In the backdrop comes the March 6th 2012 press statement that MDG drinking water target was reached. The main question posed there was: how universal (emphasis added) was the provision of safe water? However, some of my fieldwork travels in Timor-Leste have brought me to question how safe is the water we are lead to believe so many people have now access to, thanks to the effort sustained under the MDGs.
Following WHO guidelines, “[s]afe drinking-water, as defined by the Guidelines, does not represent any significant risk to health over a lifetime of consumption, including different sensitivities that may occur between life stages.” The importance of have safe drinking water can be seen in the depth of regulation put in place by law in countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and regions such as the European Union, and recommendations in countries such as South Africa or Brazil just to give some examples. Again, as an example it seems fitting to quote the Australian Safe Drinking Water Act:
“For the purposes of this Act, drinking water is unsafe if the water:
(a) causes, or is likely to cause, harm to a person who consumes the water; or
(b) is the means by which an illness has been, or is likely to be, transmitted; or
(c) contains any pathogen, substance, chemical or blue-green algal toxin, whether
alone or in combination, at levels that may pose a risk to human health (subject
to any tolerance, condition or circumstance determined or agreed by the Minister
or the Chief Executive for the purposes of this provision); or
(d) is not otherwise, or may not otherwise be, reasonably fit for human consumption.”
While on fieldwork, in the sites I conducted some of my interviews, I got the chance to see some of the water provision infrastructure built under some of these programmes.
In the village of Moro, suco Parlamento, Lautem district, I got to see a water collection facility. This was one of the many natural pools the village has. This particular one was, as the next picture shows, protected with fences so as to avoid any farm animal in the neighborhood (goats, pigs or cows walk freely in the village) to contaminate the water. The facilities do show the provision of a space where some water treatment may occur. However, this, I was told was only done for the pipes serving the bigger village of Lautém. The local community used water piped from the two other pools.
Those were inviting swimming pools and other than the slight sulphurous smell, their freshness made the delight of children and of those that washed their clothes there. The picture below shows a villager getting some water from one of such, unprotected, pools. A pipe is visible, coming from the smaller pool where the villager collects his water. This pipe, I was told, is one of those that takes water to that village and others nearby.