I

Change Happens Once People Get Access to Water


Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

This Article at a Glance:

  • Health Improvements: Installing protected water sources dramatically improves community health by eliminating waterborne diseases and enabling proper hygiene. Access to clean water prevents diseases spread by both ingestion and contact, highlighting the critical link between water access and public health.
  • Economic Empowerment: Access to reliable water sources can alleviate poverty. It allows communities to invest in agriculture, enables various trades to flourish, and reduces the economic burden of treating water-related diseases. With water readily available, people can focus more on income-generating activities rather than spending time and energy on water collection.
  • Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment: The installation of new water sources significantly benefits women and girls, who are primarily responsible for water collection. It reduces their physical burden, decreases exposure to gender-based violence, and frees up time for education and economic activities, promoting gender equality and empowerment.
  • Educational Benefits: Water accessibility in schools leads to improved student attendance, concentration, and academic performance. It alleviates the need for students to fetch water, allowing them to focus on their studies and participate fully in school activities.
  • Community Transformation: Water is a catalyst for positive change across various facets of life, including health, education, economic stability, and gender equality. By providing communities with access to clean water, The Water Project sets the foundation for a brighter, more sustainable future.

Like rings that expand outwards from a drop of water in a pool, big changes start to happen once The Water Project installs a new protected water source in a community.

The problems a new water source will solve vary, but some things are always true. 

Once people no longer have to drink water from unsafe sources like streams, rivers, swamps, and ponds, their health improves. In many cases, a new water source will substantially reduce the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and parasitic infections

Waterborne diseases disappear once water access improves, and so do ones spread through touch. Without enough water, people can’t clean themselves or their environments properly. Clean water is essential for activities like handwashing, bathing, and laundry, which are critical for maintaining basic hygiene and preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

When people can’t get enough water to serve all their needs, they often ration the water they can collect. Water rationing can result in chronic dehydration, which has been linked with urological, gastrointestinal, circulatory, and neurological disorders. 

And in places where water is scarce, humans often spend a lot of time and energy collecting it — time and energy that are restored once we install water sources in communities. While we can’t install water sources at everyone’s front door, we are aiming to get water within a half-hour round trip of everyone’s homes in our service regions. Studies have shown that even a 15-minute reduction in water collection times significantly improves the amount of water a household can collect, and therefore, the amount of diseases they can prevent.

Time and energy aren’t the only costs for long water collection times. Data suggests that water-carrying duties strain the body and cause long-term health impacts. Once the strain lowers, so too does the health impact. And since water-collection duties fall to women and girls more often than to men and boys, access to both improved water and sanitation facilities are also associated with decreased maternal and neo-natal mortality

Poverty

With better health, people are able to reinvest in their own communities: developing self-help groups, constructing new buildings, and helping each other grow. Expanding access to clean water is also one of the most crucial methods to eradicate poverty.

George from Kitile B Community in Southeast Kenya shows off his thriving crops.

Many people in sub-Saharan Africa grow their own food, which increases their dependence on a steady water supply. The good news is that once we provide new water sources, food production becomes much easier. Reliable water sources enable consistent irrigation, which increases crop yields and food security. This provides more food for consumption and increases farmers’ potential trade income.

We often hear of people whose usual jobs are made difficult or impossible without a source of water: food traders who can’t cook, palm oil makers who can’t boil palm kernels, livestock owners who can’t feed their animals, builders who can’t mix cement, brickmakers who can’t saturate the soil, and potters who can’t mix clay. Once they receive a water source, people find time, energy, and water to achieve and exceed their money-making goals.

Health improvements in themselves alleviate poverty, since water-related diseases require frequent treatment. Treating waterborne and water-related diseases is an exceptionally high expense, especially considering 86% of Africans make their living through informal settings where they may barter for goods and services rather than using currency.

Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment

Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 70% of households where there is no water onsite. Globally, women and girls spend 200 million hours per day collecting water. This means the water crisis disproportionately affects females. 

But the flip side is that women and girls benefit more when their communities receive new water sources. Most or all of their usual household chores involve water, which means they become much easier with ready access to water. Dishes, laundry, cooking, and cleaning all take so much less time with water at hand.

Without those long journeys to the water point, women and girls face fewer hazards while walking alone in their communities. This means they are exposed less often to gender-based violence.

A girl from Harambee community in Western Kenya carries water from their protected spring.

When their families do better financially, parents are better able to pay the school fees necessary to keep girls in school. With more education, girls grow up to hold more decision-making power in their communities. 

Freed from the hours spent collecting water, women have more time to engage in income-generating activities. This economic empowerment can shift power dynamics, giving women independence and a stronger voice in household and community matters. With this voice, women are better able to lead water management and sanitation initiatives. Their involvement in water-related decision-making leads to more sustainable and effective water management practices over time.

Education

Often, when there isn’t water at a school, students are tasked with bringing it from home, leaving school to fetch it, or both. For female students who fetch water for their households as well, this can amount to hours each day spent ferrying heavy water containers back and forth. This often eats into class time and drains students’ energy and focus, resulting in worse grades and exam scores. Sometimes, these devastating setbacks force kids to drop out of school long before they would otherwise.

Bringing water to a school amounts to a fundamental change in each student’s everyday life. 

When students don’t have to worry about water, they start off their days without having to lug heavy jugs of water along with them to school. They stay in class and are able to focus fully. They have fewer sick days and are better able to keep up with their classmates. They help to clean their classrooms and latrines, fill their handwashing stations, supply their school kitchens, and can go to their school’s water sources to have a quick drink anytime they wish. They can wash their school uniforms more often. Pre-teen and teen female students are better able to manage their menstrual hygiene so they don’t feel the need to drop out

All of this adds up to increased learning, better grades, and (quite importantly!) more fun every day.

Even at the organizational level, school administrators tell us about higher enrollment numbers, better exam scores, cleaner facilities, healthier students, and fewer absences/dropouts. We’ve even heard stories of schools being saved from closure thanks to our water sources.

Conclusion

Water is a catalyst for profound change, touching every aspect of life — health, education, economic stability, and gender equality. Each new water source serves as a beacon of hope and a foundation for a brighter future.

But these life-altering changes can’t happen without your support. The Water Project relies on the generosity of people like you — individuals who understand the value of clean water and are willing to contribute towards making it accessible to those who need it most.

Home More Like This


Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).