in most New Zealanders, to Keep New Zealand Beautiful’ or Be a Tidy Kiwi’. With the increase in consumption of western style packaged food, there seems to be a need for a similar awareness campaign.

Source: Don Hunter

Source: Don Hunter

We walked past women doing their washing and children playing in the river and collecting prawns. It was hard to believe that these activities still happen in such a heavily polluted river. Other than the litter, the main pollutants are from pigpens and toilets being too close to the river and local industry releasing pollutants into the water. They cause numerous health problems such as diahorrea, giardia and skin infections. I was soon to experience the latter — a firsthand demonstration of the dangers of a polluted river.

As we continued through the morning more people joined us. The clean up group soon swelled in numbers. Local residents were happy to join in, many of these were kids who were having a great time clearing out as much rubbish as they could. The slow pace of the clean up gave me time to start to see the river, in a different light from my initial trip there. Children playing, cool shaded groves of trees, meandering curves, sparkling pools showed me glimpses of how the river looked before plastic and industry arrived in Vanuatu. The number of people who joined in showed me how much the community cares for this river. I wondered if I would ever get so many people eagerly volunteering in a river clean-up day in New Zealand?

Since the clean-up day, we have been working to reduce the amount of rubbish in the Tagabe River. We have erected signs wherever people can be found washing or bathing, urging them not to discard rubbish in the river. We have also been continuously involved in performing environmental themed plays and conducting workshops around Port Vila. However, the process is somewhat demoralizing for all involved. No matter how much Tagabe and Blacksands residents mobilize themselves to keep the river clean, a constant stream of pollutants and rubbish still keep flowing down from the upper and middle catchments.

As I learnt on the clean-up day, once people learn more about the impact of litter and the importance of proper waste disposal they eager to help — but there needs to be more done. It is hoped the work that Wan Smolbag and other NGOs are doing will inspire the council, industry and the public to improve their environmental practices. Only then may the Tagabe River become cleaner and continue to be a resource for future generations.

Torrey McDonnell is a VSA UNIVOL volunteer currently working as a Youth Worker/Environmental Advisor with Wan Smolbag, a Non Government Organisation based in Port Vila Vanuatu. Torrey was assignment from March til December 2008.

For more information check out:

Preparing for life after oil

Friday, September 12th, 2008

By Hannah Robson

oil_photoaWhat is the issue?
We all know about global warming and climate change and we all know about the rising price of petrol, but do you know that cheap’ oil WILL RUN OUT?! The world is so dependent on oil, but it is becoming increasingly expensive, we are running out of easily accessible oil and soon it will take more energy to extract it than it is actually worth.

Who is it going affect?
The consequence of Peak Oil is a potential energy crisis and, like global warming, will affect EVERYONE. Oil is used for so many things in today’s society, from the fuel in our cars to heating, food and clothing production, petroleum products are used to make plastics, fabrics, even cosmetics and medicines. Basically, your parents will start complaining about the cost of petrol and everything else (even more than they do now!), and from there petrol will become so ridiculously expensive that no one will be able to afford it. This is going to have a dramatic affect on us and change the way we live our lives. The cost of transport will mean we will travel less, trade fewer goods with other countries and we will have to give up or find alternatives for many everyday objects, from lip-gloss, to fertiliser to CDs!

What are people doing about it?
transition-townsWhile some people (mostly scientists and politicians) are focusing on new technology and other sources of energy, over 500 communities all over the world (including New Zealand) are facing the challenges of climate change and peak oil by looking for ways to become less dependent on oil and reduce their impact on the planet. These towns are known as Transition Towns and their aim is to create vibrant and thriving communities that are prepared for life after oil. There are dozens of these communities all over Britain, as well as the Sunshine Coast, Australia and New Zealand’s very own Waiheke Island, Orewa and Kapiti Coast. All up over 1,527,000 people are involved!

While this is happening at a local level there are also national and global principles in action. Nationally, some governments use energy rationing systems to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and globally, the Oil Depletion Protocol encourages nations to collectively reduce consumption, both oil producing and consuming nations.

