- Title: UNITED KINGDOM / FILE: Mozambican musician awarded prominent environmental prize
- Date: 14th April 2008
- Summary: (AD1) SOFALA, MOZAMBIQUE (FILE - JANUARY 9, 2008) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF HUTS SUBMERGED IN WATER
- Embargoed: 29th April 2008 13:00
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA2ODEU6S66AD29B8D2UKEQ4C57
- Story Text: Across Africa, more than 300 million people lack access to clean water and only about 25 percent of Mozambique's 18 million people have access to safe drinking water. Even less have access to proper sanitation such as latrines, making them susceptible to poor health, and water borne diseases.
In the rural town of Lichinga, in northern Mozambique, most residents do not have access to clean water and are forced to draw untreated water from rivers to meet their domestic needs. But, there is one man who is trying to improve the quality of life for villagers like these.
Feliciano Dos Santos, one of six recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is committed to changing the lives and improving the health of those battling against water-borne diseases. He has been awarded a prize for his leading role in campaigning for better public health through clean water and adequate sanitation in Mozambique -- one of the poorest countries in the world.
Born in a remote village in the northern province of Niassa, Santos grew up poor and disabled by polio as a result of dirty water and poor sanitation. Santos set up a local NGO 'Estamos' where he works with other charities to build pit latrines and water wells for those who can't afford to.
He says that while clean water and sanitation are important, it is crucial people learn about sustaining access to clean water.
"Before we give them access to water or sanitation, we have to educate the community how to manage, how to sustain, how to use the quality of water, how it's important for the health," Santos told Reuters in London enroute to San Francisco to collect his prize.
The 45-year-old musician uses his music to create social awareness and help. His band -- Massukos -- is one of the hottest groups in Africa. Formed in 1994, a couple of years after the country emerged from over a decade of civil war. Santos uses his status to draw locals to villages to listen to songs which focus on health, water and on HIV/Aids.
"We went to communities to find out the traditional songs. They sing about other kinds of lyrics -- just put there the lyrics about water and sanitation. For example I have one sentence which says... 'Let's wash, let's wash our hands," Santos said.
A tropical cyclone last month killed eight people and destroyed thousands of homes. Tens of thousands fled their homes in the year in what the United Nations said could be Mozambique's worst floods in memory. In 2000-2001, a series of cyclones compounded widespread flooding in southern and central parts of the country, killing 700 people and driving close to half a million from their homes.
With the country's susceptibility to cyclones and flooding, Santos says seeing all his work wiped away each time is a source of great frustration.
"We built latrines, we built wells, you know. But, the next day you have cyclones, you have floods and everything is destroyed and people start again their lives, and again you have the same situation. So this means that.. what's going on? What happens in Mozambique? It's frustrating because people sometimes, people can say 'you are with us for ten years and nothing happens' but people sometimes forget that ok, we did," Santos said.
Mozambique has been struggling to rebuild its economy which almost collapsed after independence from Portugal in 1975, before the country slid into a 17-year civil war that devastated its agriculture-based economy.
The former Portuguese colony has also faced devastating droughts which have hurt agricultural production and forced it to rely on food aid and other humanitarian relief from the international community.
Santos says, though, it is important that Mozambicans continue helping themselves more and more.
"The international community, they help a lot. But, at the same time, sometimes we are just sleeping. We say 'they are coming to help us'. If I need food, 'sometime will come'.We are not doing ourselves, you know to build as a country. But, now, things are starting to change, I can see this.
People are starting to try for themselves," Santos said.
Providing clean water is also a critical step to enabling the country continue with its booming economy. Mozambique's economy has been flourishing in recent years, spurred by a rise in foreign investment and development aid.
Growth is projected to hit 7 percent in 2008 after reaching 7.5 percent in 2007.
But, when asked what Mozambique needed urgently in order to progress, Santos -- who is currently studying two degrees at university -- says people need education.
"You know, I could say we need industry, we need buildings, new roads, new houses. All these things, even if you build, but if people not educated, nothing can happen. People need to be educated," Santos said.
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