Water SecurityThere are 326 million trillion gallons of water on planet earth. However, only 1% of that is clean and accessible. This means there is enough water for everyone on the planet and more. Nonetheless, 1 in 5 children still do not have basic water security.

Lack of Water Security Hurts the Poor Most

Globally, 80 countries harbor children living in regions considered to have low water security. The poorest children are the most likely to live in these regions. Of the top ten most affected countries, nine are in the poorest continent on earth: Africa. A staggering 58% of children in Eastern and Southern Africa face a difficult path to get water on a daily basis. In some regions, families have to travel for up to 30 minutes to get water at all. Consequently, the lack of water security increases the risk of dehydration and takes time away from families who could be working. The risk for water deprivation is also increased, which is lethal. Furthermore, impoverished children face another issue related to poor water security.

An Infectious Problem

In regions with poor water security, bacteria and viruses often contaminate the water. Water contamination leads to diarrheal illness, taking more children’s lives than many of the most common causes for death. It is the second leading cause of death for children worldwide. The illness causes the person affected to lose so much fluid that they die from dehydration. In total diarrheal infections take the lives of 525,000 children each year.

The Water Packet

Water security is a concerning problem that industry giant P&G has been tackling one liter at a time. In 2004, P&G initiated its Children’s Safe Drinking Water program, a revolutionary initiative based around a simple yet effective invention called a purifier of water packet. Created by company scientists, it has the ability to transform 10 liters of dirty water into crystal clear drinking water in thirty minutes. First, the four-gram packet is placed in dirty water and then the whole container is stirred thoroughly. During the stirring, any particles in the water group together into thick clusters. Then the stirring ceases and the particles are allowed time to settle at the bottom. Throughout the whole process, the packet disinfects the water from contaminants. Lastly, the water is run through a cloth which catches the remaining particles and all that is left is drinkable water.

Brittaney Stapleton, Volunteer Relations Coordinator at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical garden informed The Borgen Project about her time at a P&G event where she was shown a demonstration of the packet. She said that during the event the attendees were taken to a beautiful piece of land with a murky brown reservoir of water. “I wouldn’t have touched that water with a ten-foot pole,” she remembered. “So they opened the packet and I don’t remember exactly how long they had to do it but they just stirred with a big stick and after a period of time, the water was crystal clear. There was no debris. It was crystal clear and it looked like something you would see in a Brita filter. Just clear.”

Looking Towards the Future

Throughout the lifetime of the program, a total of 18 billion liters of water have been purified, with P&G planning on purifying billions more in the future.

Brittaney added that they geared the demonstration towards showing people how easy it is to change lives. “It made you feel that much better to know even if you could only give a little bit it’s making a huge impactful difference. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a millionaire, you can be just middle of the road and you can still help.”

– Cole Izquierdo
Photo: Flickr

Lesotho's water crisis
Lesotho gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 and is one of Africa’s few remaining constitutional monarchies. Although Lesotho is one of the youngest and smallest countries in Africa, it has the second-highest adult HIV/AIDS rate in the world. Surrounded by South Africa and plagued by devastatingly high disease and poverty rates, Lesotho’s economic situation is unique. Water generates significant revenue and growth for the country, with the water industry responsible for roughly 8 to 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, the Highlands, a water-rich region in Lesotho, is susceptible to the uncertainties of climate change, leading to the beginning of Lesotho’s water crisis.

Lesotho’s Water Industry

The country’s access to abundant clean water led to the creation of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), with the Highlands’ Orange-Senqu River Basin as the center of Lesotho’s water sector. Lesotho’s water industry now supplies various water-poor countries and regions within the southern tip of Africa.

Contributing more than 3% of the country’s GDP, the LHWP uses hydroelectric power to transfer water from Lesotho to the Gauteng region of South Africa, where water is even more scarce. However, while the water industry brings in revenue, it has also inadvertently created great scarcity for Lesotho’s rural citizens.

