Access to Clean Water Flows through All Facets of Global Development

Imagine waking up in the morning and having no water. No water to drink, to brush your teeth, to make breakfast, or even to wash. Instead, the nearest water source is three to four miles away and, if you’re a woman, your family is counting on you to fetch the day’s water. It takes six hours round trip daily to carry water as heavy as 70 pounds, and this keeps you in a perpetual cycle of poverty since you are unable to attend school or gain employment. And your reward for this hard work is water that is filthy, and often makes your family sick.

Water is at the core of sustainable development, touching on social, economic and environmental issues. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 focuses on the entire water cycle including management of water, wastewater and ecosystem resources, and expands upon Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 which, prior to 2015, promoted safe drinking water and sanitation. While over 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking water through piped supplies and protected wells since 1990, there are still approximately 748 million people who do not have access to safe drinking water, and some 2.5 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation.

As the global economy continues growing, so does the demand for water as well as the amount of pollutants entering potable water sources. Demand for water is projected to rise 55 percent globally, primarily due to manufacturing, thermal electricity and domestic use. More water will also be needed to meet the growing demands for food, as agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food globally (100 percent more in developing countries) to feed the population.

Contamination is an issue that runs parallel to scarcity. The bacteria and parasites in water can lead to communicable diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and guinea worm infection. Nearly 2.5 billion people practice open defecation near water sources. Even in urban areas, over 2 billion people use toilets that drain raw sewage into open drains or surface waters. Unsafe water and sanitation accounts for 94 percent of deaths due to diarrhea, and kills approximately 180,000 children under the age of five each year. Another 160 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunting, often linked to unsafe water. And illness from dirty water can cause absence from school and work, in turn slowing economic growth.

This complex issue certainly allows for much opportunity. So what can be done? SDG 6 sets six targets to be met by 2030, including making safe drinking water for all, creating adequate sanitation (especially for women), minimizing water pollution, increasing water-use efficiency, implementing more effective water resource management and protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems (i.e. rivers, wetlands and aquifers). Accomplishing these goals require the coordination and cooperation of governments, as well as for-profits and non-profits worldwide.

Washington state has a number of organizations working on this critical global development issue. Below are descriptions of GlobalWA members who are currently leading water programs and projects throughout the world. Learn more about these members and others on GlobalWA’s interactive map.

Adara Development – In the Himalayan District of Humla, Nepal where access to clean water is scarce, Adara helps villagers build clean drinking water systems. These systems pipe spring water into the villages, eliminating the need for villagers to travel long distances to get water and ensuring access to safe water sources. In Uganda, Adara supports a community-based healthcare program that teaches 800,000 in the Nakaseke district about the SODIS (or solar disinfectant) method. Using this method, water can be disinfected and made drinkable in six hours using the rays of the sun and clear PET bottles filled with water. This helps prevent diarrhea which is one of the most common causes of death among people in developing countries.

Bainbridge Ometepe Sister Island Association – For 30 years, BOSIA has partnered with Ometepe Island in Nicaragua to build water systems and improve schools, libraries, coffee production, health care and cultural exchange. Through community driven projects, the Association focuses on building relationships and friendships to help maintain sustainable development in Ometepe.

Esperanza International Foundation – Working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Esperanza International Foundation serves women, the material poor and the socially marginalized. The Foundation’s water projects allow local churches to purchase professional-grade water filtration systems with Esperanza loan capital, which allows churches to then sell clean drinking water at affordable prices to local community members. These churches then use the profits of their water project to repay their loan, as well as invest in strengthening their communities. New access to clean water has played a major role in reducing the number of water borne illnesses and gastrointestinal problems these communities face, providing them with better overall health. 

Etta Projects – Etta Projects collaborates with communities, creating sustainable solutions to improve health, sanitation and clean water. The organization’s safe water and sanitation projects include building water distribution systems in rural communities, building water purification systems in per-urban communities using filtration, as well as building dry composting latrines and grey water filtration systems. Etta Projects also offers hygiene, sanitation and disease prevention training and education, working with locally appointed villagers to become health, sanitation and rights promoters.

