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American Red Cross Celebrates World Water Day with Life-Sustaining Programs

International World Water Day is held annually on March 22 as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

Safe water and sanitation go hand in hand as basic human necessities. Sadly, without access to either, millions of people around the world are suffering and dying every year.

The Red Cross is working tirelessly to alleviate the tragic situation among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, including in the Caribbean, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“At the present moment, that lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation for many of the world’s poor is the largest cause of disease and death, especially among children under five,” says Robert Fraser, senior officer and water and sanitation coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Deadly outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera are all too common among communities recovering from major disasters, but emphasis on safe water and sanitation programs are making a difference.

In Haiti, the American Red Cross is prioritizing the restoration and construction of household and communal latrines and washing stations, which are high risk areas for the spread of communicable diseases, according to Leigh Burgess, the local water and sanitation program delegate.

“Before we received the latrine, it was very difficult for the children, especially at night,” said Madame Jean-Baptiste Duvert Saint, a local beneficiary. “When a family member was sick or when it rained, walking into the jungle was difficult and dangerous to do what we needed. Now we just visit the latrine that is next to our house. We are very proud.”

Hand washing facilities installed at the National School, Miron, Haiti Yohannes Hagos, American Red Cross water and sanitation advisor, monitors the flow and quality of water at a beneficiary's home in Sichuan, China, following the region’s 8.0 magnitude earthquake in 2008.

When the country’s January 2010 earthquake collapsed a retaining wall surrounding a school, the latrines became flooded with use from the local community.

“The situation was very unsafe,” says Madam Enide Joseph Dauphin, principal of the Carl Brouard School, a local school in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood. “Because people were coming in from the street, the latrines were unclean and the situation was not safe for our students.”

The American Red Cross worked with local engineer Jimmy Corby to reconstruct the wall, repair the latrine area and provide safe hand-washing facilities for the school’s 700 students. “We can now maintain the latrines and students can wash their hands properly,” Dauphin said.

Another latrine project in a popular market block, Solomon Marche, is upgrading and expanding current facilities. “They were used by thousands of vendors and residents daily, and had not received any significant maintenance since 1997,” said the area’s custodian of 30 years, Monsieur Olvel Lamour.

Similar projects in Indonesia and China are supporting the creation of sustainable hygiene promotion activities following the countries’ respective tsunami and earthquake.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve seen done over the years, but there is still much to be done,” said Yohannes Hagos, water and sanitation advisor for the American Red Cross for the past 10 years. “More than 800 million people worldwide do not have access to safe water, and 2.5 billion need proper sanitation. Water and sanitation is life sustaining. All recovery sectors are important, but without proper water and sanitation, full recovery will not be possible.”