Thursday, November 6, 2014


A UN special envoy visited the United States in February 2011. Catarina de Albequerque made several recommendations about access to water and sanitation as a human right. The UN report has many striking paragraphs and sections; typical phrases and descriptions for the developing world, not so typical for our California home.

As usual, the human right to water was the most popular theme. It went to Sacramento and in  2012 was passed as Assembly Bill 685 guaranteeing the human right to water. That was a successful bill,inspired by Dr. Albequerque's visit and a political movement of water access folks.

Despite all the energy around drinking water, there wasn't much ground gained for the  human right to sanitation. There are still many California residents who do NOT have access to functioning sanitation. The UN report recommends placing the human rights to water and sanitation equally at the center of policy formulation.

As topics go, water is always more popular than sanitation. The UNMD goal for water is met for most nations while many have not met the sanitation goal. I saw this popularity first hand in the Haiti disaster response where most first responding NGOs focused on water while leaving millions without any place to deposit their feces. Clean water advocates need to keep this trend in mind. Drinking water is important, but drinking water is also contaminated by feces. Sanitation should be addressed before water disinfection.

My reason for writing this note is to focus on one important quote from the UN report:
"In the United States, it is often the poorest and the most marginalized groups that lack access to sanitation. Without proper sanitation, human excreta contaminate drinking water sources, with severe public health implications." 
This is true for the Eastern Coachella Valley, some parts of the Western Coachella Valley and other areas with wastewater infrastructure built to accommodate temporary homes and not the multi-family living quarters that use the infrastructure.
This is also true for the homeless of urban California. Tim in Sacramento calls himself the "Sanitation Technician". He maintains rudimentary latrines for homeless people and says that he is motivated by the women.  He hauls the sewage himself with his bicycle. I expect a similar situation is here in Loma Linda and San Bernardino. We have a homeless population close to what exists in Sacramento.  I wonder if anyone is doing what Tim does.

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