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ROB QUICK: This water is undoubtedly
very contaminated and is not an ideal source. But it’s the only source for the
people who live around here.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, cleaning Kenya’s water.
Plus, assessing the global threat of genocide.
JERRY FOWLER: Our mandate is to alert the
national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to
confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.
MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world
affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley
Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter.
Nearly two billion people around the world don’t have safe drinking water. The
United Nations says more than three million people a year die from drinking dirty
water. Most of them are children and the elderly.
MCHUGH: It’s been a problem for
hundreds of years, mostly because piping clean water to those who lack it is
complicated and expensive. But as Common
Ground’s Eric Whitney reports, eight agencies are finding success with a
more affordable local alternative.
[sound of children playing in a river]
ERIC WHITNEY: Under the blazing tropical
sun a boy and his sister splash in the Kuja River in Kenya’s rural west. They
bathe as their mother washes clothes beneath the trees on the river bank.
[sound of children playing in a river, and their
mother talking to them]
WHITNEY: The dark swift river cuts
through high, red clay banks and this low spot next to an incoming creek is a
favored watering hole for livestock. Many people drink this water as well.
LORNA OKO: [via a translator] I’ve
come to fetch water from the river.
WHITNEY: After walking from the
nearby village of Sasi, Lorna Oko and her boy and girl on this visit are
filling three large plastic jugs.
OKO: [via a translator] I’m
going to use it for cooking.
WHITNEY: More than one billion
people around the world don’t have access to tap water. For them, this is a
daily scene. Dr. Rob Quick is a clean water specialist with the US Centers for
Disease Control, or CDC. He says that with conditions like this it’s no wonder
that two to three million people a year, mostly children, die from water-borne
ROB QUICK: Even though this is a
lovely green spot with lots of bushes, some grass by the side that the animals
like to munch on, and the trickle of this stream next to us, it’s also an area
that is a potential problem for the people who come down to this river to
collect water, to drink, and to cook, and for other purposes.
WHITNEY: That’s because even though
thousands of people live along and use this river there are few sanitary
outhouses. Toilets and sewage treatment are uncommon. When it rains human waste
gets washed into the river.
QUICK: If we were to culture this
water now we would find many colonies of e-coli
growing, which is a sign of fecal contamination of the water. And where there’s
feces there’s the potential for disease, because that’s a way that pathogens
are transmitted from one person to another. So this water is undoubtedly very
contaminated and is not an ideal source. But it’s the only source for the
people who live around here.
WHITNEY: The humanitarian group CARE
is helping the subsistence farmers who live in this area to drill wells and
build sanitary toilets. Both measures help reduce water-borne illnesses. But
it’s slow process. Bringing clean water to everyone in the world who can’t get
it now is a project measured in decades and billions of dollars. But that
doesn’t mean that regular people like Lorna Oko can’t learn to make their own
OKO: [via a translator] There
are ways we used to use for making this water safe. That is before the coming
of chlorine. So before we had the chlorine we used to boil it, boil the
drinking water. But now we are using chlorine to make it safe for drinking.
WHITNEY: Chlorine is an effective
killer of almost all the bad bugs in water, which is why city water systems all
over the world add it or other disinfectants to what comes out of people’s
taps. Because the people here have no taps, CARE and the CDC started supplying
chlorine directly to the public. After a substantial marketing campaign more
than a third of the people in this area are now chlorinating their own water
OKO: [via a translator] Using
chlorine is much safer and easier than boiling the drinking water.
WHITNEY: Chlorine is generally cheap
and easy to find around the world. But in remote places it can be made easily
by the locals. All it takes is water, salt, and a little electricity. And it
only takes a tiny amount to treat many liters of water. Oko says some are wary
of the new liquid, but not her.
OKO: [via a translator] Most
people who are not using chlorine are saying that it’s a birth control method,
so that is why most people are not using chlorine.
WHITNEY: Do you think it’s true?
