Water Matters

The latest on our work and those supporting it

The Value of Relationship – A five part series

Part 1: Relationships, not wells, are key to safe water

by Tom Murphy: Reporting Officer, The Water Project

The Water Project
 does not build wells. We build relationships.

Before dismissing what is seemingly a trite expression, allow me to explain what I mean because it is a crucial distinction that means the difference between contributing to a long history of failure in the water sector and working to achieve lasting access to safe water.

We have learned over the past decade that reliable water matters. Open water sources are reliable but unsafe. Wells are safe but are most often unreliable. But they don’t have to be.

Wells and appropriate water points can be both safe and reliable if strong relationships are in place. In the end, people are going to choose the water source that is most reliable.

Installing a new community well that breaks down months later and forces people to return to collecting water from an unsafe, open water source is a failure. The development graveyards that litter sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are marked with headstones made of the concrete ruins of abandoned wells, incomplete latrines, and broken pumps.

They look like this:

Broken well in Tanzania

A broken water pump at a primary school in Mlanda, Tanzania. (Credit: Tom Murphy)


So people turn to the most reliable source of water. This:

Open water source

Open water source less than a mile away from the broken pump. (Credit: Tom Murphy)

I have seen this first hand. Communities in Ghana with latrines that fell apart and a school in Tanzania where the water pump broke down and sat unused for more than a year. I reported on this problem in Tanzania with Jacob Kushner. We found that a push to increase access to water in the country led to the construction of many new wells that eventually broke down due to a lack of ongoing support. Communities were provided new water points and told to take care of them.

Sound familiar?

It is relatively easy to build a well. Buy or rent a rig, hire a team, drill until the proper depth is reached, install a pump, and let the water flow. We could do that by ourselves, an ocean away from the problem. It is what has often been done in this sector over the past few decades. But it doesn’t work.

Recognizing the failures of “independently” providing water points, some organizations did attempt to engage local communities by establishing water committees who supposedly were equipped to care for the new wells. But they usually failed as quickly as the well. Money shortages or lack of availability of parts to repair a broken well defeated the best-organized groups. Community training took a “teach-a-man-to-fish” approach to support a new water point but acted as if it takes only one lesson to master fishing.

Such pseudo-cooperative methods ignored local leaders and experts at the most crucial stages of the project, including planning.

How do we know all this? Because we too have made mistakes. We invested in wells that failed, do not work, or that we can no longer reach to monitor. We tried supporting water user committees that couldn’t support a water point. But, we reengaged and learned the complexity to understand what went wrong. And through this process, we learned how to be better. We learned to depend on our local teams and the communities we joined to help as equally essential contributors throughout the entire process.

That is why we don’t build improved water points, like wells, protected springs, and rainwater harvesting tanks using unaffiliated contractors or even volunteer labor. Instead, we identify, strengthen and work through committed local leaders already at work in development. They become “partners” in our work to provide clean water.

Continue Reading – Part 2: Redefining Partnership >>


The Spencer Group – Corporate Supporter

We had the pleasure of speaking with Julian Minett, CEO and Charlotte Hood, Consultant of The Spencer Group in the United Kingdom. Julian and The Spencer Group have been supporters of The Water Project since 2011 and have given more than $45,000 to clean water projects.

Julian has been raising money for different charities and developing countries since he was a child, “it was part of how I grew up.” He remembers he was a teenager when the water crisis became one of his causes. “We did a fast for a weekend to raise money for water in Africa in order to heighten awareness. It’s a long legacy, it must be over 30 years that I’ve been aware of the crisis.”

Julian believes access to safe water is a human right. “You can build, you can farm, you can get an education, you can start to change the world if you have this basic right of clean, safe water. And the fact that we are such a technologically-advanced world, and yet there are still parts of it that don’t have this basic right, I think it’s an injustice. I think the world should put water first. It’s not education or anything else. Without water, nothing else is possible.”

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Waterdrop – Brand Partner

The Waterdrop brand offers high-quality home water filtration solutions. By removing sand and sediments, reducing chlorine, cysts and many other contaminants, Waterdrop products improves water quality and ensures safe and healthy drinking water for millions of families worldwide.

We had the chance to speak with Waterdrop about their partnership with The Water Project. Waterdrop has officially launched the Water4Smile Program to help children in need in sub-Saharan Africa. Their goal is to provide children at least one day of clean water from each Waterdrop filter purchased.

When was the first time you heard about the water crisis and what inspired you to get involved?

It was in 2016 when Philip, the president of Waterdrop, read online that many people are living without clean water today. He realized that many children and communities do not have any sanitation facilities and many people are suffering from water-related diseases. It made him feel terribly sad and astonished, but also made him devoted to providing a clean water solution. We believe clean water is a basic human right, but some people in the world don’t even have access to water in general, not to mention clean water.

It was this news Philip read that motivated him to really do something. We began to search information on the Internet about the water crisis, like how to help those in need and how to end the crisis. We found The Water Project was working on it.

Continue Reading »


Master Pools Guild – Brand Partner

We had the pleasure of speaking with Teri Wiltshire, Special Projects Manager of Master Pools Guild (MPG) and Carla Sovernigo, President/CFO of Alka Pool and past Chairwomen of MPG to learn more about their organization and commitment to providing clean water to communities in need. Master Pools Guild has partnered with The Water Project since 2015, raising more than $100,000 and helping 2000+ people gain access to clean water.

The Guild is an international network of elite custom pool builders who build the world’s finest pools and have a commitment to sharing with and educating other members. “One thing that makes this organization unique, with over 100+ member companies, is that these are companies that are primarily family businesses, some of them in their 2nd and 3rd generation and I think that brings a unique character to the group as a whole,” shares Teri. “It gives this group something special that is hard to find anywhere else.”

Current members have grown up together, creating a special community, “It is not just an organization of businesses, it’s a family. And we connect to one another like family. We don’t just care about our businesses, we care about each other,” adds Carla.

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