Water Spouts will speak volubly and endlessly about all the issues concerning water. The ongoing degradation, and growing scarcity, of the water supply here in the US, and the rest of the world. The continued absence of potable water in so many parts of the world. The work being done by NGOs, and charities, in the third world, to help alleviate the situation. The emphasis on WASH ( Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene ) so health and healthy water are maintained. "Water Spouts" will spout it all out.
CARE lawyer: Niger Felt Like 'Hunger Games' on Steroids
Women line up in March as part of a cash-for-work project run by CARE in Niger, which is suffering from drought.
From his Toyota Land Cruiser, Kent Alexander couldn't stop clicking his camera.
Endless stretches of
windswept sand clashed with the vibrant blues, reds and yellows of the
billowing dresses of the women. Alexander, the general counsel for the
humanitarian agency CARE, felt he was riding through pages of National
The harshness of the
terrain and its cruel consequences for the people of the Sahel became
apparent when Alexander stopped and visited villages with a CARE
delegation. He saw women walking three miles with pails to fetch water,
diamond droplets in the drought-stricken land.
In the Sahel, a region
that runs south of the Sahara Desert across Africa from the Atlantic to
the Red Sea, people are gaunt from eating just one meal a day, most of
the time, millet. They are suffering from severe malnutrition and
heading towards famine, the United Nations fears.
Alexander has seen
poverty before -- in 1989, he helped found Hands on Atlanta, which grew
to become one of the world's largest community based volunteer
organizations with more than half a million volunteers. But he'd never
seen anything as abject as he did in Niger.
On a five-hour drive from
the capital, Niamey, to the town of Konni, Alexander listened to the
audiobook, "The Hunger Games," a novel that opens with the bleakness of a
post-apocalyptic town called District 12.
Niger felt like District 12 on steroids.
"I'd seen the poorest
parts of Atlanta and it was stark," Alexander says, back in his fifth
floor office at CARE USA. "But the starkness in Niger doesn't compare."
The needy in Atlanta had solid housing. Fans. Refrigerators. Television sets.
In Niger, there was nothing. No electricity. No plumbing. No food.
The West African nation of 17 million people ranks second to last on a United Nations Human Development index.
Alexander took the job
with CARE about a year ago, after almost 11 years as Emory University's
general counsel. A whole other world opened up for a man who'd made a
successful living as a lawyer in Atlanta.
At CARE, Alexander deals
with employment to taxes to regulatory issues in the myriad nations
where the agency works. He's traveled to India and the West African
nations of Ivory Coast and Mali, before the coup in March.
"It's one thing to be a
tourist, but another to be with an NGO," he says, using the commonly
used acronym for a non-governmental organization.
CARE has been working in
Niger since 1974, when it first responded to famine. People there lead
hardscrabble lives in the arid, landlocked nation where only 42 percent
of the population have access to safe drinking water and only 15% of
women can read or write.
Niger is the worst
country on earth in which to be a mother, according to a report by Save
the Children. The charity's annual Mothers' Index uses statistics
covering female and child health and nutrition, as well as prospects for
women's education, economic prosperity and political participation in
its assessment of 165 countries.
CARE has been running
several programs helping villagers to stand up on their own. Many focus
on empowering women and girls through education and microlending.
This year, life has been even tougher.
"Niger is again facing a
crisis of a failed harvest because last season the rains did not come,"
says Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program.
"Because the rains failed last season, what you're seeing is that the
hungry poor, the most vulnerable populations, are now at the point where
they have depleted their assets. And as a result, they have no food."
The food shortages are further aggravated by thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in northern Mali.
More than 15 million
people face hunger and starvation across the Sahel this year; 4 million
in Niger, says the World Food Program.
The thing about the
Sahel, says Alexander, is that the crisis doesn't seem dire to people
watching from afar. It's unlike the Horn of Africa food emergency, where
women from Somalia walked 100 miles carrying children to reach a
refugee camp in Kenya. Or where children were skull and bones with
distended bellies. Where starving people died in front of cameras.
"The Sahel hasn't reached that point but it's moving in that direction," Alexander says. "It's a slow train wreck in motion."
Here's the other thing,
he says. If people donated small amounts of money now, there would not
be a need for millions later to save lives.
Alexander and his colleagues for CARE's work in helping them with wells
and plant gardens so they could grow vegetables instead of eating only
grains every day.
They spoke about the hunger in their bellies as
matter-of-factly as an American would describe an ordinary day at work.
In one of the villages,
as Alexander saw dozens of children crowd behind the Land Cruiser.
tail gate was open and the driver was standing by a cooler containing
leftover drinks from lunch earlier.
"Kent, this is the face of poverty," said Alexander's colleague, Philippe Leveque, director of CARE France.
Alexander thought Leveque was overreacting. It was more than 100 degrees that day. Who wouldn't clamor for a cold drink?
Then, he says, he took a closer look.
The cooler was shut
tight. The driver was not handing out drinks but empty cans and plastic
bottles. The cans would turn into toy cars and planes; the bottles,
receptacles for precious drops when the rains finally come months from
"Our trash was their treasure," Alexander says. In America, it's a good deed to recycle. In Niger, it was a gift.
This was the face of poverty in the Sahel. It was a jolting lesson for Alexander.
Alexander looks out the
wall-to-wall windows in his office. Above, he sees clear, blue skies.
front of him, dormitory buildings of Georgia State University,
architecturally dull and painted in drab colors. Yet, Alexander no
longer sees them as unattractive. Everything seems relative.
Across from his office,
Trina Trice, a senior executive assistant, finishes a meager lunch of
half a cup of black beans and a smidgen of frozen broccoli, every morsel
cleaned off the bowl. All week, she has been surviving on $1.50 of food
a day in a campaign aimed to help people understand what extreme
poverty feels like.
Trice says she has little energy.
"Last night I was so
tired I didn't even eat dinner," she says, adding that she could not
imagine having to walk for miles for water, especially in her weakened
Alexander says it's the
kind of insight that he hopes will help bridge what the United Nations
calls an alarming lack of donations for the Sahel food crisis,
especially because Niger is rarely on the evening news. He says it's
hard for people, understandably, to fathom the scope of the crisis from
far away. He is glad he was able to see the situation firsthand.
It's been several weeks
since Alexander returned home from what he called a profound trip.
still unpacking, he says. He doesn't mean his suitcase.