OKO: [via a translator] I’m
still giving birth! [laughs] I can still give birth. [laughs some more]
WHITNEY: Oko says the impact of many
people chlorinating the water in her village has been dramatic.
OKO: [via a translator] The
difference that we’ve noticed is in the reduction of children’s deaths. Before
we started using chlorine—that is when we were, we were just drawing water from
here and not boiling and not treating. There were very many cases of children
dying from diarrheal diseases. But since we started using chlorine the
children, the deaths are reduced. That is, the deaths as a result of diarrhea
have reduced drastically.
WHITNEY: Still, convincing people to
start pouring a chemical they’ve never heard of into their water is a pretty
significant task. Another, says, Dr. Quick, is keeping treated water clean once
it’s in the house. That’s why CARE and the CDC try to sell the locals on a
special plastic jug designed to work in tandem with a bottled chlorine
QUICK: Many people in developing
countries store water in buckets or clay pots with wide mouths. We’ve shown in
several studies in outbreak situations that dipping a cub in the water can lead
people to touch the water with their hands and contaminate the water. So we’ve
developed a simple type of container that has a narrower mouth than normal but
it’s open just wide enough for a hand to get in to clean a container. It has a
cap. And then we have another opening that has a spigot on it—a tap. This
essentially gives someone a tap in their home even if they don’t have access to
a network. Hands cannot get into these containers. And the water, once
disinfected, is kept safe.
WHITNEY: Introducing the sealed
plastic safe water containers and training people to properly use chlorine has
drastically cut rates of intestinal diseases in many communities, sometimes by
as much as half.
[sound of someone banging on a pipe]
WHITNEY: But in this part of Kenya,
where there’s a lot of intestinal disease, the native Luo people were reluctant
to use the new plastic containers. That’s because of a centuries old tradition
of keeping drinking water in clay pots. Dr. Rob Quick.
QUICK: It keeps the water cooler.
It gives a taste that’s pleasing to the people here. So we married together our
idea of how to make water safe with their idea of what makes water appealing.
And we have requested a local woman’s pottery collective to make clay pots that
have a narrow mouth that have a fitted ceramic lid and have a tap or a spigot
on it for removing the water.
WHITNEY: Tests show that the clay
pots don’t diminish the chlorine’s effectiveness and demand for the modified
ceramic water pots is strongly outstripping supply. Which is good news for
[sound of women singing and chanting]
WHITNEY: Singing while they work,
these women are part of the collective that makes the modified clay pots which
CARE and the CDC help distribute. They’re known as the Oriang Women’s Group.
[sound of women singing and chanting]
WHITNEY: The collective has been
here since 1989 and employs scores of women. It’s never been as busy as now,
though. Collective Chairwoman Filgona Auma says that’s because demand is huge
for the new clay water pots endorsed by the CDC and CARE.
FILGONA AUMA: [via a translator] Since
the CARE ordered for the pots, the major work that they’ve been doing is just
the CARE pots. Because they are not yet through with the work they are supposed
to, the contract says. So they want to make as many as possible, but others
no—their only concentration is on CARE pots, no other business.
WHITNEY: Marketing a simple home
water system like this one—focused on a vessel with a tap paired with
chlorine—has proven effective from Zambia to Bolivia. But it’s never been taken
up as quickly as it has here, among the Luo people on the Kenyan shores of Lake
Victoria. The CDC’s Dr. Quick credits strong ground work in political
organizing by CARE.
[sound of people making pots]
WHITNEY: And the cultural affinity
for clay water vessels here actually gives Homa Bay a leg up on other places
where this clean water system has been set up. Instead of having to import the
manufactured safe water jugs Luos can make their own here. And because pottery
is traditionally a women’s trade that’s created a rare opportunity in rural
East Africa—a chance for uneducated women to participate in the cash economy.
AUMA: [explained by a translator]
Any woman can hardly make any money from outside besides making pots here.
