Today is World Water Day! It is not only a day to celebrate clean water and the benefits it brings us, but to also remember the need for clean water, sanitation, and hygiene around the world.
Here are the facts:
- 663 million people lack access to safe water to drink, cook with, and bathe in;
- Four billion people don’t have proper sanitation available;
- Nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene.
Every life that is lost is a life that had the potential to change their community and positively impact the world. Every person has the right to have safe water to drink and access to basic sanitation.
Here are the stories of three women in India whose lives are affected daily by unclean water and poor sanitation. For these mothers it goes beyond themselves – their unborn children are also affected.
Babita Devi is 25 years old and 9 months pregnant, ready to deliver anytime. Everyday her journey to an open field, her only place to use the bathroom, is an ordeal she wishes she didn’t have to endure. It takes her 20 minutes to walk to a place where she feels nobody can see her. Each day she navigates through rough and unlevelled paths, soiled with human and animal waste, to reach the field. With the eminent danger of slipping and falling at the back of her mind, Babita Devi thinks twice before taking her steps.
“The walk is torture especially when one is pregnant. We have limited bladder control in such times…The other challenge is how uncomfortable it is to squat in the field. The stomach hurts badly and I feel dizzy when I get up. We have to walk distances through dirt to reach the fields. We have to watch our step so that we don’t slip as there are feces lying all around. Because I heard cases of women going to the field for toilet and delivering there, so there is also this constant fear that it may happen to me. When men are using the field, we women abstain from going. We have to control it, which is not healthy. Just thinking about our walk to the field for toilet deters me to eat. So if we drink and eat less, then we have to go to the toilet less. This is not good for us pregnant women and our babies, but what can we do.”
Tara Devi, a resident of Bintola, recently gave birth to her 10 day old daughter, Kushi. Little did Tara Devi know ten days earlier that a trip to the field to go to the bathroom would be a perilous moment for her and her yet to be born daughter.
“We don’t have enough money to have a proper roof over our head, so the discussion about having a toilet in the house was never in discussion. Most of the villagers here don’t have toilets. Going to the field is the only option, and the field is far away from home. There are so many challenges we, as women, face due to open defecation…Due to pregnancy, the frequency to go to the field for [the] toilet increase[s]. I used to go at least 5 times a day. On one such occasion I was headed to the field to use the toilet. When I just squatted down my water broke. I yelled for help—my baby was coming. I had no one with me to help me but there were some children playing close by. They heard my shrieks and went running to the village to get women. By the time the women came my baby was out. It is upsetting to have a child born in such a place, which is not hygienic, but at that time my main concern was for my child and safely delivering her. Once the women came they cut the umbilical cord with a razor blade. I couldn’t get up so I and my child were carried back to the village.”
Having to go to the bathroom in the open is a plight for us women. But what can we do? It is our reality.
During floods our situation gets worse because the ground is flooded with water. For men it is an easy solution—they just wade the water and do their business there. For women, we have to create a makeshift toilet. We have to put a ladder across a tree and then use it as our toilet – there are some sacks hung on either side to give some sense of privacy. Going to the field to also puts us at risk from snake and scorpion bites. I was five months pregnant, and while I was out in the field, a scorpion bit me. The pain was unbearable. I screamed and yelled and then found myself feeling dizzy and nauseous. I remember falling to the ground. My in-laws had come with me to the field. They picked me up somehow and took me to be cured. When I reached there, I tried to bear the severe pain…I feared more for my child that was in my womb. Thoughts ran through my mind,
‘Had the poison affected my child made it sick or had an evil spirit possessed my child through the poison?’ It is a scary feeling. For the next few days I found it difficult to walk. I was weak and the wound took time to heal. I still have that mark on my foot. After that incident I really want[ed] to make a toilet, but my husband is a daily laborer and we don’t have enough savings to invest in constructing a toilet. It is costly. Now that fear of something happening to us while going to relieve ourselves has become a part of our lives.
Each of these women have fought to take care of themselves and their unborn children, but because they lack access to proper sanitation it is a difficult task. Help women like Tara by sending an email to Congress telling them to put the health of mothers and babies first.
Lord, we ask you to ignite passion in many people’s hearts to help bring clean water to those who desperately need it. Remind those of us who have safe water to always give generously and freely to help make this blessing available to others that we often take for granted. Amen.
Photo: © 2015 World Vision/ photo by Annila Harris