Imagine if getting a drink of water wasn’t as simple as turning on your tap. Imagine you had to trek miles to a dirty river or polluted well and lug 40-pound jerry cans back to your family. Imagine you did this every day, a job so tedious yet crucial that it was essentially all you did. Imagine you were 12 years old.
Clean water isn’t a luxury, it’s a basic human right. But millions of people around the world don’t live near a reliable, clean water source, or have access to sanitary washing facilities, leaving them at risk of illness and deadly disease. Improving access to clean water is one of the most crucial and quickest ways to lift a community out of poverty. It reduces illness, allows girls to go to school (girls are generally tasked with retrieving the family’s water) and leads to better agriculture and access to food.
Free The Children helps provide communities with clean water to drink and use for cooking; healthy sanitation facilities for washing and going to the bathroom; and infrastructure like irrigation or catchment systems to facilitate food production. We also work to educate communities about healthy hygiene practices and how to prevent waterborne disease.
We employ local staff to implement sustainable projects that are adapted to the unique needs of each community. Some environments are lush and green, others are arid and dry, some are mountainous, others flat or plagued by drought. Because of the variation of climates and environments, our projects may involve boring holes, rehabilitating existing water projects, leveraging natural springs, introducing hand pump systems, or building irrigation infrastructure.
In each case, the local staff and government agencies train community members to maintain the systems, empowering them with new skills while ensuring the sustainability of the project.
Free The Children clean water and sanitation projects in partner communities include:
Since the creation of the Clean Water and Sanitation pillar, one million people have improved access to clean water, health care and sanitation. That’s one million people empowered to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and build healthier, more productive communities.
In the community of Gufubao, China, for example, the main water pipe froze. Residents were unable to get water from their taps, and had to rely on water collected from a small pond at the edge of the community. This water was unsafe and caused illness among community members, especially children, since it is also used by the community’s animals. Over the summer, Gufubao experienced a drought causing a shortage of water for crop irrigation. Only one third of crops in the community could be harvested, putting the area at risk of a food shortage. Free The Children began working closely with the community to plan a water project—a new pipe and two new boreholes–ensuring that the community has a sustainable and reliable source of water throughout the winter, a supply of water to the community for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other day-to-day tasks, and water for crops during droughts.
Providing clean water and sanitation improves the health of a community in every way imaginable. According to the World Health Organization, every $1 invested in water and sanitation, shows an economic return of between $3 and $34.
With improved water, you see sustainable agriculture and reduced hunger; children returning to school instead of collecting water; and fewer illnesses, so kids miss less school and adults can farm or manage their businesses.
With clean and safe toilet facilities, girls stay can stay in school past puberty, and if you’re familiar with our education pillar, you know the positive impact an educated girl can have on her family and her community.
The students squeeze into the kitchen and bob their heads as they try to peer past one another to get a better view of Mrs. Chen, their teacher. She sets down the pot of water on the school’s stove and turns up the heat. In Mandarin, she asks her students if they can explain why it’s important to boil water before drinking it.
Overcoming her shyness, a girl raises her hand, and with an encouraging look from her teacher, explains that when you boil water, it kills germs—the tiny things in the water that can make you sick, even if you can’t see them.
The students are quick learners. Over the course of the workshop—part of an ongoing program that is helping community members find proactive solutions to common health problem—they’ve heard all about the ways that clean water is the basis of a healthy life. While in the past they would get sick from dipping their cups into a communal bucket of untreated water or drinking from plastic water bottles that leached chemicals, now they have thermoses for drinking boiled water and re-usable water bottles that the teacher cleans regularly.
And thanks to the water workshop, students have a new hands-on homework assignment. Tonight they’ll be teaching their parents what they’ve learned. As a family, they’ll practice boiling drinking water and washing their hands and dishes.
It’s not only the children of Gufubao, China who are enjoying better health through clean water. Out in the orchards of apricot trees that surround Gufubao, a pen full of rambunctious goats now have a pipeline bringing them drinking water to keep them healthy and growing. These goats, part of a hugely successful alternative income project in Gufubao, are reared and sold by local families at a profit, or used for milk and meat.