Water Scarcity in Lesotho

Lesotho’s water industry involves many trade-offs, including decreased water security for both urban and rural residents. Local communities lack the infrastructure needed to benefit from Lesotho’s water supply. As a result, citizens of Lesotho have limited access to a resource that is historically abundant in the region.

Aside from the inadequate domestic water supply, changes in climate will also affect the long-term sustainability of Lesotho’s water industry. The region has a history of high temperatures, inconsistent precipitation and detrimental droughts. For example, El Niño-induced droughts have created states of emergency that lasted for more than six months. Lesotho’s vulnerability to climate change makes long-term plans to maintain the water industry and improve domestic water access imperative.

Addressing Lesotho’s Water Crisis

Lesotho recognizes its water crisis and is working to reduce water insecurity throughout the country. Developing new sources of water and water treatment, advanced transfer methods and increased bulk resource storage are all tenets of the Lesotho Lowlands Water Supply Scheme (LLWSS). Following Phase I’s completion in 2003, LLWSS is currently completing Phase II of the program. This phase includes further social, developmental and environmental programs that aim to advance infrastructure, dams, tunnels and local hydropower.

The Metolong Dam and Water Supply Program (MDWSP) will likely benefit more than 400,000 citizens of Lesotho and increase the quantity of safe water while also strengthening the water industry. The Lowlands Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program is an extension of MDWSP focused on improving universal and sustainable access to clean water in Lesotho’s rural areas.

The three aforementioned programs are only a few of the ways Lesotho is addressing its water crisis. Water scarcity is a facet of poverty that many countries struggle to fight. Lesotho is working toward widespread access to clean water through long-term solutions while continuing to grow an important sector of its economy.

Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Latin American Water ScarcityIn Latin America, the health and well-being of rural communities are threatened by water scarcity and poor sanitation. In recent decades, the number of people facing water scarcity has declined. Unfortunately, with 36 million people currently lacking access to clean water in Latin America, water scarcity is an issue that is just too prevalent. EOS International aims to address Latin American water scarcity by providing simple and affordable solutions to increase access to clean water.

Causes of Latin American Water Scarcity

While many factors contribute to the water crisis, the outsized role of climate change cannot be ignored. Recent increases in extreme weather events including flooding, hurricanes and droughts threaten the water supply of many Latin American countries. For example, in Peru, flooding left water treatment plants full of rocks and debris, clogging the water supply. Consequently, authorities made the decision to restrict water usage in the Peruvian cities of Lima and Arequipa.

On the other end of the spectrum, drought threatens Bolivia’s water supply, which is significantly rainfall-reliant. Extreme weather conditions, however, are not the only factors threatening clean water access for Latin Americans. Misguided governmental decision-making exacerbates the problem. Most consequentially, increases in deforestation, mining and the creation of mega dams have exacerbated the occurrence of extreme weather patterns. In turn, these developments often harm the water supply in many Latin American countries. Of particular concern in Peru, international mining companies polluted waterways and “hijacked” the water supply, harming the livelihoods of farmers in the region.

In other countries, the biggest threat to the water supply is agribusinesses with undue control over water allocation. This synergy of extreme weather conditions, extractive industries, agribusinesses and governmental inaction still threatens rural families in Latin America who lack access to clean water.

Health and Water Scarcity

Water scarcity poses a direct danger to human health. The most harrowing outcome is waterborne illnesses, primarily diarrheal diseases, which are too often fatal. Waterborne illness is responsible for one in nine child deaths around the world. The pollution in the water itself is an environmental hazard. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that in children younger than 5 in the Americas, close to 100,000 die from such pollution annually.

Water Scarcity Hinders Poverty Reduction

Not only does water scarcity threaten the health of rural communities in Latin America but it is also a major obstacle to poverty prevention. Without clean water, it is nearly impossible to stay healthy enough to manage a job, go to school, construct a home or undertake other essential endeavors necessary to pull oneself out of poverty.

