I’m passionate about clean water and I want you to be passionate about clean water too. But it can be hard to care deeply about something you don’t really understand. Which is why I’m continually trying to understand the WASH [Water Sanitation & Hygiene] sector in more depth and I want to invite you to come along with me.
Let’s start at the beginning [of the acronym] – W is for Water… or more specifically, dirty water.
Let’s look at the problem by the numbers:
Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. And, 844 million people lack access to a “basic” water source, including 159 million people who are dependent on surface water.
The problem is not just gross and it’s not just inconvenient. Think about the last time you or your kid had serious diarrhea. Did you get any work done that day? Did your kid go to school? Or did you all hang out as close to the bathroom as possible curled into the fetal position trying to suck down massive quantities of Pedialyte to replace the vast amounts of liquid leaving your body?
Can you even imagine a scenario where you had to walk for miles, with a 5-gallon bucket of river water [trying desperately not to poop your pants] so that you could get home and try to rehydrate with the water that made you sick in the first place?
We know that when families have access to sufficient quantities of clean water that their health improves. And that when their health improves, their kids attend school more regularly, and they have new and better economic opportunities.
Access to clean water is a vital first step out of generational poverty for millions of people.
It is also worth mentioning that dirty water doesn’t just make people sick. It is estimated that the deaths of 361,000 children under the age of 5 could be avoided each year if the risk factors of unsafe drinking water, sanitation and hand hygiene were addressed.
We know that access to clean water is a problem that we must solve. And thankfully, there are a number of potential solutions… publicly managed water systems, privately managed water systems, protected wells or springs, chemical additives, and [my personal favorite] water filtration technologies – just to name a few.
But none of these potential solutions are a one-size-fits-all, magic bullet solution. Every community gets their water from a different source, with different potential contaminants, different geographical and cultural concerns, and various complicating factors [including Sanitation and Hygiene practices].
So, while it can be incredibly satisfying to jump directly from problem to solution and call it a day; let’s slow down. Keep your eyes open for the next post in this series. Our next step before we discuss solutions, is to make sure we’re speaking the same language.
Statistics were sourced from the World Health Organization.