Whenever we drill a well, we teach the people living in the village how to make use of every droplet of water. Water is scarce, and every single drop counts. One of the ways we do this is by teaching them that the water that has been used for washing should not be discarded because while it is no longer potable, it can still serve a valuable purpose. This use of greywater, the water collected from hand washing stations, dish washing, and other household washing, is essential in drought-ridden West Africa. In every village where we drill, we teach the villagers how to use this greywater to nurture their gardens using the technique of drip water irrigation. This simple form of technology increases the efficiency of water usage and produces incredible benefits. This system relies on simple buckets or trash bins- to act as water reservoirs- and drip tape, which is placed between every other row of crops. The drip tape is attached to the water source, and allows for low-pressure water to trickle down to the soil, nourish the vegetation, and ultimately deliver produce that is packed with nutritious benefits to supplement the villagers’ diets.
The water crisis is about as big and deadly as it gets. There are 345 million
people in Africa who lack access to clean, safe water. I saw it firsthand when I had
the opportunity to go to Niger, West Africa in January 2012. On that trip, I visited a village without “safe water,” which meant that the women and girls would have to walk for miles to a filthy water hole to get any form of water. They would fill a large bucket with foul, brown, disgusting water and trudge back to their village carrying the heavy load on their heads. Water so filthy that I wouldn’t even give it to my pets was their only source of water for cooking and drinking. Forget about hygiene – water is too precious and rare to be used for hand washing or showers. Because of all this, more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.
After testing to see if the pump was working properly, the water was sampled and sent to the water quality laboratory. The results indicated that all major parameters met the WHO standard except that nitrites were slightly elevated. An analysis revealed that the nitrites may have come from the chemical product used for mud drilling. After hours of pumping, another sample was drawn and sent for analysis. The water sample passed, and the hand pump installation followed on June 7th after the concrete apron around the pump was constructed.
Due to unsafe water, there are 4.7 more deaths per 1,000 children under age five in countries such as Niger than there are in countries such as the United States. Due to unimproved sanitation, there are 6.6 more deaths for every 1,000 children under five.
In beginning this blog post, I asked myself one question, “How important is water?” I get that it’s essential to our survival. I’ve been taught that since kindergarten. I saw 127 Hours. I know that James Franco’s biggest problem wasn’t his arm being stuck under a rock; it was trying to make a half bottle of water last for however many days 127 hours is. I know that in war, when supplies get cut off, it’s not the lack of guns or food that depletes an army; it’s the absence of potable water. I read The Hunger Games. I remember the advice to the tributes – “Forget the weapons. Find shelter and water.”
“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.