MSR Global Health – For 45+ years, Mountain Safety Research (MSR) has been committed to the precision engineering and manufacturing of outdoor gear for some of the most remote settings on earth. MSR Global Health was born out of the realization that their expertise in developing technologies and products that keep backcountry enthusiasts safe in the outdoors can be adapted to meet the most basic human needs of water, food and shelter for people living in low resource communities. Utilizing their world class water research lab, the MSR Global Health team has developed the SE200 Community Chlorine Maker that converts water and salt to chlorine using electricity, enabling the user to treat up to 200 L of drinking water in about 5 minutes. Like most of MSR’s products, the chlorine maker is manufactured in Seattle, WA.

Orphans to Ambassadors – Orphans to Ambassadors enhances infrastructure of orphanages by using sustainable technologies that improve their self-sufficiency. Working in over 10 countries, one of organization’s programs addresses the critical issue of water collection by installing high-capacity rain water catchment systems to collect and store rainwater during the rainy seasons. 

PotaVida – PotaVida enables aid organizations to make better decisions by collecting accurate data from the field in real time and distilling it into actionable insights. To realize this, PotaVida creates technical solutions that work, are simple to use, and result in dramatic benefit to people in need. The company’s first product, the Smart Solar Purifier, disinfects water using just sunlight for household use in disaster relief and refugee contexts. In addition to providing safe drinking water at a dramatically lower cost, every Smart Solar Purifier records its own usage data. This data is downloaded to mobile devices to provide instantaneous feedback in the field, and is also synced in the cloud, analyzed at the program level, and sent to decision makers.

Splash – Splash is a nonprofit organization that cleans water for kids living in urban poverty. Splash implements water, sanitation and hygiene programs in child-serving institutions (like schools) to keep vulnerable kids healthy. Splash does this by installing high-quality water filtration systems and durable drinking and handwashing stations, renovating toilets to make them safe and clean, and establishing hygiene clubs that teach kids about personal hygiene. By leveraging local institutions, infrastructure and intelligence, Splash reduces costs and builds local partnerships to produce solutions that last.

The Living Earth Institute – The Living Health Institute (LEI) works to empower communities to protect their health and environment through sustainable water use, with the primary goals of ensuring clean water supply and improved sanitation. LEI adapts water projects to the needs of the community with projects ranging from building family composting toilets and community water wells in Nepal, to pursuing earthquake rebuild partnerships. LEI has also created drinking water, rainwater catchment and hand washing stations in developing communities in other parts of the world.

Water1st International – Water1st prides itself on funding sustainable water projects that involve local communities, local women, as well as a consistent funding stream. Since it’s founding in 2005, Water1st has provided clean water to over 140,000 people. While its projects focus on providing easy access to clean water, the organization also ensures that projects integrate toilets and hygiene education. Water 1st’s success centers on robust program evaluation of each of its funded projects to ensure that deliverables are effective and community needs are met.

World Concern – World Concern is a Christian global relief and development organization. With a 60-year history, World Concern reaches communities in challenging and hard-to-reach places with sustainable, long-term development programs. In addition to other areas of expertise, World Concern provides access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene training to improve health and save lives in the communities they serve.

World Vision – World Vision is the leading NGO provider of clean drinking water, reaching one new person every 30 seconds. Focusing on the rural, ultra-poor, combining access to clean water with sanitation and hygiene interventions and engaging communities in sustainability efforts, World Vision and their partners are committed to expanding their reach to one new person every 10 seconds with clean water and sanitation by 2020. With the use of right-sized equipment, appropriate water sources, manual drilling, mechanized wells with solar pumps and over 500 WASH professionals who live and work in the communities where they lead efforts, nearly 80 percent of World Vision wells continue to function at a high level after 20 years.