When women have to travel long distances to collect water, they waste hours of time and energy that can otherwise go toward more productive endeavors such as education and paid employment. Areas lacking clean water are also more vulnerable to food insecurity as it is more difficult to grow sufficient crops to feed the populous. Food security, education and employment are all key to poverty reduction, however, a lack of access to water presents a barrier to these outcomes.

Efforts to Alleviate Water Scarcity

Organizational efforts play a role in driving the decrease in overall water scarcity. EOS International is one such organization. EOS stands for “Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability.” The organization’s work aims to empower rural families in Central America by facilitating access to clean drinking water through technological advances and education.

As part of this goal, EOS volunteers help rural communities to safeguard clean water. The volunteers regularly test water quality and then treat unsafe and contaminated water, usually with chlorine tablets. The volunteers then monitor the water system over time, providing chlorine tablets to communities when required. Not only does EOS provide base-level support but it also manufactures and installs simple technologies that provide long-term support for the water supply. Since its establishment in 2008, EOS has installed more than 2,000 simple, affordable and “locally serviceable technologies” in Central America.

The organization also supports economic growth and income generation in communities. EOS International has “provided clean water services including training, education and support for 1,169 communities,” positively impacting more than 500,000 people. Furthermore, the organization’s “50 chlorine distribution centers have created income-generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”

Looking to the Future

EOS International has made a measurable impact on the health of rural Latin Americans. The organization has installed technologies that provided lasting clean water access to more than half a million people in Honduras and Nicaragua alone.

EOS International’s successes in combating Latin American water scarcity are not possible without the support of donors and volunteers. The implementation of technologies is done in large part by people willing to give their time to support rural families. Nonprofits make a measurable impact in the lives of countless families facing water insecurity. However, their work is not possible without generous contributions of time and monetary support. EOS International’s efforts are an example of the vital work being done by nonprofits to combat global poverty.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

WaterAid GhanaWaterAid is a non-governmental organization dedicated to bringing “clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene” to those living in poverty around the world. Established in 1981 in the United Kingdom, the organization now works in 28 countries, including Ghana. WaterAid Ghana plays an especially important role in Ghana as more than 5.5 million Ghanaians currently lack access to clean water. As COVID-19 continues to leave its mark throughout the world, access to water is more important than ever. WaterAid helps improve hygiene during the pandemic in several major ways.

Play for Health

WaterAid Ghana has partnered with the popular Ghana soccer team, Accra Great Olympics, in a project called Play for Health. Play for Health hopes to use soccer to encourage improved hygiene practices and adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures during the pandemic. The educational initiative will focus on communities in the coastal regions of Accra and Tema.

The first official event of the project occurred on April 18, 2021. A team of WaterAid volunteers and Accra Great Olympics soccer players assembled to distribute face masks and hand sanitizer to community members. This included police officers and taxi drivers. Team members also went door-to-door to relay information on COVID-19 protocols.

Educating Women on Menstrual Hygiene

WaterAid Ghana has also partnered with the Akuapem Community Development Programme (ACDEP) to educate women about menstrual hygiene. The campaign was held in Adawso, Ghana, on June 17, 2021. The target audience included women working in the market and other young women. Due to menstrual stigma, menstrual health is often a taboo subject in nations such as Ghana.

Because menstruation is not a subject of discussion, many girls and women lack the necessary menstrual education needed to properly and safely manage their menstruation. By hosting this educational campaign, WaterAid Ghana and ACDEP, along with many female speakers, were able to encourage improved menstrual hygiene in the community.

Prioritizing Hygiene

WaterAid Ghana has also supported adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) stations in public spaces throughout Ghana where infrastructure is often lacking. According to WaterAid, “Clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene services are fundamental to economic development.” WaterAid reports that handwashing with soap is a critical way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet almost 60% of Ghanaians “are unable to practice hand hygiene at all critical times.” WaterAid asserts that “Handwashing with soap affects not just health and nutrition, but also education, economics and equity.”