Because what she’s saying, even them initially, before they is formed a group,
they were doing the same jobs and it wasn’t rewarding them. And that’s why they
came up with the idea of forming a group and starting the pottery. Because
she’s saying most of the work that is there is just the chamber work. Just to
go to the firm, but it doesn’t pay as much as this because it takes about three
months for you to realize the benefit of the firm. But here it takes a day and
you know, you have how much in a day. And it’s such a good market, as she puts
WHITNEY: CARE is looking for more
pottery collectives to ramp up supply here. Public health officials are
encouraged by the local trend. But still, most of the African continent doesn’t
know this safe water method is available yet.
[sound of a rainstorm]
WHITNEY: Afternoon rains sweep
across the Kenya-Uganda border country. Not far over on the Ugandan side at a
rural AIDS hospital, the CDC is studying whether their water vessel can help
people with HIV and AIDS live longer.
[sound of a motorcycle]
WHITNEY: Every morning Steven Śbandeke
and his 11 community health workers hop on small motorcycles at the hospital
and head out into the surrounding bush. They visit people struggling to scrape
a living off of the land here. People in mud and thatch homes who grow small
patches of cassava, corn, and beans. The people Śbandeke looks after are
part of a study. Some have been provided with chlorine and safe water vessels.
Others received only education on cleanliness. Śabandeke says the study
has reduced one of the most persistent nuisances of life here.
STEVEN ŚBANDEKE: Diarrhea—yeah, it was quite
common. In some families where we have not been working it is still common.
Except where we have provided the vessels it has reduced tremendously.
WHITNEY: Śbandeke says the
people he cares for with HIV seem to do better when they’re provided with the
safe water system. But researchers so far haven’t seen any data that
demonstrates this scientifically. The study is ongoing.
[sound of men singing, chanting, and speaking in a
WHITNEY: As scientists probe for any
angle with which to fight HIV, very old diseases, portrayed as demons by this
Kenyan theater group, continue to plague up to a third of the globe. The safe
water system that the CDC and CARE are promoting here offers one low-cost
response which has proven appropriate and effective across a variety of
cultures. The CDC has packaged the entire concept and gives away advice on
implementing a safe water program anywhere in the world. Organizers are
encouraged by its growth over the years and say they learn more with each
implementation. For Common Ground,
I’m Eric Whitney in Homa Bay, Kenya.
[sound of men singing, chanting, and speaking in a
MCHUGH: Eliminating genocide, next
on Common Ground.
JERRY FOWLER: We have to believe that we
can reduce it, that we can fight it when it happens, and we can strive for the
day when it is eliminated.
MCHUGH: The United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum opened in 1993 and quickly became one of the most popular
attractions in Washington, D.C. But the founders wanted to make sure the
institution was more than just an archive.
PORTER: They created the museum’s
Committee on Conscience. The Committee’s job is to alert the world of current
or future cases of holocaust, genocide, or other crimes against humanity. I
recently spoke with the Committee’s Staff Director, Jerry Fowler, and asked him
to first define genocide.
JERRY FOWLER: The international community
defines genocide basically through the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of Genocide. And there’s a detailed legal definition, but what it
amounts to is the intentional physical destruction of groups in whole or in
PORTER: In sort of day-to-day
operations then, how does your committee work? What are the tasks that you
FOWLER: Well, our mandate is to
alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide
action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against
humanity. So what we seek to do is when we take on a situation, bring it to the
attention of the public, increase the attention of policy makers on
it—influence them to, to make situations higher priority than they have been in
the past. The overall goal is to try to stimulate action to confront and work
to halt the violence.
PORTER: Tell me something about the
standing agenda and the different kinds of alerts that you give out—to the
world—about potential genocide, at least, around the world.
