While infrastructure of the kind Rio is working to create is one factor in working to solve Rio's sanitation and water quality issues, building alone will not lead to the change necessary to solve the problem. For that, real and sustainable behavior change is needed. Where does that process start?
Rio's favelas are home to about 20 percent of the city's population. Child mortality in the favelas can be as much as five times higher than in wealthier areas of Rio.
Latin America Project Manager Julia Nelson believes that education is the key. In Part 2 of her interview with the Project WET Water Education Blog, she explains how education can impact sanitation and water quality.
Water Education Blog (WEB): What role can education play in creating solutions for sanitation problems?
Julia Nelson (JN): Education is the key to cleaning up Rio's watershed and improving the sanitation conditions of the city as a whole. Although many of the problems of trash and open sewage are found in the favelas and not in the "richer" areas of the city, the problem is not confined to favelas. The favelas in Rio are scattered throughout the city and blend into non-favela neighborhoods almost seamlessly. Actions taken in any one part of the city can affect the entire watershed, especially given that trash and sewage flow openly into the public bay and ocean.
Rio is built on hills, and water travels downhill, making individual actions even more important for protecting water.
Many cariocas [people who live in Rio] both rich and poor believe that the ocean washes away pollution by carrying it somewhere else. There is little understanding about how poor sanitation practices can affect their health and the health of the local environment. Helping people understand the relationship between actions and health is the first step in creating lasting behavior change that can keep trash off the streets and out of the watershed. Moreover, educating community leaders and future water and sanitation engineers about the importance of properly constructed sewage systems will ultimately result in upgraded community systems and fewer open sewage lines.
NRR: How is Project WET implementing its education program to maximize impact on sanitation issues?
JN: We have met with educators, government officials, community leaders and health centers to determine priority topics for educational materials about water in Rio. The top issues affecting health and the environment were identified as trash management (including recycling), water use and water conservation, dengue fever and diarrhea. Communities and educators also asked for a suite of materials that could be used at any level, from pre-school through adult learners.
Classroom mobiles demonstrate some of the recycling projects already underway in classrooms in favelas.
Project WET therefore created materials customized specifically for Rio de Janeiro, focusing on the priority topics identified with local partners and incorporating their suggestions. The materials have a strong emphasis on understanding the watershed of the city and how individual trash management decisions have an impact on individual and community health. The materials also reinforce the dangers of germ transmission in open trash and sewage and importance of proper hygiene.
We will be training local leaders and educators on hands-on activities to teach about proper sanitation and hygiene as it relates to water. These activities can be used in schools, community centers, music groups and community fairs or festivals.
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