Frontline Stories

Safe Water Saves Lives

Water is the source of life. It plays a vital role in the well-being of families. Nevertheless, in areas of poverty, there is never enough water – especially clean water. Many people spend their entire lives searching to find enough, just to survive.

On World Water Day, 22 March, we remember parents like Diana in Kenya and children like Cornelio in Mozambique. Diana has been spending all her time searching for water for her family while Cornelia always misses lessons looking for precious water.

“I dreamt about water all the time,” said Diana, a mother of 10 living in a remote part of western Kenya, where fresh water is scarce.

“I once dreamt of a stream flowing outside my homestead… I kept asking God to help us get water so that we do not suffer any more.”

Diana rose at 4am to walk three kilometres, taking her an hour each way, to the community’s only freshwater well. Once there, she would spend another four hours queuing for just once bucket of water – hardly enough for cooking, let alone her family’s other needs. When the well ran dry, she had to go even further. The daily search was all-consuming.

“I could not sleep at night. I could not sit down to share a meal with my children. All we could do was to look for water,” Diana said.

During the wet season, there was some sense of relief as rainwater collected at a nearby dam. But convenience had its price. “My children would develop high fever and begin to vomit, and I would know they had typhoid,” Diana explained. “The food we ate also tasted bad because the water used for cooking was saline.”

Due to illness, Diana’s children often missed school. “They kept repeating one class after another. I never imagined they would ever succeed in life.”

To her amazement, Diana’s dreams became real. A pipe now carries clean water to her village from a source several kilometres away. Her children also have access to clean water at school. Storage tanks have been installed in primary schools, benefitting over 5,600 students. In addition to the clean water supply, World Vision has supported the construction of 27 blocks of safe and clean toilets across 16 schools and four health clinics. Having access to sanitary toilets will make a huge difference to the health and well-being of Diana’s community.

Diana’s dreams are now filled with hope. She plans to establish a kitchen garden and replace her donkeys – which she no longer needs for fetching water – with dairy cows to earn income and provide milk for her children.

Now that women in Diana’s community no longer have to spend hours collecting water, they are able to spend more time earning an income and participating in important community forums and processes.

“The most difficult burden in my life has been lifted from my shoulders,” Diana declared. “I believe this is the beginning of change.

In fact, 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water globally – although by some estimates, the number of people whose right to water is not satisfied could be as high as 3.5 billion – and 2.5 billion are without sanitation. Almost 90 percent of all child deaths from diarrhoeal disease – or about 1.1 million per year – are related to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation. Diarrhoeal disease is responsible for 15 per cent of deaths worldwide among children younger than five.

Studying was a real challenge for primary school students in northern Mozambique due to the lack of water. Children used to spend the break times looking for water to satisfy their thirst, instead of playing at school. “Sometimes we had to walk to the closest river to get water to drink”, recalls the second grade student, Cristina. “We used to do it during the break time.”

The journey could take a while to reach the river and come back to the classroom. It’s about two kilometres.

“It was common to go during the breaks and return to the classrooms, after the break time ended,” Claudina explains. “We used to miss lessons.”

For others, like Cornélio Samuel, 13, the solution was to count on the goodwill of people around the school neighbourhood, where he used to ask for a glass of water when the heat strikes, especially in the hottest Mozambican summer, where the temperature can go beyond 40 degrees.

“Sometimes we used to bring some bottles of water to school and put [them] together in a common bucket and drink when we were thirsty,” Cornelio says.

But asking for water in the neighbourhood, putting together water collected raised other concerns to the children´s health – the water was unsafe.

If drinking water was an issue, hygiene was another hindrance affecting the children. If fact, no one could wash hands after using the toilet.

“We had beautiful bathrooms built with convention material, but we could not use them because we did not have water to clean it,” says Daniel Dimisseque, the school principal. “We had to build other latrines in with the open sky to minimise the need of water for hygiene. Even though, we needed to have some water at least for washing hands, but we did not have [this].”

If a school is supposed to be a safe place, here the lack of water was undoubtedly an eminent threat for the children’s health.

“It was common to have children missing lessons because they were sick or had diarrhoea”, says Justina Jorge, 32. She is a second grade teacher at the school for the past three years.

But thanks to the borehole drilled close to school by World Vision, the worries were washed away. Children and teachers no longer miss the lessons, and water is no longer a threat to their health. Water brought relief, joy, health, and is contributing to provide quality education for boys and girls who are eager to learning.

World Water Day is a time to recognise the global need to save, conserve and manage water resources responsibly for future generations. An adequate supply of fresh and clean drinking water is a basic need for all human beings on earth, yet millions of people worldwide, including children, are deprived of this. Research reveals that 80 percent of childhood disease is related directly or indirectly to unsafe drinking water, inadequate hygiene and open defecation.

For decades, World Vision has been providing clean water and sanitation for millions of children and their families. World Vision invests about US$90 million per year to operate WASH programmes (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in 57 countries. Our goal now is to reach at least one million additional beneficiaries each year.

Click here to learn more or become a World Vision Partner, bringing clean water to people in need.


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