Clean water, healthy living is Zayed's gift to Africa

Limited or no access to clean drinking water was cause for concern especially in developing nations.

By Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi

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Published: Wed 12 Jun 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 12 Jun 2019, 11:20 PM

In the 1970s, when founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, began his global philanthropic work, the provision of clean water for communities across the world was his key focus. He invested heavily in water projects in nations such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. By the turn of the millennium, Sheikh Zayed's vision had translated into reality and 50,000 'Zayed Wells' were delivered in 40 nations. With the United Nations estimating that a typical water well in the developing world serves between 1,000 and 2,000 users a day, Zayed Wells continue to serve upwards of 50 million people daily.
Limited or no access to clean drinking water was cause for concern especially in developing nations. It was found that the infections happened particularly in communities with limited or no access to clean drinking water. The Dracunculus medinensis is an example. A worm, also known as Guinea Worm, ingested from an infected water source, moves down into the body of the host, usually to the lower leg, causing an infection and leading to acute pain, loss of mobility, infection, joint damage and, in some cases, even loss of life.
An ambitious driving force on the international stage soon led to a movement to eradicate the Guinea Worm. Former US President Jimmy Carter, learning that transmission was preventable and that the parasite was, therefore, possible to eradicate, resolved to forge a global coalition to do just that. Carter would have many allies; perhaps the most impactful was his counterpart in the UAE. Sheikh Zayed's own three-decade mission to meet the challenges of poverty and deprivation correlated perfectly with Carter Center's objectives.
According to an estimate, some
$8 trillion was spent worldwide on nuclear and other weapons between 1945 and 1996. Instead of dealing with the health challenges such as this one, the world squandered its financial and human resources in wars. Yet, it was clear that eradicating the disease was well within the scope of humanity. The global eradication of smallpox, certified by a scientific commission on December 9, 1979, was a prime example. However, it was in eradicating the Guinea Worm that the interests of the two presidents merged. In 1986, the Carter Center began leading a global campaign in conjunction with CDC, Unicef, and WHO. At this time, India, Pakistan, Yemen and 17 African countries were classified as endemic and fertile environments for the spread of this disease.
From Abu Dhabi, in the 1980s and 1990s, Sheikh Zayed provided a number of new water projects in Guinea Worm-affected areas of Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tanzania. He funded thousands of additional wells in Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.
Sheikh Zayed coordinated with the Carter Center as a major donor to the Guinea Worm programme, complementing his vast clean water initiatives across the developing world that continued to work to achieve water security.
As was the case with most of his extraordinary philanthropic initiatives, Sheikh Zayed's support for Guinea Worm eradication was low key. Other major actors in the eradication of the Guinea Worm disease included the World Health Organisation, US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Unicef. However, the global coalition also included dozens of other donors, non-governmental organisations, and institutions, plus the ministries of health in the affected countries. Sheikh Zayed's position in this coalition was key, as acknowledged by President Carter himself, who credits the late UAE President with taking on a leadership role. In 2001, Carter who went on to receive the Zayed Award for Global Leadership, said: "This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan."
At the time of the presentation, the UAE President and the former US President had achieved much together, and notably, transmission rates of the Guinea Worm had dropped markedly.
By 2010, the new nation of South Sudan represented the last bastion for this old disease. Despite security challenges, the region continues to see major reductions in cases, although it harbours the majority of the remaining cases worldwide. Today, the Atlanta-based Carter Center predicts that Guinea Worm will soon be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated in human history. In his 40 years of global philanthropy, working with President Carter, and through his own water programmes, consigning the Guinea Worm to the recesses of history will ultimately be remembered as one of Sheikh Zayed's most crucial legacies.
Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi is the UAE's Minister of Climate Change and Environment

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