Prior to the pandemic, hygiene and sanitation were not the most significant priorities. However, turning a blind eye to these issues is no longer possible in the face of the current global health crisis. The longer the pandemic continues, the more damage is done to Ghana’s markets. The inability to properly contain the virus leaves Ghana’s markets in a constant vulnerable position of potentially shutting down.

In June 2021, WaterAid Ghana worked to improve access to two WASH facilities in two districts of the Upper East Region of Ghana. These facilities are located in rural areas where community members typically struggle to maintain proper hygiene routines. Later in June 2021, WaterAid Ghana also helped open another WASH facility in Bawku West, further improving access to hygiene facilities in the country.

Moving Forward

WaterAid Ghana’s work has made a tremendous impact in the region, but in terms of overall access to water and WASH facilities, there is still room for progress. The organization calls upon people around the world to advocate for the right to clean water in Ghana, especially during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in South AfricaLocated at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is home to about 58 million people. Although access to clean water has increased since the 1990s, South African government officials announced in 2018 that drastic conservation measures were essential to avoid shutting off Cape Town’s municipal water supply. Known as “Day Zero,” April 12 marked the day South Africa almost experienced the most significant water failure in history. Since the third anniversary of Day Zero recently passed, a closer look at the situation provides more insight into access to clean water in South Africa, with a specific focus on Cape Town.

5 Facts About Access to Clean Water in South Africa

  1. Limited access to clean water and basic sanitation. More than three million South Africans lack “access to a basic water supply” and more than 14 million South Africans lack “access to safe sanitation.” To address these concerns, the South African government is working to conserve wetlands and inform the public on the importance of water conservation for the future.
  2. Conserving water is key. To conserve water, Cape Town residents each survive on about 27 gallons per day. Residents adhere to water restrictions by using greywater to flush toilets and only using water for essential purposes. In comparison, a U.S. citizen typically uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day.
  3. The South African government’s plan to avoid future water deficits. In the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, the South African government lists strategies to avoid future water deficits, including “reducing water demand, protecting ecological infrastructure and managing effective water services.” The government is also working to pass legislation to help minimize the gap between water supply and demand. This is important because researchers predict this gap will reach 17% by 2030 if current levels of demand continue.
  4. The Constitution of South Africa guarantees access to water. The Constitution of South Africa states that everyone has the right to clean water and basic sanitation. Therefore, former South African President Thabo Mbeki established the Free Basic Water policy in 2000, directing city officials to provide low-income families with a sufficient amount of water at no extra cost. This policy ensures citizens living in poverty have access to clean water in South Africa.
  5. A call to action to avoid future droughts. Stanford University researchers conclude that “human-caused climate change” made Day Zero “five to six times more likely.” In other words, greenhouse gas emissions may impact the likelihood of water crises in years to come. For this reason, the South African government is promoting a culture of conservation to avoid future droughts and ensure citizens have continued access to clean water.

The Road Ahead

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director Audrey Azoulay, “the fate of humans and water is inextricably linked.” Our reliance on clean water for survival is coupled with the need to actively maintain water supplies for drinking and sanitation purposes. Therefore, water must be conserved and protected to ensure another Day Zero water crisis does not occur in the future.

Chloe Young
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in Kenya’s SlumsKenya, a country in East Africa, has a population of more than 50 million, with about 4.4 million people residing in the capital city of Nairobi. The combination of a dry climate and a rapidly growing population has caused a water crisis in Kenya’s slums, where citizens in poverty live in informal settlements without water infrastructure.

Origins of the Crisis

Urbanization plays a large role in the water crisis. While 90% of urban residents had clean water in 1990, this figure fell to 50% in Nairobi as the city’s population nearly quadrupled. The city began rationing water in 2017. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company estimates that supply still falls 25% short of demand. Informal settlements lack piped water and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that water from vendors or surface sources often contains contaminants.

The Kenyan government struggles to address the water crisis in Kenya’s slums due to the informal nature of the urban settlements. Aid organizations and private nonprofits also fail to provide long-term relief, with more than 60% of water projects failing in their first year.

