Together, we must guarantee everyone has access to clean, safe, and affordable water. It’s a basic human right.
World Water Day, marked each year on March 22, is an opportunity to celebrate the immense progress made to improve access to clean water: between 1990 and 2015, 2.3 billion people gained access to a better, safer source of water.
It’s also a chance to spotlight the urgent and new concerns of today: 844 million people lack basic access to a clean water source, and 2.3 billion cannot access safe sanitation. Unsafe water causes the spread of deadly diseases, such as cholera and diarrhea, which are major drivers for undernutrition in children. Each day, an estimated 1,000 children die of preventable waterborne diseases. What’s more, climate change makes water availability less predictable in many parts of the world as drought becomes more common and flooding destroys and contaminates water sources.
Ensuring access to clean water, safe sanitation, and good hygiene goes hand-in-hand with efforts to improve health and nutrition. When clean water is guaranteed, communities are healthier and more resilient.
This year’s theme for World Water Day is “Leave No One Behind.” Access to safe water is often more difficult for vulnerable populations, such as women, children, and refugees. We all have a role to play.
Together, we must fight to ensure safe water for all.
CONFLICT AND WATER
The number of active humanitarian crises has doubled in the past 10 years. Nearly two billion people now live in fragile and conflict-affected areas, where people are displaced and water-related infrastructure is often destroyed or neglected.
This situation has resulted in nearly 80 million people lacking clean water, hygiene, and sanitation services. Without access to these vital services, the risk of waterborne diseases increases and people’s health and nutrition suffer. In fact, a new UNICEF report states that, “In protracted conflicts, children younger than 15 are, on average, nearly three times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation than violence directly linked to conflict and war.”
Increasingly, around the world, parties to conflict are targeting water points – using them as a weapon against communities. In Somalia, Halimo Aden and her family were forced to flee when their sole source of clean water, a shallow well, was confiscated by an armed group. “It is hard for a pastoral community to survive without water,” says Halimo, a mother of seven, tells our team. “We kept moving from one area to the other in search of water for humans and livestock.”
“They know we cannot do without water,” Halimo says as she works in her garden. “That’s why they use it to make the community living in the area flee for their lives in search of water.”
Since they were displaced, Halimo and her family have been living in a village near Hudur. For the last 18 months, they have been trying to rebuild their lives and integrate into their new community.
“The Action Against Hunger team has been supporting us to ensure we live a normal life,” she explains. She says that our community health workers are teaching families like hers about nutrition and hygiene and providing them with farming supplies and agricultural training. “It has not been an easy journey, but we are glad that we can share the shallow wells with others in the area to improve our livelihoods and use clean water in our homes.”
WOMEN AND WATER
When water is not available at home, women and girls are the ones responsible for collecting it 80% of the time. Often, this means they are making long and sometimes dangerous trips to the nearest water point.
When we improve access to clean water in communities, women and girls are safer and have more time for school, work, and other productive activities. In South Sudan, Atap Dumo saw the impact clean water can have firsthand.
She and the other women in her community had to collect the water from a well four hours away. Many feared being attacked by men or animals along the way, but they had no other choice.
“Women had no say in any of community issues and nobody in our household or village ever paid attention to our concerns. We did not feel important at any level,” says Atap.
In 2017, Action Against Hunger’s water and sanitation team arranged a focus group discussion with the women in the community.
“I shared my concerns and issues we were facing regarding access to water and sanitation, and most importantly, our role in the community decisions.”
Our team drilled a new water point in the village, and formed a water use committee with equal numbers of men and women to manage the new system. Atap campaigned to be part of the committee and was elected chairperson. Eventually, the community, with help from Action Against Hunger, began to build latrines in their homes to improve sanitation and prevent disease.
“These interventions have changed our lives. Now I see myself an important person in the community. Even men now listen to me carefully and pay attention to my consultation in other matters as well,” says Atap. “Our children are properly fed and we no longer have to rely on unsafe water. And we women find time for ourselves, where we can sit together and discuss different issues.”
OUR APPROACH TO IMPROVING ACCESS TO WATER, SANITATION & HYGIENE
Around the world, Action Against Hunger works to improve access to clean water, promote safe sanitation, and good hygiene and to build lasting impact.
In the fight against hunger, Action Against Hunger has found that communities affected by malnutrition often face limited access to safe water and sanitation. Lack of access to these services can affect a child’s nutrition status through waterborne diseases, intestinal parasites, and chronic inflammation of the intestines. For all of these reasons, we must focus on water and sanitation as we prevent and treat malnutrition.
Our approach to water, sanitation, and hygiene is three-pronged:
- During natural and manmade emergencies, we truck water into communities and install storage tanks and reservoirs. Where water is scarce or unsafe, we drill new wells and decontaminate unsafe ones, install hand-pumps, protect natural springs, tap aquifers, rehabilitate damaged infrastructure, and pipe water into hard-to-reach villages and health centers.
- To prevent disease outbreaks, our teams distribute hygiene kits and build latrines and hand-washing stations. We construct water filters made from basic materials and teach healthy practices like hand-washing, cooking with clean utensils, and drawing water from protected sources.
- We are committed to our partnerships with communities – by working closely with community members, we can forge long-term, sustainable change. We train water committees, made up of elected community members, to independently manage water and sanitation infrastructure. We also organize local health teams to model good sanitation and hygiene practices for their communities long after we leave.
In a settlement for displaced people in northeast Nigeria, women carry clean water home.
Photo: Sébastien Duijndam for Action Against Hunger, Nigeria