19 July 2010

The Water Crisis - An SOS to the World

For my undergraduate Politics of the Middle East class, I wrote a paper on the potential for 'water wars' in the Jordanian River basin. With 97% of the earth's water supply unusable for domestic and agriculture purposes due to being saltwater, we are placing increasing demands on the remaining 3% (not all of which is accessible, some being located in ice caps and deep aquifers). In the future, water has the potential to become a weapon. States militarize in response to perceived threats to their security. Lack of access to water may well become one of the top security threats of the future if something is not done – and soon.

I am not as interested in the political implications of such a future as I am in what can be done to improve the situation now. By 2050, as many as a third of the Earth’s population may lack a clean source of water. Today, 1.1 billion, (one in eight) people lack access to safe water. Those who lack clean water are disproportionately located in developing countries, primarily in South America and Africa. Because the water scarcity crisis is ‘hidden’ away from the view of the West, it has remained a problem of which most people remain blissfully ignorant.

Unfortunately for those living in the affected areas, they do not have the option of remaining unaware of the crisis. While their husbands work to support the family, women are forced to walk hours (3-4 in each direction on average) to the nearest source of water, which may or may not be sanitary, in order to have enough for the household. Each person needs about 1.1 gallons of water a day for cooking and drinking. But to stay clean and healthy, 5-10 additional gallons per person are needed. The average woman is able to carry about 12 gallons of water at one time. With water collection taking up so much time for such little reward, it is no wonder then that water is often reserved for vital activities such as cooking as opposed to drinking and sanitation.

In a large number of cases, the water that communities do have access to is not safe. It must be boiled and purified before becoming suitable for consumption. Many communities do not have the money or resources to purchase such purification systems and so are forced to make do with the water that they have. Lack of education about the dangers of unpurified water and the benefits of proper hygiene also contributes to the problem. The end result is that diarrheal diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery -- diseases largely eradicated and thus forgotten about in the West -- kill up to 4,000 children every day. 2.2 million people in developing countries die each year from poor hygiene, inadequate sanitation, and lack of access to clean water.   

The result of water scarcity is that women are unable to seek outside unemployment that could help them to raise the quality of life for their families. Water scarcity means that thousands of children die every single day from preventable conditions such as diarrhea and dehydration. Those who do survive must forego educational opportunities to assist their mothers in collecting water. Education is widely recognized as the key to development; how can a community possibly hope to improve life for its members if its children are unable to be educated? This is not simply a matter of parents choosing not to send their children a school because they need extra hands. No, this is a matter of life or death: sending a child to school means one less container of water that is brought back to the household and subsequently possibly one less meal cooked or person’s thirst quenched.

For me, this is a crisis that is not about the security of states. It is about the welfare of the individual. It is about the women who are forced to remain uneducated in order to gather enough water for their families. It is about the thousands of children who die of dehydration and sanitation-related illnesses every single day. It is about my friend Ashleigh, who is serving with the Peace Corps in Mali and who is already witnessing first-hand the effects of water scarcity on the people. And it is about my cousin Kenneth who will soon move to rural Burkina Faso with his wife, where access to clean water will undoubtedly be a problem that he will encounter. For those who are unaware, Mali and Burkina Faso are amongst the poorest countries in the world. In Mali, 27% of the population has access to clean water. The situation is little better in Burkina, where 50% of the population has access to clean water and just 15% to sanitation.

I one day hope to work directly to combat water scarcity and the global health issues created by it in the communities most affected by it. At the moment, this ability lies in the future as I attend graduate school and develop the skills necessary to actively influence positive changes. However, this does not mean that something cannot be done about the situation right now. On August 28, 2010, I will be running the Patrick Henry Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in Ashland, Virginia. In addition to fulfilling a personal goal, I hope to raise money to support one of the leading NGOs fighting water scarcity WaterAid. WaterAid (WaterAid) currently operates programs in 26 countries dedicated to improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation. Instead of merely ‘dumping’ aid money on governments (most of which is lost through corruption and mismanagement), WaterAid works in local communities to improve conditions by using sustainable, low-cost technologies and education. I am asking for your support in whatever way you can give it. If you feel inclined to donate, you can do so through the following website: http://www.firstgiving.com/rebeccakaisler or by contacting me directly. Any donation at all is appreciated, but so will supporting me in my run on August 28th.