FOWLER: Well, the framework that
we’ve adopted is, is one of graduating categories of urgency. One problem is,
is the issue of defining genocide. And determining that something is or is not
genocide. And one of the most shameful and appalling aspects of the situation
in 1994 when what we now know as the Rwandan genocide erupted was the,
literally the verbal gymnastics that governments, especially the US government,
undertook not to use the word “genocide.” And they said, “We don’t have enough
evidence. We don’t have enough information. We don’t really know.” When that
shouldn’t really be the point. The point should be to prevent genocide. And so
what we’ve tried to do is put aside the issue of the ultimate determination of
whether something is genocide. If there’s violence that threatens the existence
of a group then we should be able to say that, that there’s a threat of
genocide. And in that case on our, as it were, categories of urgency, we would
issue a warning. If it was something that was so blatant that, that it probably
was genocide or immediately was going to become genocide we would say it’s an
emergency. And then the very lowest level is “watch,” where you have potential
for the eruption of genocide. But the basic idea is to be able to alert people,
talk about these situations, urge a political response without making the
ultimate legal judgment of whether it’s genocide or not. Because often you
don’t know the intent of the perpetrator. The facts are difficult to come by.
And if we get caught up in that debate we risk replaying the, the disaster of
PORTER: You have these different
levels of alerts that you give out. Tell me something about the history of
those and what watches, warnings, or emergencies have been issued since the
Committee has come into being.
FOWLER: Well, we’ve only adopted
this structure within the last year or so. Right now the situations that we’re
focusing on are Sudan, for which we’ve issued a genocide warning—which we
define as meaning organized violence is underway that threatens to become
genocide. And Chechnya, for which we’ve, which we’ve put on our watch list,
that lower level of urgency. There’s the potential of genocide. Those
situations are serious enough that, that they needed to be dealt with because
they get into that ambit of, of, of genocide; of intentional destruction of
PORTER: When people come here to
the museum, how do they learn about the Committee on Conscience and what
visible examples or visible element is there that reminds people that genocide
and holocausts are not necessarily something just of the past?
FOWLER: For people who physically
visit the museum we now have a special display on Sudan that is right outside the
auditorium where the orientation film is shown. It includes as part of the
display a brochure that people can take away with them. And we’ve distributed
over 100,000 of those to visitors at the museum. We’ve also distributed them
through schools, synagogues, churches, any venue that we can find, actually.
But, but a lot of them; visitors of the museum. This was important because it
was the first time we physically used space in the museum for an ongoing
situation outside of Europe. But it represents a commitment by the leadership
of the museum and the memorial to continuing to alert the public, including the
public who come to the museum, to these contemporary situations.
PORTER: Inside the public area of
the museum, Fowler walks us through the Sudan display.
FOWLER: It basically lays out in a
fairly small space, but through text and photographs and even a couple of
artifacts, the basic parameters of the catastrophe in Sudan. And the basis for
the Committee on Conscience genocide warning. It lists the aspects which we
think in their totality support the genocide warning. And these aspects are the
government’s practice of dividing ethnic groups in order to destroy them,
pitting ethnic groups against each other, using mass starvation as a weapon of
destruction, tolerating the enslavement of women and children by
government-allied militias, bombing civilian and humanitarian targets,
shattering the communities of people who have fled the war zone, keeping them
from rebuilding their lives once they get out of the war zone, and then
persecuting people on the basis of their race, their religion, and their
PORTER: There’s a cross here in a
glass case at the very far left side of the display. Tell us about that.
FOWLER: Well, one aspect of the
larger picture is religious persecution. In particular, the practice of the
current government in Khartoum to use religion as a way to divide people. It
uses religion as a justification for attacks on Christians, on followers of
traditional religions, and even on Muslims who don’t follow its extreme form of
Islam. So we’ve included that as part of this display. Now, in particular, as
an artifact in this display we have a small cross that was fashioned from the
fuel tank of a crashed bomber. And as you may know, there are quite a number of
Christians in the southern part of Sudan. And I find this particular artifact
poignant because it shows how the culture is trying to transform the materials
of war into, to, things that are culturally meaningful.
PORTER: And right next to it
there’s a picture of a Dinka woman and she’s holding a cross that was made from
spent shell casings, from ammunition.
FOWLER: She’s actually leaning on
the cross and the, the cross part of it, the crossbar as it were, are two empty
PORTER: This next picture here is
easily the most disturbing one in the, in the display. And there are the bodies
of what look like three children lying in what I think is the back of a truck.
