This is the third in our series of Water Wednesday blog posts by students at the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY.
The water crisis that Water for South Sudan deals with is truly a universal problem. A couple of days ago I had one of the most interesting conversations so far in my college career. A couple of my friends and I were talking about potential grad schools and future plans after graduation. One of my friends brought up Stanford and how she hoped to go there next fall. Without missing a beat another friend of mine responded, “Yeah if it hasn’t burned down by then.” What he was crudely referring to was the drought crisis that California faces and has faced for some time. It was an interesting statement to hear because the drought has entered the public conscience in the US in a big way. Speaking personally, most of the people whom I talk to know about the drought in California even if their knowledge is just superfluous.
For me, this fact speaks volumes about the media and its ability to reach every citizen, even a group of college kids in New York who are far removed from the situation in California. The situation in California is a terrible one, and many Americans may have family members who are affected by it. In fact, Californiadrought.org reports that at the start of calendar year 2015 as many as 60% of residents were without water in some areas. This is truly a crisis that American citizens are right to be conscience of. However, the way that the media frames the crisis is very interesting to me as an observer. Major news networks such as CNN often use rhetoric such as “it is a fundamental duty to supply people in need with water.” Once again, this is a fascinating statement that I personally hope could apply to more than just the California water crisis.
Yet, (and I do not mean to belittle it) the crisis in California is nowhere near as widespread or as endemic as the water crisis facing South Sudan. In fact, many areas within South Sudan’s 78 counties do not even have access to clean water at all. Worse still, the water that is available can sometimes contain harmful contaminants that carry a host of diseases. The Huffington Post reports that “Diarrhea caused by inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene kills an estimated 842,000 people every year worldwide, and is of the second leading cause of death for children under age five.” In South Sudan alone, deaths in rural areas are estimated in the thousands. Sadder still is that fact that the majority of these deaths are preventable given adequate resources.
By contrast, California has many resources at its disposal. In fact, as experts point out, California has the wealth and resources to combat their crisis and can also draw on support from the greater US. South Sudan does not have this luxury. Worse still, a large number of counties in South Sudan experience outbreaks of cholera and cannot get access to clean water. This is a situation that seems unacceptable in the 21st century, and clearly South Sudan needs an advocate the likes of which California has. There are no Hollywood celebrities living in South Sudan; there is very little coverage of their 25 year water crisis in the mainstream US media. This is precisely why we, at a grassroots level, should be involved in fixing that situation. Overall, we in the US must not only be concerned by the plight of our neighbors in the West, but also by the more long term and ongoing plight of South Sudan.