Well Aware Executive Director Kareece Sacco told The Borgen Project that “There’s the first water crisis that everyone is aware about that’s left people lacking access to reliable clean water. But the second one, as we have termed it, is the failure of the system.” Well Aware is a nonprofit with more than 70 successful water projects in East Africa.

In 2021, the organization plans to complete a new water project for the Ingrid Education Center in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi. Speaking on the systemic failures that perpetuate the water crisis, Sacco explained that “a lot of organizations doing similar work don’t have these long term relationships with these communities and they’re just not being empowered in the correct way to help maintain them [water systems].” Strengthening local partnerships with aid organizations empowers Kenyans in poverty to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums.

The Challenges

Without connections to a water source, residents of the Kayole-Soweto slum often trek long distances to provide water for their families. This chore falls mostly on women and girls, which worsens gender inequalities in the area. The World Bank interviewed residents of Kayole-Soweto, with many respondents reporting that they often resort to purchasing water at high costs from vendors who take advantage of this need. The vendors also sell water of questionable quality to slum dwellers for discounted rates, which causes health and sanitation issues throughout Kayole-Soweto.

The Impact of Local Partnerships

Aid and non-governmental organizations that effectively engage in local partnerships directly address these issues. For example, Well Aware maximizes its impact by partnering with local schools to drill wells, which increases education rates overall by 34% and increases education rates for girls by 58% on average.

Sacco told The Borgen Project that “if we do a drill at a school, most of the time, we’ll set up a kiosk at the road for the community to be able to come too.” This is how water projects with local partnership components make a larger impact. By engaging directly with local partners, projects to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums are more responsive to the needs of those in poverty.

Slums also struggle with incorporating traditional connections to water sources. Piped water requires large initial investments that individual households in slums cannot bear, and this has adverse health and sanitation effects. As a result, the decision to implement piped water systems in the slums of Kayole-Soweto and other locations favors landlords who pool money from multiple sources. This poses additional barriers to clean water for slum-dwellers in poverty.

Water projects that provide innovative solutions to the water crisis in Kenya’s slums circumvent traditional barriers to water access. For example, Stanford University water projects in Kenyan slums recognize the fact that around 70% of urban Kenyans own cellphones. Bearing this in mind, Stanford innovates apps and mobile services that help slum dwellers pinpoint water locations. Similar ideas come from courses at Stanford University that prioritizes local partnerships and requires in-person meetings in Kenya with local leaders. This demonstrates how local partnerships foster innovative solutions that accurately meet the needs of locals in poverty.

The Future of the Water Crisis in Kenya’s Slums

The water crisis in Kenya’s slums becomes more urgent as infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth. USAID reported that the Kenyan government drastically increased spending on the water sector as sufficient progress requires $14 billion in the next 15 years.

As a result, the Kenyan government needs international aid and private assistance from humanitarian organizations to bridge the gap. Current water project financing in the country consists of 64% donor funds. This creates an opportunity for donors to find new methods of delivering water access apart from traditional government-provided public goods.

Rapid urbanization in Kenya exacerbates the existing water crisis in the country. With many new arrivals to Kenya’s cities ending up in slums, inequality and failures of traditional water systems to adequately serve the needs of citizens in poverty have further worsened the water crisis. As donors continue to drive the financing of the water sector in Kenya, opportunity grows for innovative partnerships with local actors in Kenya’s slums. Kayole-Soweto exemplifies this by using conventional and unconventional tools for water access, including building wells on school land and incorporating cellphone technology. Local partnerships empower residents of Kenya’s slums to find the best solution to the water crisis for themselves.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Unsplash

The Thirst Project For many in developed countries, it is easy to take for granted how accessible clean water is at any given moment. However, this is not the case in lower-income countries. The Thirst Project is making waves in the global water crisis by providing support and better access to water for communities around the world.

