“The sheer scale of dirty water means more people now die from contaminated and polluted water than from all forms of violence, including wars.” – United Nations Environment Programme
Millennium Development Goals – the phrase may sound complicated, but the motive behind it is simple and straightforward. MDGs, as they are referred to, are eight international development goals established by the United Nations following the Millennium Summit of 2000. All 193 United Nations member states have agreed to achieve the following eight goals by 2015:
The one thing I didn’t understand prior to my trip, is that when there is no safe water source in a village, the people do not die of the type of dehydration that is depicted in movies: lost in the desert with no water at all. Instead, what happens is that the villagers find a water source – however, contaminated – and use it to “survive”. Women and girls walk hours and miles a day to disgusting, disease-ridden water holes. One time, I saw a water hole that was simply a pit dug deep enough into the earth that water would simply seep in. The water that was pulled out was brown from the mud and other debris in the hole. At some point during the day, all of the water would be taken out, and there would be no water to be had until more seeped back in – typically the next day. Another time, I witnessed women fetching water from a small lake. It seemed like a better alternative, until I saw the livestock that were defecating and urinating into it as they drank from it themselves.
As Wells Bring Hope’s wells are the only source of clean water in the communities we serve, a malfunction like the one my outdoor faucet suffered is life threatening. Diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and bilharzia become real threats to the health of people who don’t have access to clean water. That is why ensuring the sustainability of a well is a vital part of our intervention, and one key component of that process is making certain that the technology used in our hand pumps is appropriate to the area in which they are used.
This blog has already highlighted the consequences for the WASH sector when this principle is ignored. Cindy L. Kurland’s excellent case study of PlayPumps International (which can be found here if you haven’t already read it) highlights how an attention-grabbing project that drew funding from the U.S. government, the Case Foundation, and a number of celebrities began as a nonprofit marketing dream but quickly became a technical nightmare.
The notion was that the local children would play on a merry-go-round, which would generate the energy needed to draw water up from an underground well. Sounds like a great idea, right? Unfortunately, PlayPumps International failed to consider a few major flaws in their design.
· To meet PlayPumps’ stated targets, each pump would need to be in constant motion for 27 hours a day. Obviously, this creates an insurmountable problem.
· During periods of high demand for water, such as early morning and late evening, there were often too few children playing to meet the demand, and during inclement weather, there was no guarantee that children would want to play at all. This begins to make the PlayPump model look less like a fun solution to a serious problem and more like child labor.
I traveled to Niger in January 2012 with Wells Bring Hope. We visited a village without clean, safe water. We traveled to their local water source, which was a grimy, muddy hole where women and children stood for hours in line to pull up a bucket of polluted, filthy water for their families….if they were lucky.
Many stood for hours, only to learn that the water had dried up and they had to go home empty handed. The villagers knew that the water they were feeding their babies and children was dangerous, even deadly. 1 in 7 infants and children in Niger die before the age of 5 as a result of contaminated water. Many women we spoke with had lost a child, or multiple children, to water-related diseases…..that was their fate, they believed.
I often speak passionately to individuals and groups about the needs of the people of Niger, and I have been asked “Why do they stay if there is no water?” It seems like such an innocent question, but there is nothing more complex. It is like asking someone who lives in a crime-ridden neighborhood riddled with gang violence, why don’t they move, as if it were that simple. But where would they go? It takes resources to move. It takes a place to move to – room for an entire village. Unfortunately, not only is moving NOT an option, but Niger is being inundated with refugees from neighboring Mali who are fleeing from the violence of Al Qaeda. This is putting a strain on the already incredibly limited resources of the world’s second poorest country.
In such a context the sustainability of the wells that Wells Bring Hope drills is a hot topic. Once we provide a clean water supply, it would be cruel beyond imagination for that supply to fail down the line. We are not the only ones thinking along these lines as this summer’s release of the GLAAS 2012 report has prompted much discussion on sustainability across the WASH sector. It is worth looking at what processes Wells Bring Hope has in place to ensure that our wells are truly sustainable as well examining best practices in the broader WASH sector.
For Wells Bring Hope, sustainability means that a hand-pump well is still fully functional, without ongoing external support, at the end of its advertised life. In simpler terms, this means that the well is still working properly at least 20 years after installation.
Women must play a central role in bringing clean water and adequate sanitation to their communities. If the WASH crisis is to be resolved, women must lead the charge.
Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.
— The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights
If passed by Congress, the Water for the World Act will help bring water and sanitation to millions of people who suffer a lack of access to clean, safe water, which in turn leads to disease, malnourishment, and often death
The media, including the New York Times in a June 17th article, has picked up on a very comprehensive report mapping groundwater resources in Africa. Based on two years of study led by the British Geological Survey, this is the first quantitative continent-wide mapping of aquifer storage and potential borehole well yields from an extensive review of available maps, publications and data. (An aquifer is defined as water-bearing porous soil or rock strata that yield significant amounts of water to wells.) Maps have been generated pinpointing the locations of aquifers by country and region.