common ground

Kenya's Clean Water/Holocaust Museum

Program 0208 February 19, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

ROB QUICK: This water is undoubtedly very contaminated and is not an ideal source. But it’s the only source for the people who live around here.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, cleaning Kenya’s water. Plus, assessing the global threat of genocide.

JERRY FOWLER: Our mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Nearly two billion people around the world don’t have safe drinking water. The United Nations says more than three million people a year die from drinking dirty water. Most of them are children and the elderly.

MCHUGH: It’s been a problem for hundreds of years, mostly because piping clean water to those who lack it is complicated and expensive. But as Common Ground’s Eric Whitney reports, eight agencies are finding success with a more affordable local alternative.

[sound of children playing in a river]

ERIC WHITNEY: Under the blazing tropical sun a boy and his sister splash in the Kuja River in Kenya’s rural west. They bathe as their mother washes clothes beneath the trees on the river bank.

[sound of children playing in a river, and their mother talking to them]

WHITNEY: The dark swift river cuts through high, red clay banks and this low spot next to an incoming creek is a favored watering hole for livestock. Many people drink this water as well.

LORNA OKO: [via a translator] I’ve come to fetch water from the river.

WHITNEY: After walking from the nearby village of Sasi, Lorna Oko and her boy and girl on this visit are filling three large plastic jugs.

OKO: [via a translator] I’m going to use it for cooking.

WHITNEY: More than one billion people around the world don’t have access to tap water. For them, this is a daily scene. Dr. Rob Quick is a clean water specialist with the US Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. He says that with conditions like this it’s no wonder that two to three million people a year, mostly children, die from water-borne diseases.

ROB QUICK: Even though this is a lovely green spot with lots of bushes, some grass by the side that the animals like to munch on, and the trickle of this stream next to us, it’s also an area that is a potential problem for the people who come down to this river to collect water, to drink, and to cook, and for other purposes.

WHITNEY: That’s because even though thousands of people live along and use this river there are few sanitary outhouses. Toilets and sewage treatment are uncommon. When it rains human waste gets washed into the river.

QUICK: If we were to culture this water now we would find many colonies of e-coli growing, which is a sign of fecal contamination of the water. And where there’s feces there’s the potential for disease, because that’s a way that pathogens are transmitted from one person to another. So this water is undoubtedly very contaminated and is not an ideal source. But it’s the only source for the people who live around here.

WHITNEY: The humanitarian group CARE is helping the subsistence farmers who live in this area to drill wells and build sanitary toilets. Both measures help reduce water-borne illnesses. But it’s slow process. Bringing clean water to everyone in the world who can’t get it now is a project measured in decades and billions of dollars. But that doesn’t mean that regular people like Lorna Oko can’t learn to make their own water safe.

OKO: [via a translator] There are ways we used to use for making this water safe. That is before the coming of chlorine. So before we had the chlorine we used to boil it, boil the drinking water. But now we are using chlorine to make it safe for drinking.

WHITNEY: Chlorine is an effective killer of almost all the bad bugs in water, which is why city water systems all over the world add it or other disinfectants to what comes out of people’s taps. Because the people here have no taps, CARE and the CDC started supplying chlorine directly to the public. After a substantial marketing campaign more than a third of the people in this area are now chlorinating their own water routinely.

OKO: [via a translator] Using chlorine is much safer and easier than boiling the drinking water.

WHITNEY: Chlorine is generally cheap and easy to find around the world. But in remote places it can be made easily by the locals. All it takes is water, salt, and a little electricity. And it only takes a tiny amount to treat many liters of water. Oko says some are wary of the new liquid, but not her.

OKO: [via a translator] Most people who are not using chlorine are saying that it’s a birth control method, so that is why most people are not using chlorine.

WHITNEY: Do you think it’s true?

OKO: [via a translator] I’m still giving birth! [laughs] I can still give birth. [laughs some more]

WHITNEY: Oko says the impact of many people chlorinating the water in her village has been dramatic.

OKO: [via a translator] The difference that we’ve noticed is in the reduction of children’s deaths. Before we started using chlorine—that is when we were, we were just drawing water from here and not boiling and not treating. There were very many cases of children dying from diarrheal diseases. But since we started using chlorine the children, the deaths are reduced. That is, the deaths as a result of diarrhea have reduced drastically.

WHITNEY: Still, convincing people to start pouring a chemical they’ve never heard of into their water is a pretty significant task. Another, says, Dr. Quick, is keeping treated water clean once it’s in the house. That’s why CARE and the CDC try to sell the locals on a special plastic jug designed to work in tandem with a bottled chlorine solution.

