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Sitali will be posting about his AFE everyday this week! Here is the first:

KB (real name withheld) is still recovering from the predicament that befell her family in 2007. The two men that she loved the most, her husband and son were abruptly taken away. They survived the horrors of a 14 year brutal civil war that ravaged her country and killed more than a quarter of a million people but five years after the war, they were gone! Taken not by guns but by germs in a cup! Cholera! ‘It struck quickly’ she told me and ‘in no time, they were weak and dehydrated, then the most dreaded happened’. A combination of dirty water, bad hygiene and poor sanitation can make the perfect breeding ground for cholera and other water and sanitation related diseases. Yet it can be stopped by cutting its paths through washing hands, having access to safe and clean water as well as good sanitation facilities.

KB, like most of her neighbors lost their dear ones in a very short space of time. Within days, the cold arm of death touched her community and left a thick dark cloud hanging for weeks. What was worse? They could not bury their loved ones. They were not allowed for if they tried, their health and their lives would have been at risk. The killer was not only contagious; it also came wrapped in the most basic of our needs, water. Imagine if that glass of water you will drink was to carry your death warrant, imagine if your community was exposed to disease because there was no proper place to call a toilet? Imagine the human, physical and economic losses, the pain and the agonizing anguish?

As scary as the imagination could be, KB lived through it and when I met her in 2010, she was strong and had volunteered in several community activities to fight cholera and other water and sanitation related diseases. But KB, her community and country were just one among many that so frequently come face to face with not only life threatening diseases but also economically and socially debilitating water and sanitation challenges. Not only does lack of access to clean water and good sanitation cause disease, it also has social and economic consequences of paralyzing proportions. Girls are unlikely to go to school if there are no sanitation facilities at the school. The World Bank and others estimate that India loses about US$53.8 billion of its annual GDP due to inadequate sanitation. Yet a dollar invested in sanitation brings back four to nine more dollars in health savings and other socio-economic gains.

Today and tomorrow, and every day (unless something dramatic happens), 2.5 billion people in the world lack access to safe and improved sanitation facilities. Now that is the population of the USA, China, and Sub-Sahara Africa combined. Some among them use open spaces often in full view of many. They practice what UNICEF terms the most dangerous sanitation practice, open defecation. Others rely on tins, buckets, plastics, or even precarious structures perched over fast flowing streams and rivers or stagnant water bodies. Most of these also make up a part of the 780 million people that go every day risking their lives by drinking dirty water. Streams, creeks, open and shallow wells are their main sources of drinking water.

The result is as dehumanizing as the practice itself. Disease thrives and their dignity is lost. Globally a whopping 3.5 million people die every year due to dirty water, poor sanitation and bad hygiene, 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world. This should not be, but it is. This can change and it is albeit slowly. This must change and it shall, but only if we pull our resources in a way that makes our efforts more effective. It is towards this fight that I dedicated my energy during the AFE and will continue for the foreseeable future.

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