About the Thirst Project

The Thirst Project is committed to building clean water wells and increasing access to clean water around the globe. Clean water improves the health, economy and overall wellbeing of the communities that the project serves. Safe water also improves hygiene and protects the community from diseases. Additionally, clean water wells and water filters not only provide safe drinking water but also offer the resources to create a healthier agricultural environment.

Over the past year, the Thirst Project has formed valuable partnerships to create additional funding opportunities. These partnerships also increase visibility and engagement in the organization. Shawn Mendes recently created a partnership with Flow, an eco-friendly alkaline water company, to create a new line of alkaline water flavors.

Moreover, the Shawn Mendes Foundation, along with other companies and the Thirst Project, will provide grants and awards to the many “young people and youth-focused organizations working on water conservation and clean water access.” As part of this partnership, the Thirst Project and the other grantees will have access to the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s Instagram where they can use the platform to highlight their mission, current work and projects. This will increase the overall awareness of the organizations and promote the Thirst Project’s work.

Renaissance Renovations

The Thirst Project continues to build its partnerships with local companies as well. In April 2021, Renaissance Renovations highlighted their partnership with Thirst Project. Renaissance Renovations acknowledged the amount of clean water the company consumes in its business of power washing. Moreover, the owner of Renaissance Renovations, John Orsillo, committed to making a difference. Orsillo is also passionate about the importance that youth play in helping to make a difference. Renaissance Renovations has committed to donating 1% of the company’s revenue to the Thirst Project. Moreover, Renaissance Renovations has launched its own fundraising campaign with a $12,000 goal. The donations will go toward the funding of a well for a water-insecure community.

Youth Contributions

The contributions of the youth set the Thirst Project apart from many other nonprofits. After Thirst Project volunteers visited a high school in Williamsburg, Virginia, a local teen became motivated to do his part in contributing to the water crisis efforts. Bryce McHose and a few of his classmates have launched a personal fundraising effort. These efforts have rendered monetary contributions through various fundraisers, including local car washes and partnerships with local businesses. Contributions are put toward the overall goal to raise enough funds to cover the cost of one $12,000 well. McHose and his classmates are dedicated to contributing to sustainable access to clean water around the globe.

Addressing the Water Crisis

Contributions do not always appear through funds. It takes a significant amount of people to make fundraising efforts impactful and the Thirst Project is mobilizing its contributors in any way it can. By utilizing a strong youth support system and creative partnerships, the nonprofit is creating platforms for volunteers to contribute their time, resources and money to give attention to the global water crisis and the importance of global access to clean water.

Janell Besa
Photo: Flickr

Volcanic Eruption in the DRCOn May 22, 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted. Hundreds of thousands of people experienced the aftershocks, including contaminated water and structural damage. The destruction of water infrastructure means 500,000 people now lack access to a safe water supply. In a press release, USAID announced that it would be committing $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to secure clean and safe drinking water for citizens affected by the volcanic eruption in the DRC.

History of Mount Nyiragongo

The Nyiragongo volcano stands almost 12,000 feet tall on the eastern border of the DRC in the strip of Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes. The volcano is one of the most active in the world and has the largest, most active lava lake. Nyiragongo has erupted several times since 1884, with the most severe eruption occurring in 1977, taking up to 400 lives. The most recent eruption before 2021 occurred in 2002, resulting in about 100 deaths and displacing up to 400,000 people.

The Aftershocks of the 2021 Eruption

The 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC led to about 32 deaths and thousands of displacements. On May 30, 2021, in a period of just 24 hours, 92 aftershock earthquakes and tremors occurred but only about four were felt by citizens. For safety purposes, more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the North Kivu area.

Cholera, a diarrheal infection caused by drinking contaminated water, is an increased threat since the eruption.  Natural disasters often increase the risk of epidemics, especially those transmitted via contaminated water. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC caused the destruction of a vital water pipe and damaged a water reservoir. The damage cut off water access for about 500,000 people.

