Czech Republic launches campaign to ship drinking water to Liberia

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After Charles Taylor, accused of gun-running, war crimes and leading an army of child soldiers, was forced to resign as president of Liberia last year, the world media paid little attention to the West African country. Its citizens have yet to recover from years of civil war, social unrest, and poverty. A Prague-based organisation now hopes to come to their aid.

The World Development Organisation, WDO, is an international organisation that strives to help developing countries hit hard by war or natural disasters. On Friday, its Czech branch launched the "living water" campaign to bring public attention to the plight of thousands of Liberians, who live under such appalling conditions that basic drinking water is considered a luxury. WDO now hopes to arouse Czech public sympathy and collect enough money to ship drinking water to West Africa's oldest republic.

But past campaigns have proven that exhibitions and seminars fail to reach the majority of citizens. Campaign organisers have therefore decided to attract public attention through dozens of eye-catching sculptures in public places. From a selection of ideas put forward by both Czech and foreign artists, that of Czech artist Jiri David was finally chosen for the project.

"The sculpture is that of a child but I decided to give it larger than life dimensions; the boy is almost two metres tall, to make sure that he looks adult passers-by directly in the eye. It may not be easy to influence the world through art but that doesn't mean that art should only be aesthetic decoration. It should, on the contrary, take a form that will reach people and I've been trying to do that in various projects of mine."

The sculpture truly attracts sympathy. It depicts an African boy in old rags with the wings of an angel; his arms stretched out, as though he is asking for water. The boy stands on a map of Liberia with one foot on a gun and two more guns around him.

In cooperation with the Liberian Government and the Czech Foreign Ministry, the neediest regions have been selected. WDO President Daniel Soural, is convinced that enough money will be collected to supply the average Liberian family with at least 16 litres of water a day for one or two years:

"The water is packed in huge containers and will be shipped to ports in Liberia, from where it will be distributed in plastic containers. It is regular drinking water from the Czech Republic. We're currently in talks with two potential suppliers, who tap the water directly from natural springs."

If all goes according to plan, the first containers will be shipped in 2006. Next year, the campaign will continue in other European cities, such as Bratislava, Budapest, Warsaw, Berlin, Kiev, and Moscow.