This is Eileen Wray-McCann for Circle of Blue. And this is What’s Up with Water, your “need-to-know news” of the world’s water, made possible by support from people like you.
The governor of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency because a severe drought is affecting the island’s water supplies. The Associated Press reports that about 140,000 Puerto Ricans now suffer 24-hour water cuts every other day. The rationing that began on July 2 will help preserve supplies from one of the island’s 11 main drinking water reservoirs. The head of Puerto Rico’s water utility urged residents not to hoard water because stockpiling could worsen the situation. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, one quarter of Puerto Rico is classified as being in severe drought and another 60 percent is in moderate drought.
In Australia, government authorities announced the first distributions from a federal drought resilience fund that was established in 2018. The federal government invested nearly 4 billion Australian dollars in the fund, which is expected to grow to $5 billion by the end of the decade. From that seed money, $100 million a year will go to farmers and farm communities as they seek to adapt to drought and hotter temperatures. The first round of funding includes support for drought research, land management, and skills development. According to the United Nations climate panel, Australia is one of the places most vulnerable to freshwater scarcity and declines in food production as temperatures climb.
In science news, an international research team found a tight link between rising greenhouse gas emissions, a warming planet, and changes in water availability during dry seasons. Dry seasons are intensifying in the mid-latitudes, which are those areas just outside the tropics. The most affected regions include Europe, western North America, southern South America, Australia, and East Africa. The decline in water availability is driven not by decreased rainfall, but by higher temperatures, which increase evaporation. To verify the climate-water link, the team used computer models that simulated the climate over the last century with and without man-made carbon emissions. Not every region is getting drier. A few places experienced a rise in dry-season water availability. Those include interior China and Southeast Asia. The study’s authors come from Switzerland, France, the United States, Japan, and Italy. It was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
This week, Circle of Blue reports on coronavirus prevention in Nigeria.
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads through Africa’s most populous country, a health foundation is pushing for better access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Otun Adewale is a senior medical officer in maternal and child health. He recounts the story of two doctors in a private hospital in Abuja, Nigeria. One who washes his hands after he is with a patient, the other who does not. One who contracts Covid-19 and one who does not.
Since the beginning of the year, Adewale has been working with Wellbeing Foundation Africa, an organization focusing on women’s and children’s health in Nigeria through education, advocacy, and better care. For the past few months, Adewale and the team at Wellbeing Foundation have had a new mission: thwarting the transmission of Covid-19 by improving water, sanitation, and hygiene practices. Adewale told Circle of Blue that the parable of the two doctors got him interested. He said “That as simple as handwashing can be, as simple as observing these precautionary measures can be, it can actually save you from the dangers of Covid-19. The other person who takes it for levity is facing the music now.”
Though it had a late start, the disease is spreading through Nigeria with increasing speed. As of June 30, Nigeria had more than 25,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, the second highest number in Africa. Forty percent of the cases were recorded in the last two weeks. Vulnerable populations such as frontline healthcare workers are at a greater risk without proper water or hygiene.
That is where organizations like Wellbeing Foundation Africa step in. The foundation notes that hospitals and clinics are often short on water and soap that are needed to prevent disease transmission. According to Rita Momoh, who is a midwife, expectant mothers might fear that doctors will bring Covid-19 to their homes when they have a checkup, or the mothers might not be comfortable going to the healthcare facility when they need to. “A majority of Nigeria still believes Covid-19 isn’t real,” Adewale explained. “Some believe it is a scam.” He added: “People will only take responsibility for their health when they are convinced of Covid-19.”
The Wellbeing Foundation was at the forefront for water, sanitation, and hygiene before Covid-19, but has since intensified its educational outreach due to the virus. Its workers teach classes to healthcare facility employees and engage with hospital officials to install handwashing stations. The foundation holds meetings with community leaders and passes out flyers in the local language so residents can understand and value the information. The foundation also has a virtual program for adolescents across states, to educate and demonstrate how to wash.
Most rural communities do not have easy access to clean water, and residents will often travel long distances to find wells or creeks. Urban Nigeria has better water and sanitation access rates than rural areas, yet cities face their own challenges with the virus. The expansion of unplanned settlements such as slums puts more lives at risk because of crowded living conditions and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene, known collectively by their acronym WASH.
According to WaterAid, 57 million people in Nigeria – over a quarter of its population – do not have access to clean water. 130 million, well over half the population – do not have basic sanitation or hygiene. Nigeria operates as a federation of 36 states, each with a different institutional framework. The fragmentation has its drawbacks. According to Alero Roberts at Wellbeing Foundation Africa, the water board in each state that is managing clean water and sanitation is often aging and ineffective. Roberts told Circle of Blue, “What this pandemic has taught us is how easily our health system can be stretched beyond capacity. We’re talking infection prevention and control, but with infection prevention and control we’re talking water and sanitation hygiene. It all comes back to WASH.”
For now, Wellbeing Foundation Africa will continue to educate individuals and advocate for healthcare adaptation in Nigeria. So when a patient needs a checkup, there’s no doubt about handwashing and proper procedures. “Because,” said Roberts “what we need to do is change hearts and minds.”
And that’s What’s Up With Water from Circle of Blue, which relies on your support for independent water news and analysis. Please visit circleofblue.org and make a difference through your tax-deductible donation.
Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.