22 March, 2015 - Kathryn James
Kathryn James is a Senior Technical Advisor in the Inclusive Development Department of CBM Australia. Her role includes supporting and providing advice to non-government organisations to make their programming inclusive of people with disabilities. In this blog, she shares why access to clean, safe water is important for all – including people with disabilities:
I recently traveled to Western Province in Papua New Guinea to participate in a workshop for a World Vision WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. CBM is partnering with World Vision to support disability inclusion within the four-year project in the Western Province of PNG, the country’s largest and most remote province. With few roads, most villages are located along rivers, accessible only by boat and often many hours away by motor-boat from the capital, Daru.
By traditional canoe, the journey can take much longer. In this type of environment water rules daily life, as the tides determine when journeys can be taken and a high tide can flood villages temporarily. My visit was during the rainy season, and heavy falls of rain punctuated each day. Yet despite the apparent abundance of water, access to clean, safe drinking water is a big issue.
In a village two hours’ from Daru by motorboat, community members reported that they mainly sourced water for drinking and cooking from a stream about 20 minutes’ walk from the village. Unclean drinking water can lead to water-borne diseases and is a problem for all the villagers, but for people with disabilities simply accessing water at all can be difficult.
If a physical or vision impairment means they are unable to travel to collect water, they often have to rely on family members for their water needs. Rain and floods can create a slippery, unsafe environment that is hard for people with disabilities to navigate. And women with disabilities in particular can face stigma or discrimination if they cannot fulfil this essential household task, as the job of collecting water most often falls to women.
Despite the challenges, the villagers were keen to improve their water, sanitation and hygiene situation. They showed us ‘tippy taps’ they had built to make handwashing simple despite the lack of running water. Tippy taps are built from a plastic bottle and a rope hanging from a stand. Filled with water, the bottles can be ‘tipped’ for handwashing. Simple adaptations, such as ensuring the environment around the taps is not slippery or the installation of a handrail, can help make the taps accessible to people with mobility impairments.
The WASH project is working to provide sources of clean water, including via rainwater tanks, in schools and health clinics within villages in Western Province. It is also promoting handwashing and other hygiene practices, and supporting toilet construction.
Together with the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons, CBM is providing technical support to help staff understand the WASH needs of people with disabilities, and ensure that the project’s activities are inclusive. Disability inclusion will be considered in many aspects of the project, including the design and location of tanks, taps and other infrastructure, ensuring hygiene promotion materials are accessible to those with hearing, vision and intellectual impairments, and involving people with disabilities in water management committees. The project staff at the workshop were enthusiastic about inclusion, and keen to learn more about how they could ensure the WASH needs of people with disabilities are met.
Following the workshop, the project’s team of community facilitators spent several weeks journeying by boat to remote PNG villages, gathering information about people’s WASH needs and priorities, as well as data on the numbers of people with disability in the communities.
This is the first step to helping all people – especially those with a disability – to access clean, safe water.