(And no, the intention of writing this note was not to ask for money. It was to raise awareness and ask for your support, be it financial or emotional. I entertain no delusions that I will be able to raise a significant sum of money before August 28th, especially in these hard economic times. Much more achievable is my goal of educating others about the water scarcity crisis that is occurring. This is a cause about which I am deeply passionate and will most likely be conducting research on for my graduate dissertation at King’s College London next year. While I do not expect everyone to change their habits or become involved in this issue simply because of the information that I have presented here, I do hope that at least one person will investigate the subject further. Change results from small steps rather than large leaps.)

For more information on the water crisis, please see the following sites:

16 July 2010

"Oh my gosh, I'm so in love, I found you finally"

WEek 6 is done. 4 more to go! 28 days until I see my parents, brother, animals, and boyfriend!!!!

Upcoming events:
Saturday, July 17: 10-mile run to the ends of the earth. Not quite, but this is what it seems like on the day before. I am nervous! But excited!
Sunday, July 18: Trip to Linlithgow. It seems a waste to take the train for 18 minutes, but the buses are unreliable. Soo...18 minutes on the train it is!
Saturday, July 24: Burns Day events in the morning (celebrating the death of Robert Burns) at Calton Hill; International Scouting Jamborette in Blair Atholl in afternoon. I am repping the Consulate at both events.
Sunday, July 25: 11-miler. ACK!
Thursday, July 29: Chinese Consulate event.
Saturday, July 31 - Monday, August 2: Oban trip
Monday, August 2: 7th month anniversary with Drew :)
Sunday, August 8: Trip to Stirling.
Friday, August 13: Last day at Consulate.
Saturday. August 14: Ho
Saturday, August 28: Patrick Henry Half Marathon, Ashland, VA. Drew's Birthday.
Saturday, September 17: Leave for grad school.

13 July 2010

Don't bring me down

Life continues on in Edinburgh.

It has been a tough past few weeks. This was to be expected. Part of the reason that I came back was to confront...things. Confrontation is hard, as are most worthwhile things in life. Luckily, the old adage of 'what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger' has proven true for me in most cases. So here is to being infinitely stronger when I return to the US.

The highlight of my week thus far has been planning Saturday's 10-mile run. For those who need to be reminded, I'll be running the Patrick Henry Half Marathon on August 28th. 13.1 miles, or, in the words of the guard at the Consulate 'a hell of a long way'. My sentiments exactly. But then again, this is another 'kill you or strengthen you' situation. Ideally running the half marathon will not kill me, although considering the fact that I will be running in Virginia in late August and have been training in Scotland, the temperature disparity (predicted temperatures of 80s-90s versus the 50s-60s I've been running in) may certainly do so. We shall see. I have been training hard though. Last Saturday I ran 9 miles in the rain. It was supposed to be 8, but I missed a turn, got lost, and was chased by an ugly ass dog that I thought was going to bite me. On the plus side, I found the IKEA, which is not even located in Edinburgh. It is outside of the city limits. Which is the point when I decided that it might be best to turn around -- when I saw the sign that said 'Thank you for visiting Edinburgh. Goodbye!'. Obviously I survived my excursion, but have learned that this week I should be better prepared. And so this week I will be running a meticulously planned route that totals out at 10.1 miles. It will be the longest run I have ever done. So we shall see how this goes.

If I survive the run, I plan to go to Linlithgow Palace on Saturday afternoon (although this might be moved to Sunday depending on the condition that I am in and how long it takes me to complete my run).

08 July 2010

"My salvation lies in your love."

So, it has been quite a few days since I last posted. Mainly this is because I spent the time with my friend Chris (my former suitemate from SMCM) and then my boyfriend and his family when they came to visit. The Consulate celebrated the 4th of July in style at the Caledonian Hilton on July 2nd with over 300 attendees (including my boyfriend and his parents). Oh...and I turned 22 years of age. I am positively decrepit. I had heard that it was all downhill from 21, and boy do I believe it. When can I retire?

Because there is too much that occurred during the past few weeks and I am likely to lose motivation to finish the post if I attempt to describe it all, this will be a picture post with some descriptions. If you can't access it, let me know and I can send the pictures directly in an email or include a more detailed description of my activities. Note: I will not post pictures of anyone who has not given me express permission to post about them.

