The missing element in the fight against Ebola

The number one way to prevent Ebola is simple:  Wash hands often with soap and clean water.

Yet in the impoverished areas of West Africa hit the hardest with Ebola, clean water is a luxury too many do not have. Family members who come in contact with an infected person or the deceased assume a much greater risk of becoming infected because they cannot effectively wash their hands.

F{mosads}or those fortunate enough to recover from Ebola, water contaminated with parasites and disease from human feces is not among the doctors orders. Clean water is vital every step of the way: prevention, treatment, recovery and containment. Doctors Without Borders says a key reason the virus spreads is limited access to safe running water.

Ebola is the most recent example of how the lack of clean water and proper sanitation undercuts so much of the life-saving global health and development work that faith-based and other organizations are doing around the world. Dirty, stagnant water creates breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The absence of safe water forces already immune-suppressed HIV patients to take antiretroviral drugs with contaminated water that can make them violently ill. The lack of running water and sanitation is responsible for girls dropping out of school when they begin menstruation, and is the reason women are vulnerable to attack while simply trying to get a bit of privacy behind a bush.

The Ebola outbreak is one more urgent reason access to safe water and sanitation must be prioritized in all global development and aid work.

One thing the diverse human family has always recognized and agreed upon is that water is life-giving, both physically and spiritually. It cleanses and purifies. It is the singular symbol all faiths share–from rituals like ablution and baptism, to christenings, prayer preparation and blessing ceremonies. Every faith-based non-governmental organization (NGO), regardless of its focal issue, needs to recognize the fundamental necessity of safe water to their various missions, and join us to advocate safe water for all.

So, too, should our government. This week Congressional hearings about Ebola eradication strategy and funding get underway. Critical to any plan is a funding commitment to the development of sustainable safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

In addition, Congress must pass the Water for the World Act. It is smart, level-funded legislation that effectively targets U.S. water aid to the regions where it is needed most; it also creates greater transparency and efficiency. Today, 104 bipartisan members of the House stand ready to pass the bill, if it is brought to the floor for a vote. It has been tabled time and again for other priorities. The irony is overwhelming. And deadly.

Also dangerous is the chance that Congressional funding allocations might sacrifice success in global health and development in order to fund an Ebola fight. Thanks to influential U.S. foreign aid, an unprecedented 6.3 million fewer children under age five will die this year than in 1990. U.S. foreign aid has reached millions of families with safe water and vaccines that prevent death and lifelong deformities; more girls are staying in school, families are escaping dire poverty through micro-loans, nourishing gardens are curbing malnutrition, farmers are learning to grow better harvests. We must continue to support these kinds of sustainable successes. If we do not, when we face the next pandemic, it may be even harder to stop it before it reaches our shores.

An estimated 748 million people around the world are forced to rely on unsafe water sources, and 2.5 billion live without sanitation. Knowing this, what is love for our neighbor? To do everything in our power to provide the number one life-saving tool to those in need: clean water. Supporting the Water for the World Act is the best way we can come together to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Crumpton is an author, journalist and minister in New York City, affiliated with Park Avenue Christian Church. Follow her @JenniDCrumpton.


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