FOWLER: There are three young
children who were victims of the famine in 1998, which was largely a man-made
famine. In the summer of 2000 the government began a series of attacks that,
that threatened relief planes, causing the UN to stop its operations for a
couple of weeks. That obviously put a tremendous number of people at risk. One
of the things that has to be stopped if there’s going to be any progress in
resolving this situation is the use of food as a weapon. It’s one of the most
devastating parts of the whole system and one of the things that most informs
our belief that there’s a threat of genocide.
PORTER: We move on down to the
display—there is yet another artifact that’s in a glass case here. Tell us
FOWLER: The artifact is a child’s
math workbook that belonged to a student in a Catholic-run school in the Nuba
Mountains, which is in the central part of Sudan. It has been one of the most
hard-hit areas in the last decade, since the early ‘90s when the government
essentially cut off the Nuba Mountains and launched a sustained assault against
the people of the Nuba Mountains. This particular school was bombed on February
8, 2000, which resulted in the deaths of at least 14 students and a teacher.
And when a Sudanese diplomat in Nairobi was shown videotape of the aftermath of
the bombing he said—and this is a quote that we have as part of this
display—”The bombs landed where they were supposed to land.” That, in its
cruelty, encapsulates one of the great horrors of this situation, is that the
government routinely bombs civilian and humanitarian sites. They bomb schools,
they bomb clinics, they bomb hospitals. And it’s part of their strategy. The
bombs land where they’re supposed to land. And often it’s children who are
killed. And this workbook has the bloodstains of the victims.
And an interesting aspect of it is, this was a
Catholic school and is funded in part by the Catholic bishop of that area,
Macram Gassis. But the student whose book this was, was a Muslim. And in the
Nuba Mountains, Muslims, Christians, followers of traditional religions, have
traditionally lived together in peace, in harmony. And that’s one of the reasons
that they have been specifically attacked by Khartoum, is that they do show
that people of different faiths can live together. And unfortunately many of
the victims in the Nuba Mountains have been Muslims as well as Christians and
followers of traditional religions.
PORTER: Jerry, we’re standing here
in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and we’re looking at your Sudan
display, which has to do with the genocide warning that the Committee on
Conscience has issued. Tell me something about how, in your mind, the photos
that we see here, the artifacts that we see here, compare and contrast them to
the displays you see elsewhere in this wonderful museum.
FOWLER: Well, I would never compare
this display to our permanent exhibition. There’s no comparison. It’s, it’s
disrespectful to the victims of either situation to compare. These are
situations that are beyond compare. But one of the things that has always been
part of the vision of creating this memorial is that it would be a living
memorial. And that part of that living memorial would be the obligation to
speak out when groups of people are under attack as groups. And that’s what we
see in Sudan. Where if you take all of the things that we’ve been talking
about—mass starvation as a weapon of destruction, tolerating slavery, bombing
civilian targets, persecution on account of race and religion—individually each
of those actions is a disaster for its victims. But taken together they threaten
the physical destruction of entire groups. And that’s what motivates us to
incorporate it into the physical space we have here as part of this living
PORTER: Back in his office I asked
Jerry Fowler if he believes genocide can ever be eliminated as a weapon.
FOWLER: We have to believe that we
can reduce it, that we can fight it when it happens, and we can strive for the
day when it is eliminated. When, when it doesn’t happen. We have to be humble
about that. In all humility we coined the word “genocide” 50 years ago, but
genocidal practices are, are ancient. You know, one of the things that has
really moved me about being here is the, the basic admonition that’s in the
Jewish tradition that the fact that you can’t finish a job does not relieve you
from undertaking it in the first place. And I think we look forward in some
wonderful future to a world without genocide. When we’ll achieve that world I
don’t know. But that’s the struggle that we’re engaged in and that we can’t
desist from as a tribute and a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. We do
need to do everything we can to eliminate that scourge from the face of the
PORTER: That is Jerry Fowler, Staff
Director of the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum. For Common Ground, I’m Keith
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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