My former suitemate Chris came to visit for a few days on his way home from the SMCM study tour in Greece. Unfortunately, I had to work every day, but we still managed to have fun. Of particular interest was our trip to Craigmillar Castle and the Mercat Tour's Gallows to Graveyard ghost tour (from which this picture is taken). Chris was quite popular on the ghost tour and role-played out the stories on several occasions. Probably because he looks like Matt Damon. Also of note was that Chris and I successfully made a wonderful pasta involving shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, garlic, and pesto. This is quite the accomplishment for me. It was lovely having Chris visit and although I wish that I could have had more free time with which to show him around, I still think we managed to have a great time. 

Drew arrived in Edinburgh on June 30th. I met him at the airport and was quite nervous to see him since we had been apart for a month. But the moment I saw him round the corner at International Arrivals, it was as if the time had never occurred. The thirty days didn't matter at all, because it was as if we had picked up right where we left off on May 30th in Dulles.  As with Chris' visit, I had to work during the days that Drew was in Edinburgh, especially since the Consulate's Independence Celebration was occurring on July 2nd and everyone was in super-panic mode. I did manage to get off two half days though, and thoroughly enjoyed walking around town with Drew.
The theme of the Consulate's 4th of July party was 'freedom, Americana, and rock 'n' roll'. Naturally, this meant that we had to have Harley-Davidson and Jack Daniels' as sponsors. Our welcome drinks include Jack and Coke mixes, and Jack and lemonaide. Harley strategically located several awesome bikes around the foyer and main party room. Despite the fact that I have no interest in ever owning a motorcycle, I still had to get my photograph on one. To preserve my bad-ass reputation, of course. 

One of the particular highlights of the event was the presentation of a limited edition lithograph (no. 4 of 100) of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath by Minister of Culture, Fiona Hyslop, to Consul Dana Linnet. The Declaration is incredibly important in Scottish history as it declared Scotland's status as a sovereign, independent state after Pope John XXII recognized Edward I of England as overlord of Scotland. Robert the Bruce and the Scottish nobles who signed the declaration were not pleased and so signed the declaration. It likely influenced the US Declaration of Independence. I had the opportunity to see the original at a ceremony earlier in the day. It was last displayed to the public in 2001 and will next be on show in 2020. For a history major such as myself, it was an emotional moment. The rest of the party went off without a hitch and afterwards Drew and his parents took me out for an absolutely amazing dinner. I can honestly say that I could not have had a better birthday. I will remember it forever. (Although I am not particularly keen to note the age. I am a 22 year old dating an 18 year old. AH!!! Cradle-robber indeed!!!!)

We left Edinburgh early the next morning for the Highlands. Drew's family is from the north of Scotland and they have gone on road trips in the past. I was honored to have been invited to accompany them on this one. We took a rental car from the airport to Fort William, and I immediately was envious of Drew's father's driving skills. I doubt that I would have been able to so easily adapt to the differences between the US and UK driving methods. Since the trip to Bettyhill, the town where Drew's family is from, was too lengthy for a straight-shot trip, we stopped in Fort William on Saturday afternoon so that Drew and I could climb Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and is frequently used by climbers to train for Mt. Everest (despite the fact that it is roughly 22,000 ft shorter than Everest). I have wanted to climb the Ben since I first came to Scotland in 2004, but have never been in the situation where I had others who wanted to climb it with me. This time, I had my wonderful boyfriend. And so, beginning at 1:30PM on July 3, we started for the summit. 
My Lonely Planet guidebook had warned me that the entire trip would take 8-10 hours, and we had told Drew's parents that we would be back at the foot of the mountain by 8PM at the latest for safety reasons, so we started with dim spirits as to the possibility of making it to the top. The trip was arduous, but not entirely unpleasant. It wasn't until the summit when the cloud cover reduced visibility to 20ft and fogged up my glasses, and when the low temperature and heavy winds made it feel as if I was being physically assaulted, that it really got miserable. We reached the summit at 4:30 and left at 4:36. Take home message: no climbing Mt. Everest for me. Nope. Not worth it. 
We spent the night in Fort William and then it was northwards again on Sunday. Passing Inverness, Helsmgard, and Tain, we ended up in Tongue and then drove west to Bettyhill. With a population of 500, it made Clifton Forge seem large, which is no mean feat! The picture below was taken looking at Farr Beach.