On June 7, 2021, UNICEF and partners announced that they were working to restore the water supply to the area. For temporary water access, UNICEF “installed 15 emergency station chlorination points” close to Lake Kivu. UNICEF also committed to assisting a task force by “supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted.”

The Hope of Crisis Assistance

Prior to the 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC, the nation was already struggling with a humanitarian crisis, following years of political violence and conflict. At the beginning of 2021, the United Nations predicted that 19.6 million people in the DRC were in need of humanitarian assistance. With more than five million displaced persons and the highest recorded levels of food insecurity before the eruption even took place, the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has only grown. The U.N. requires financial assistance from the international community in order to comprehensively address the crisis in the DRC.

The United States serves as the largest donor to the DRC, providing more than $130 million worth of humanitarian assistance in 2021 alone. The U.S. commitment of $100,000 for water security initiatives in the DRC will aid the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, protecting the well-being of vulnerable Congolese people.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

Water Pollution in IndiaIndia is infamous for its heavily polluted air. However, with up to 80% of its water contaminated, water pollution in India is just as prevalent and dangerous. Polluted waterways affect the standard of living of many Indian families, especially those within impoverished communities. Additionally, contaminated water creates unsustainable environments for aquatic life. Toxic waste such as discarded plastic and domestic sewage is damaging the fishing industry, which makes up a large portion of India’s economy. In an effort to combat water pollution, the Indian state of Kerala has started an initiative to recycle ocean plastic into materials for road construction, saving the jobs of fishermen and protecting the environment.

Water Pollution’s Impact on Livelihoods

Urban areas in India generate approximately 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage water. With the capacity to only treat 23,277 MLD, more than 70% of the sewage in urban areas does not receive treatment. The untreated waste often ends up in nearby water bodies such as the River Ganges, one of 10 rivers accounting for “90% of the plastic pollution that ends up at sea.”

Because of the water pollution, India’s rivers are in a dire state and citizens suffer health and economic impacts. The pollutants entering the water leave it contaminated and unsafe to consume. In 2018, more than 163 million people in India did not have a source of safe drinking water, leading to people relying on rivers for drinking water.

The polluted water also affects the fish that rely on healthy bacteria to survive. As a result, incidents of mass fish deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. Without fish in India’s waterways, millions of people will be out of work. As of 2020, India ranks third globally in fishery production and the fishing industry employs more than 145 million people.

Small-scale fisheries, which supply 55% of the total fish production, are critical for reducing poverty and food scarcity in local communities. Freshwater fisheries also help improve water quality and soil conditions on land, positively aiding agriculture. For this reason, water pollution in India is harmful to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Repurposing Plastic Pollution

Concerned for their futures, fishermen in Kerala, India, are taking part in an environmental initiative to keep their waters clean. In 2017, the local government put out an order to minimize water pollution. Fishermen in Kerala have answered the call. Kerala relies substantially on the fishing industry, which brings in approximately $14 million in revenue.

The government passed the Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) project, requiring harbor authorities to distribute nylon bags to fishermen so that they can store the plastic pollution that gets caught in their nets instead of throwing it back into the sea. Construction companies buy the collected plastic in shredded form and use it to build new roads. Cleaning and sorting the gathered plastic provides jobs to local women in Kerala.

When mixed with asphalt, the plastic component makes India’s roads more resistant to intense heat. In addition to helping the environment, the process is saving India money by reducing the cost of building roads by “8–10% per kilometer of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road.” Every kilometer of road utilizes about 1 million plastic bags. As of April 2021, the project has collected about 176,000 pounds of plastic and has built 135 kilometers of road, creating many employment opportunities in the process.

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Properly developed roads contribute to economic growth. By building and maintaining roads to rural communities, India can ensure the economic development of these areas. Roads to rural communities improve access to education and reduce costs for transportation, trade and production. However, funding for rural infrastructure is usually low on the list of budgetary priorities for the Indian government. Repurposing ocean plastic for use in building materials reduces the cost of roads while simultaneously combating water pollution in India, thus reducing poverty overall.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr