Imagine walking six miles a day across hilly, uneven, or muddy terrain with a pack on your back that weighs 50 pounds. But this is not army basic training or a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now imagine you are hungry and quite possibly suffering from gastrointestinal illness–yet you still must undertake this ordeal on a daily basis.
For more than half a billion people in developing countries worldwide–the majority of them women and girls–this is their reality: walking long distances to a water source with a jerry can or other improvised container, waiting in line to fill it, and then making the return journey with the can either strapped to their backs or balanced on top of their heads.
It is all too easy for those of us in developed nations to take for granted our access to clean, fresh water with the turn of a faucet. In fact, it’s only when something goes wrong – like Flint’s lead contamination crisis of a few years ago – that we pay much attention to water at all.
Water scarcity – a lack of access to safe drinking water either in or near the home – is part of a larger problem that perpetuates poverty. A lack of water also means a lack of adequate sanitation. Being forced to defecate outside can pollute existing water sources and not being able to wash hands can facilitate the spread of diseases such as cholera.
Furthermore, the burden of water collection falls unequally on women and children. As a result of the time spent each day on this task, they face reduced educational and employment opportunities.
More than 700 children die each day from diarrheal diseases linked to poor sanitation and unsafe water. 771 million people lack even a basic level of water service. 367 million people use unimproved water sources, like shallow wells. 122 million still collect drinking water directly from lakes, ponds and rivers.
The above data, all collected by UNICEF, show the enormous scale of the problem. However, it is not insurmountable. Many organizations around the world, including those featured at the end of this post, are making a real difference: since 2000, 2 billion people have gained access to what are termed “safely managed services” – meaning water that is accessible, available when needed, and safe to drink.
Projects implemented to provide safe and accessible water vary enormously in scale and cost, but the impact can perhaps be seen most clearly at the individual level. For example, meet Asinakech, who lives in Dima Jeliwan, Ethiopia (Water 1st International).
Previously, Asinakech and many other women and children had to spend hours out of their day walking to a public tap and then carrying the water back. In a combined project with an Ethiopian nonprofit and the local government, Water 1st was able to protect a clean water source and pipe it to a holding tank and then on to households in the village.
The benefits of this are many: Families now have sufficient water for drinking, cleaning, and sanitation and are able to use approximately twice the amount of water–at low cost–than that used by households who must walk to collect it. This additional availability and usage has been shown to have critical health and sanitation benefits.
Furthermore, girls have been able to turn hours spent collecting water into hours spent in school, while women have more time to devote to work that can provide income for their families.
In a positive coincidence, the water pipes in Dima Jeliwan were turned on just as the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Ethiopia, giving older and more vulnerable people like Asinakech the additional peace of mind from being able to clean their homes effectively and avoid busy public water sources.
Donations to one of the organizations below can have a tangible, on-the-ground impact in people’s lives and help give them access to this most basic of resources.
Clean Water UWCFD Organizations
Consider making a one-time contribution or setting up payroll deduction to one of our CFD member organizations working to provide access to clean water for all:
American Rivers (charity code 0314943): Working to protect and restore healthy, natural rivers for the benefit of people and wildlife ensuring clean drinking water, natural flood protection, and recreational enjoyment.
Bread and Water for Africa (charity code 0456895): To provide health care, orphan care, water well development, agriculture development and food security, education and vocational training, microloan and livestock programs and emergency relief.
Clean Water Fund (charity code 0463105): Water is essential to human life. Investing in clean water saves lives and good hygiene is one of the most cost effective health interventions.
Friendly Water for the World (charity code 1480794): Friendly Water For the World works to expand access to sustainable low-cost clean water technologies along with information on health and sanitation to individuals and communities in need around the world.
Living Water International (charity code 1478790): Where water is inaccessible, poverty is pervasive. Clean water improves community health, and unlocks educational and economic opportunity. We help communities acquire desperately needed safe, clean drinking water in 17 countries around the world.
Water 1st International (charity code 0516822): Water 1st addresses the most pressing health and social welfare issues of the world’s poorest through the implementation of sustainable water supply, sanitation and hygiene education projects. Safe water saves lives and empowers poor communities.
Water For Humans (charity code 1481012): Water for Humans provides low-cost, clean water and sanitation solutions to underserved populations in the developing world while ensuring that water remains a local, public resource. We work at the household, community and/or watershed level.
Water For People (charity code 0316387): An international organization that supports the development of sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs in developing countries.
Water Missions International (charity code 1482746): To provide sustainable access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries and disaster areas.
Water.Org (charity code 0315059): Nearly one billion people lack access to clean water. Twice as many don’t have access to a toilet.
WaterAid America, Inc. (charity code 1481371): We improve access to safe water, hygiene and toilets in the world’s poorest communities.
This article is contributed by the UW Combined Fund Drive team.