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ChildFund’s Holistic Approach to Safe Water

 Boy standing with bottle of water.
In Bolivia, a boy from the village of Sapahaqui holds a bottle of river water.

In 2000, world leaders gathered at the United Nations’ Millennium Summit and signed on to what became known as the Millennium Development Goals, targets for reducing extreme poverty by 2015. Just in time for World Water Day 2012 on March 22, we can celebrate the earlier-than-expected achievement of one of these goals: to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the world’s people without access to safe drinking water. A World Health Organization report recently announced that as of 2010, 89 percent of the global population had access to clean water.

Even as we mark this milestone, we must also highlight the work that remains: There are 783 million people still without access to clean water.

There’s more. Another piece of Goal 7 is halving the proportion of the global population without access to adequate sanitation, and this part lags well behind: Just 63 percent of people worldwide have access to adequate sanitation. The 2015 target is a distant 75 percent, and the WHO report suggests it is unlikely to be reached.

Water and sanitation are basic elements of how ChildFund works to help children and families improve their lives. Lack of sanitation can be deadly — 24,000 children die every day from diarrhea and other preventable illnesses, which can also lead to malnutrition and, at the very least, disruptions in education and other opportunities.

ChildFund’s water and sanitation efforts are holistic. We help communities develop water sources and facilities for their own use, and then we train them to maintain them. We ensure that schools have access, as well. We educate children and family members about healthy practices like hand washing, food safety and waste disposal.

In 12 neighborhoods of Buee, a town in southwestern Ethiopia, community members worked with ChildFund and its community partner there to develop several springs, wells and a borehole into sources of safe water. These were then networked into a system of 32 water points, which a trained water management committee maintains while also working to educate community members about hygiene. More than 8,000 people have benefited, and eight schools now have safe drinking water for their students.

Before 2007, on Indonesia’s West Java, the 1,500 residents of Cikaret village had no access to clean water. Family members would collect water from wells, gutters and rivers. Poor drainage, especially during the rainy season, promoted the spread of diarrhea, skin infections and dengue fever.

ChildFund, its community partner and the local government worked with the community to bring clean water straight from the nearby mountain, laying more than a half-mile of pipe and opening access to water for 400 people. Then the local government built a water tower, growing the number of people served to 1,200.

“The clean water means a lot for the community,” says Yusuf, a father of three, who notes the decreased monthly expenses and the absence of skin infections around the community. “After the water pipes were built and we started to see the benefits, the community started to be closer. We now are aware that by working together, we can put an end to any problems in our community.”  

Man walking up a hill, carrying water away from a river.
Soon, residents of Sapahaqui will no longer have to depend on the nearby river for all their water needs.

This broader, empowering effect is echoed wherever ChildFund works with communities to improve their water and sanitation. In ChildFund’s award-winning Water Watchers program in Brazil, teams of community members are trained to monitor the quality of the water that they and their neighbors consume and use for their daily labors. So far, more than 7,000 people have benefited. “We discuss if the water is contaminated, how the contamination occurred, how we can handle water shortages,” says Paula Karina Gava, coordinator of Ascomed, one of ChildFund’s participating community partners. “We have a better perspective for our future.”

Water improvements are beginning in the rural Bolivian village of Sapahaqui, where families use the river that traces the western edge of the town as the communal source for cooking, drinking, irrigating crops and watering cattle. Very few can afford the drinking water that a truck delivers to the area. About 20 percent have access to water through pipes. The school’s water system is available for half an hour every two days, and other areas have water only on Saturday mornings. There is no proper sewage system at all.

“We take care of water as if it was gold,” says a teacher at the school. “We really don’t know when we are going to have it again from the pipe.”

One of her students holds up his plastic bottle full of dirty water.

ChildFund’s response, in partnership with ChildFund Korea, the Korean International Cooperation Agency and the community itself, includes helping the community build new and improved water systems to directly benefit 200 families, building latrines in schools around the area and educating teachers and students through Hygiene Corners.

Two hundred families in Bolivia. Seven thousand people in Brazil, 1,200 in Indonesia, 8,000 in Ethiopia. Compared to 783 million, those numbers add up to a drop in a vast bucket.

Then again, as the Roman poet Ovid once said, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

It fills buckets the same way.

On World Water Day, let’s renew our commitment for clean water and sanitation for all.