At the intersection of an assortment of key poverty-related issues lies the struggle for clean water. Roughly 80 percent of illnesses in developing nations are linked to limited access to clean water and proper sanitation. This spread of illnesses impacts child mortality rates, and reduces the competency of a nation’s workforce.
Children, particularly girls, are impacted disproportionately by reduced access to clean water. Girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to be responsible for fetching water in rural environments. This halves a population’s access to education, as the girls are too busy trekking for water to participate in school. Thus without clean water access, developing nations are hindered in multiple ways and pushed back to square one.
The United Nations’ Aid Efforts
In 2015, the U.N. convened to reestablish a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By design, these goals were created to be met by 2030. In response to the global clean water crisis, global access to clean water was established as a primary goal for this initiative.
The U.N.’s commitment to channeling resources and attention towards the global clean water crisis serves as a reminder that this issue remains at the forefront of humanitarian work. Clearly, the challenge of clean water access is not commitment, awareness or resources; rather, it is the effective implementation of filtration systems and stations.
How to Establish Clean Water Access
The mainstay approach to establishing clean water access, the deployment of filtration stations or wells, is rife with challenges. These stations are typically deployed in low-income areas, and are not supported by an effective contingency plan that extends past their build date. They are oftentimes left in unforgiving environments without technicians or significant financial support. Due to this, 30 percent to 60 percent of clean water stations fail within the first three years of existence.
Safe Water Network, a clean water focused NGO founded in 2006 by philanthropist Paul Newman, employs a unique model that responds to these challenges. Much like any clean water NGO, Safe Water Network deploys water stations across both India and Ghana with the aid of philanthropic capital. Rather than leaving these stations alone, though, the organization diverts funding into the community to train local technicians and operators. With the help of these technicians and operators, the station remains in good condition.
Station By Station
The station then produces affordably priced clean water that is typically much cheaper than the bottled water in the area. The majority of the stations penetrate 80 percent of the local populace, meaning that the revenue funnels back into the clean water station to ensure long-term, high-quality maintenance. By tapping into the local economic ecosystem, these stations become sewn into the community fabric of the respective regions.
In fact, Poonam Sewak, the Vice President of India programs for Safe Water Network, stated: “I would like to say whoever comes to work in clean water should come with a vision that it has to be sustainable. If you are not creating and leaving behind two things: technicians with access to spare parts, and second, training to the people to own and manage their own product then you have done a disservice to the money which you had.”
Sewak also emphasized the program’s goal to instill autonomy, entrepreneurship and confidence in the communities in addition to providing essential & sustainable clean water access.
Clean Water Toolkit
Global long-term cooperative efforts are another component of the organization’s strategy. Safe Water Network aims to build a database platform of their collective clean water knowledge derived from each of their stations. This database draws on digital monitoring systems installed at a majority of the sites. By monitoring water outputs and other technical details, Safe Water Network is better able to understand which approaches are most effective in conjunction with their market-based methodology.
In India, Safe Water Network has already provided this collective knowledge to the Ministry of Clean Water and the Ministry of Urban Planning so that they are better able to respond to the challenge of managing sanitation in urban environments. In the future, the organization hopes to expand this database so that it can be accessed by other initiatives and NGOs who aim to create their own sustainable safe water stations. Essentially, Safe Water Network is building a new clean water toolkit for the future.
While the challenge of creating global clean water access by 2030 per the U.N.’s SDGs still looms ahead, Safe Water Network serves as an example of the effectiveness of innovation in the face of adversity.
Safe Water Network has already reached 300 communities, providing long-term clean water access to about one million people. As their network of governments, charities and NGOs expands with the aid of the clean water toolkit, their positive impact will surely be multiplied.
– Ian Greenwood