QUICK: Many people in developing countries store water in buckets or clay pots with wide mouths. We’ve shown in several studies in outbreak situations that dipping a cub in the water can lead people to touch the water with their hands and contaminate the water. So we’ve developed a simple type of container that has a narrower mouth than normal but it’s open just wide enough for a hand to get in to clean a container. It has a cap. And then we have another opening that has a spigot on it—a tap. This essentially gives someone a tap in their home even if they don’t have access to a network. Hands cannot get into these containers. And the water, once disinfected, is kept safe.

WHITNEY: Introducing the sealed plastic safe water containers and training people to properly use chlorine has drastically cut rates of intestinal diseases in many communities, sometimes by as much as half.

[sound of someone banging on a pipe]

WHITNEY: But in this part of Kenya, where there’s a lot of intestinal disease, the native Luo people were reluctant to use the new plastic containers. That’s because of a centuries old tradition of keeping drinking water in clay pots. Dr. Rob Quick.

QUICK: It keeps the water cooler. It gives a taste that’s pleasing to the people here. So we married together our idea of how to make water safe with their idea of what makes water appealing. And we have requested a local woman’s pottery collective to make clay pots that have a narrow mouth that have a fitted ceramic lid and have a tap or a spigot on it for removing the water.

WHITNEY: Tests show that the clay pots don’t diminish the chlorine’s effectiveness and demand for the modified ceramic water pots is strongly outstripping supply. Which is good news for these women.

[sound of women singing and chanting]

WHITNEY: Singing while they work, these women are part of the collective that makes the modified clay pots which CARE and the CDC help distribute. They’re known as the Oriang Women’s Group.

[sound of women singing and chanting]

WHITNEY: The collective has been here since 1989 and employs scores of women. It’s never been as busy as now, though. Collective Chairwoman Filgona Auma says that’s because demand is huge for the new clay water pots endorsed by the CDC and CARE.

FILGONA AUMA: [via a translator] Since the CARE ordered for the pots, the major work that they’ve been doing is just the CARE pots. Because they are not yet through with the work they are supposed to, the contract says. So they want to make as many as possible, but others no—their only concentration is on CARE pots, no other business.

WHITNEY: Marketing a simple home water system like this one—focused on a vessel with a tap paired with chlorine—has proven effective from Zambia to Bolivia. But it’s never been taken up as quickly as it has here, among the Luo people on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria. The CDC’s Dr. Quick credits strong ground work in political organizing by CARE.

[sound of people making pots]

WHITNEY: And the cultural affinity for clay water vessels here actually gives Homa Bay a leg up on other places where this clean water system has been set up. Instead of having to import the manufactured safe water jugs Luos can make their own here. And because pottery is traditionally a women’s trade that’s created a rare opportunity in rural East Africa—a chance for uneducated women to participate in the cash economy.

AUMA: [explained by a translator] Any woman can hardly make any money from outside besides making pots here. Because what she’s saying, even them initially, before they is formed a group, they were doing the same jobs and it wasn’t rewarding them. And that’s why they came up with the idea of forming a group and starting the pottery. Because she’s saying most of the work that is there is just the chamber work. Just to go to the firm, but it doesn’t pay as much as this because it takes about three months for you to realize the benefit of the firm. But here it takes a day and you know, you have how much in a day. And it’s such a good market, as she puts it.

WHITNEY: CARE is looking for more pottery collectives to ramp up supply here. Public health officials are encouraged by the local trend. But still, most of the African continent doesn’t know this safe water method is available yet.

[sound of a rainstorm]

WHITNEY: Afternoon rains sweep across the Kenya-Uganda border country. Not far over on the Ugandan side at a rural AIDS hospital, the CDC is studying whether their water vessel can help people with HIV and AIDS live longer.

[sound of a motorcycle]

WHITNEY: Every morning Steven Śbandeke and his 11 community health workers hop on small motorcycles at the hospital and head out into the surrounding bush. They visit people struggling to scrape a living off of the land here. People in mud and thatch homes who grow small patches of cassava, corn, and beans. The people Śbandeke looks after are part of a study. Some have been provided with chlorine and safe water vessels. Others received only education on cleanliness. Śabandeke says the study has reduced one of the most persistent nuisances of life here.

STEVEN ŚBANDEKE: Diarrhea—yeah, it was quite common. In some families where we have not been working it is still common. Except where we have provided the vessels it has reduced tremendously.

WHITNEY: Śbandeke says the people he cares for with HIV seem to do better when they’re provided with the safe water system. But researchers so far haven’t seen any data that demonstrates this scientifically. The study is ongoing.

[sound of men singing, chanting, and speaking in a dramatic fashion]

WHITNEY: As scientists probe for any angle with which to fight HIV, very old diseases, portrayed as demons by this Kenyan theater group, continue to plague up to a third of the globe. The safe water system that the CDC and CARE are promoting here offers one low-cost response which has proven appropriate and effective across a variety of cultures. The CDC has packaged the entire concept and gives away advice on implementing a safe water program anywhere in the world. Organizers are encouraged by its growth over the years and say they learn more with each implementation. For Common Ground, I’m Eric Whitney in Homa Bay, Kenya.

[sound of men singing, chanting, and speaking in a dramatic fashion]

MCHUGH: Eliminating genocide, next on Common Ground.

JERRY FOWLER: We have to believe that we can reduce it, that we can fight it when it happens, and we can strive for the day when it is eliminated.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993 and quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Washington, D.C. But the founders wanted to make sure the institution was more than just an archive.

PORTER: They created the museum’s Committee on Conscience. The Committee’s job is to alert the world of current or future cases of holocaust, genocide, or other crimes against humanity. I recently spoke with the Committee’s Staff Director, Jerry Fowler, and asked him to first define genocide.

JERRY FOWLER: The international community defines genocide basically through the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. And there’s a detailed legal definition, but what it amounts to is the intentional physical destruction of groups in whole or in substantial part.

PORTER: In sort of day-to-day operations then, how does your committee work? What are the tasks that you carry out?

FOWLER: Well, our mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity. So what we seek to do is when we take on a situation, bring it to the attention of the public, increase the attention of policy makers on it—influence them to, to make situations higher priority than they have been in the past. The overall goal is to try to stimulate action to confront and work to halt the violence.

PORTER: Tell me something about the standing agenda and the different kinds of alerts that you give out—to the world—about potential genocide, at least, around the world.

FOWLER: Well, the framework that we’ve adopted is, is one of graduating categories of urgency. One problem is, is the issue of defining genocide. And determining that something is or is not genocide. And one of the most shameful and appalling aspects of the situation in 1994 when what we now know as the Rwandan genocide erupted was the, literally the verbal gymnastics that governments, especially the US government, undertook not to use the word “genocide.” And they said, “We don’t have enough evidence. We don’t have enough information. We don’t really know.” When that shouldn’t really be the point. The point should be to prevent genocide. And so what we’ve tried to do is put aside the issue of the ultimate determination of whether something is genocide. If there’s violence that threatens the existence of a group then we should be able to say that, that there’s a threat of genocide. And in that case on our, as it were, categories of urgency, we would issue a warning. If it was something that was so blatant that, that it probably was genocide or immediately was going to become genocide we would say it’s an emergency. And then the very lowest level is “watch,” where you have potential for the eruption of genocide. But the basic idea is to be able to alert people, talk about these situations, urge a political response without making the ultimate legal judgment of whether it’s genocide or not. Because often you don’t know the intent of the perpetrator. The facts are difficult to come by. And if we get caught up in that debate we risk replaying the, the disaster of Rwanda.

PORTER: You have these different levels of alerts that you give out. Tell me something about the history of those and what watches, warnings, or emergencies have been issued since the Committee has come into being.

FOWLER: Well, we’ve only adopted this structure within the last year or so. Right now the situations that we’re focusing on are Sudan, for which we’ve issued a genocide warning—which we define as meaning organized violence is underway that threatens to become genocide. And Chechnya, for which we’ve, which we’ve put on our watch list, that lower level of urgency. There’s the potential of genocide. Those situations are serious enough that, that they needed to be dealt with because they get into that ambit of, of, of genocide; of intentional destruction of entire groups.

PORTER: When people come here to the museum, how do they learn about the Committee on Conscience and what visible examples or visible element is there that reminds people that genocide and holocausts are not necessarily something just of the past?

FOWLER: For people who physically visit the museum we now have a special display on Sudan that is right outside the auditorium where the orientation film is shown. It includes as part of the display a brochure that people can take away with them. And we’ve distributed over 100,000 of those to visitors at the museum. We’ve also distributed them through schools, synagogues, churches, any venue that we can find, actually. But, but a lot of them; visitors of the museum. This was important because it was the first time we physically used space in the museum for an ongoing situation outside of Europe. But it represents a commitment by the leadership of the museum and the memorial to continuing to alert the public, including the public who come to the museum, to these contemporary situations.

PORTER: Inside the public area of the museum, Fowler walks us through the Sudan display.

FOWLER: It basically lays out in a fairly small space, but through text and photographs and even a couple of artifacts, the basic parameters of the catastrophe in Sudan. And the basis for the Committee on Conscience genocide warning. It lists the aspects which we think in their totality support the genocide warning. And these aspects are the government’s practice of dividing ethnic groups in order to destroy them, pitting ethnic groups against each other, using mass starvation as a weapon of destruction, tolerating the enslavement of women and children by government-allied militias, bombing civilian and humanitarian targets, shattering the communities of people who have fled the war zone, keeping them from rebuilding their lives once they get out of the war zone, and then persecuting people on the basis of their race, their religion, and their ethnicity.

PORTER: There’s a cross here in a glass case at the very far left side of the display. Tell us about that.

FOWLER: Well, one aspect of the larger picture is religious persecution. In particular, the practice of the current government in Khartoum to use religion as a way to divide people. It uses religion as a justification for attacks on Christians, on followers of traditional religions, and even on Muslims who don’t follow its extreme form of Islam. So we’ve included that as part of this display. Now, in particular, as an artifact in this display we have a small cross that was fashioned from the fuel tank of a crashed bomber. And as you may know, there are quite a number of Christians in the southern part of Sudan. And I find this particular artifact poignant because it shows how the culture is trying to transform the materials of war into, to, things that are culturally meaningful.

PORTER: And right next to it there’s a picture of a Dinka woman and she’s holding a cross that was made from spent shell casings, from ammunition.

FOWLER: She’s actually leaning on the cross and the, the cross part of it, the crossbar as it were, are two empty shell casings.

PORTER: This next picture here is easily the most disturbing one in the, in the display. And there are the bodies of what look like three children lying in what I think is the back of a truck.

FOWLER: There are three young children who were victims of the famine in 1998, which was largely a man-made famine. In the summer of 2000 the government began a series of attacks that, that threatened relief planes, causing the UN to stop its operations for a couple of weeks. That obviously put a tremendous number of people at risk. One of the things that has to be stopped if there’s going to be any progress in resolving this situation is the use of food as a weapon. It’s one of the most devastating parts of the whole system and one of the things that most informs our belief that there’s a threat of genocide.

PORTER: We move on down to the display—there is yet another artifact that’s in a glass case here. Tell us about that.

FOWLER: The artifact is a child’s math workbook that belonged to a student in a Catholic-run school in the Nuba Mountains, which is in the central part of Sudan. It has been one of the most hard-hit areas in the last decade, since the early ‘90s when the government essentially cut off the Nuba Mountains and launched a sustained assault against the people of the Nuba Mountains. This particular school was bombed on February 8, 2000, which resulted in the deaths of at least 14 students and a teacher. And when a Sudanese diplomat in Nairobi was shown videotape of the aftermath of the bombing he said—and this is a quote that we have as part of this display—”The bombs landed where they were supposed to land.” That, in its cruelty, encapsulates one of the great horrors of this situation, is that the government routinely bombs civilian and humanitarian sites. They bomb schools, they bomb clinics, they bomb hospitals. And it’s part of their strategy. The bombs land where they’re supposed to land. And often it’s children who are killed. And this workbook has the bloodstains of the victims.

And an interesting aspect of it is, this was a Catholic school and is funded in part by the Catholic bishop of that area, Macram Gassis. But the student whose book this was, was a Muslim. And in the Nuba Mountains, Muslims, Christians, followers of traditional religions, have traditionally lived together in peace, in harmony. And that’s one of the reasons that they have been specifically attacked by Khartoum, is that they do show that people of different faiths can live together. And unfortunately many of the victims in the Nuba Mountains have been Muslims as well as Christians and followers of traditional religions.

PORTER: Jerry, we’re standing here in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and we’re looking at your Sudan display, which has to do with the genocide warning that the Committee on Conscience has issued. Tell me something about how, in your mind, the photos that we see here, the artifacts that we see here, compare and contrast them to the displays you see elsewhere in this wonderful museum.

FOWLER: Well, I would never compare this display to our permanent exhibition. There’s no comparison. It’s, it’s disrespectful to the victims of either situation to compare. These are situations that are beyond compare. But one of the things that has always been part of the vision of creating this memorial is that it would be a living memorial. And that part of that living memorial would be the obligation to speak out when groups of people are under attack as groups. And that’s what we see in Sudan. Where if you take all of the things that we’ve been talking about—mass starvation as a weapon of destruction, tolerating slavery, bombing civilian targets, persecution on account of race and religion—individually each of those actions is a disaster for its victims. But taken together they threaten the physical destruction of entire groups. And that’s what motivates us to incorporate it into the physical space we have here as part of this living memorial.

PORTER: Back in his office I asked Jerry Fowler if he believes genocide can ever be eliminated as a weapon.

FOWLER: We have to believe that we can reduce it, that we can fight it when it happens, and we can strive for the day when it is eliminated. When, when it doesn’t happen. We have to be humble about that. In all humility we coined the word “genocide” 50 years ago, but genocidal practices are, are ancient. You know, one of the things that has really moved me about being here is the, the basic admonition that’s in the Jewish tradition that the fact that you can’t finish a job does not relieve you from undertaking it in the first place. And I think we look forward in some wonderful future to a world without genocide. When we’ll achieve that world I don’t know. But that’s the struggle that we’re engaged in and that we can’t desist from as a tribute and a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. We do need to do everything we can to eliminate that scourge from the face of the Earth.

PORTER: That is Jerry Fowler, Staff Director of the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0208. That's Program Number 0208. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That's 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is

MCHUGH: Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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