What can we do?
There are lots more towns around New Zealand that have expressed interest in participating in this initiative. What about YOUR town?

The 12 steps of Transition
Curing our addiction to oil.

1. Get a team together — you need a group of keen and dedicated people to get the project going

2. Awareness raising - start informing people and get them talking about the issues, show some films like A Crude Awakening: the oil crash or An Inconvenient Truth, get some speakers in….make some noise!

3. Lay the foundations — find out what people are already doing in your community, start networking and build relationships with local businesses, schools and community groups.

4. Organise a Great Unleashing — have a (eco!)party and share your vision with the whole community.

5. Form working groups - get people focused on specific aspects of the process like food, water, transport, waste etc.

6. Try Open Space — bring everyone together and explore a particular topic or issue, with no agenda, no timetable, no coordinator and no minute takers, just let the ideas and discussion flow and see what happens.

7. Less talk, more action! Don’t just organise lots of meetings, show people what you are achieving.

8. Facilitate the Great Re-skilling — we seem to have forgotten how to do lots of things. Organise workshops on cooking, cycle maintenance, sock darning, gardening and food growing etc.

9. Make friends with your Local Government - Whether it is planning issues, funding or providing connections, you need them on board.

10. Honour your elders — Our grandparents lived in a lower energy society, before the age of consumerism and convenience. We could learn a lot from them.

11. Go with the flow — once your community is behind this it might not always go as your planned. Be flexible.

12. Create an Energy Descent Plan — Sounds serious doesn’t it? This is about combining all the work and plans so you cope as oil gets more and more expensive.

For more details on the 12 Steps to Transition and heaps more information go to


You don’t have to be involved in Transition Towns to take action you could leave the car at home and catch a bus or train or walk— if you don’t need to drive, DON’T! — come on guys, you know the drill. Buy less, grow your own food, recycle. Don’t let the Peak Oil Crisis be another global issue that isn’t addressed until it becomes even more difficult Stop making excuses — it’s time to make ourselves aware and show we care!


Check out Beyond the Petrol Pump, by Omar Hamed
Borrow A Crude Awakening: the oil crash, An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana and loads more DVDs from the Global Education Centre
Check out the Green Party’s Peak Oil Campaign
Go to and for loads of ideas on reducing your personal carbon footprint
Check out some great tips for organic gardening at

    Flooding in New Zealand and Around the World: A Comparison of Environmental Extremities

    Monday, August 1st, 2005

    Kate Thompson

    In February 2004, Wellington and the Manawatu region were affected with the worst flooding in recorded history. Then in July of the same year, the eastern Bay of Plenty region was hit even harder. They were subjected to severe flooding and they then had to cope with a consistent attack of earthquakes that lasted for a number of days, adding insult to injury. flooded house

    In comparison to the natural disasters happening around the world, the New Zealand floods and earthquakes appear insignificant. Although there were two women who died in the Bay of Plenty region, the Bangladesh floods claimed the lives of at least 628 people and 1,627 died in South Asia in 2004, according to the English newspaper the Independent. The devastation that covered nearly two thirds of Bangladesh in water left Bangladeshis desperate for food and shelter.

    This is not to say that people in the Bay of Plenty didn’t also suffer from the harsh blow of rain and earthquakes that was inflicted upon them. Around 2000 people were forced from their homes and had to receive emergency accommodation after they were evacuated. The situation in South Asia, however, far outstripped our own again in this department. There were literally millions of South Asians who had their homes destroyed, were exposed to water born disease (such as diarrhoea) and were quite simply living in poverty.

    Just like in New Zealand, transport paths in Bangladesh were closed because of the sheer extent of flooding that occurred. The worst was in the capital, Dhaka where sewage systems collapsed and boats became the dominant form of transport.

    It is in these moments of comparison that we can truly appreciate just how well off we really are in New Zealand when it comes to enduring the extremities of the elements.


    The Bay of Plenty Council information on Tsunamis and flooding
    Flooding in Bangladesh