Eleven per cent of people in the world do not have access to safe water. Many women and children in rural areas in developing countries spend hours each day walking miles to collect water from unprotected sources such as open wells, muddy dugouts or streams.
In urban areas they collect it from polluted waterways or pay high prices to buy it from vendors who obtain it from dubious sources. The water is often dirty and unsafe, but they have no alternative.
A woman collecting water from a marsh in Mozambique.
Credit: WaterAid / Jon Spaull
Carrying the heavy water containers back home is an exhausting task, which takes up valuable time and energy. It often prevents women fromdoing vital domestic or income generating work and stops children from going to school.
Diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery, are common across the developing world - killing 2,000 children every day.
People suffering from these diseases or caring for children who areill from them are often unable to work to earn money, yet face large medical bills.
There is an urgent need for action, but all too often water and sanitation are overlooked in global development agenda, despite being consistently cited as top priorities by communities themselves.
WaterAid addresses global water and sanitation problems by:
Undertaking projects to enable communities to set up and manage water and sanitation systems in 27 countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific region and Central America
Campaigning for others, such as governments, to adopt a more integrated approach to development that recognizes how water and sanitation are vital in poverty reduction
Our water projects help communities to gain access to uncontaminated water sources.
A WaterAid-funded well fitted with a handpump in Uganda.
Credit: WaterAid / Geoff Crawford
In rural areas the most common technologies we use are hand-dug wells, tubewells or boreholes that reach groundwater resources. Where possible we rehabilitate existing wells that have fallen into disrepair, as it is more cost effective than the construction of new wells. The wells are hygienically sealed and fitted with appropriate pumps that the communities are trained to maintain and service themselves, with help from engineers available for serious problems.
Where groundwater is inaccessible or in short supply, rainwater harvesting can be a viable alternative or supplementary source. Rainwater is generally collected from roofs, from where it is filtered and stored in tanks. In mountainous areas, springs can be protected and gravity flow systems are used to pipe water downhill to a network of storage tanks and tapstands.
In urban areas where there are existing piped water supplies, WaterAid and our partner organizations often help communities to negotiate with the local government or water suppliers to extend the network into their areas and construct communal tapstands that can be managed by the communities themselves.
Our projects' impact
Once communities have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education, they can escape the water and sanitation poverty trap. Freed up from hours of water collection and the misery of water-related disease, communities are better able to channel their time and energy into more productive activities and simple enjoyment of life.
Women have more time to work to earn money, grow food and cook and care for their children, which boosts households' income, nutrition andhealth. Children have more time to help with domestic tasks or dedicateto their schooling, which improves their long-term prospects
The stress on household finances is reduced by the reduced need for medical care for water-related diseases. Families also report lower stress levels, increased status and self-esteem and increased ability to observe religious rites and customs.
Due to the scale of the problem WaterAid recognizes that it cannot meet the global water and sanitation needs simply through implementing water and sanitation projects itself.
WaterAid also uses its experience, research and good practice to influence other organizations on adopting policies and practices that will enable the poor to gain sustainable access to safe water and sanitation.
A highly professional and integrated approach has given WaterAid an authoritative voice in the water sector. We use this voice to support campaigns, build networks and develop alliances with other international bodies dedicated to the interests of poor people. Through this work WaterAid is enabling citizens to hold their governments to account and make their demands for affordable and equitable water and sanitation services better heard and prioritized.
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Life without safe water
Mother of five Atndtoma lives in the village of Aurigo in the Upper East Region of Ghana. It's a village without a safe water supply, so along with the other women, Atndtoma walks to a dirty pond each day to fetch water. It's an arduous task, especially as she's eight months pregnant.
She described her water collection duties to us:
“I have collected this water for drinking and cooking. This is the second time I have come here today and I will come twice more. Then early tomorrow morning I will come again.
"I am expecting my baby next month. It is hard to collect water while pregnant. My shoulders, wrists and chest hurt. I will have to carry on collecting water until I deliver. When the baby is born I will need water to wash him or her with. I think that for the first two weeks after I give birth my family will fetch water for me, but after that I will have to come again myself.
"I will go to the Pelagu Health Centre to have the baby. They don’t always have water there so I will take my own with me.
"I have to give the water to my children as there is none other available. Sometimes the children get stomach ache or malaria and I have to take them to hospital, but it is expensive and I don’t always have enough money. It costs 15,000 cedis (about $2) just to be seen and then more for the drugs. If I don’t have enough I just buy the drugs without seeing the doctor.
"Sometimes the illnesses are very serious and sometimes some of the children in the village die. A four month old baby died some time ago – that was when women used to give babies water to drink from their hands when they were very young. Now we have been trained not to do that until the baby is at least six months old. We just give milk until then.
"When the dugout dries up at the end of the dry season I will have to go to the river to fetch water. I will have to get up early as it takes an hour to walk there and an hour back.”