SEATTLE — Since 1990, Living Water International has been partnering with local communities all over the world to provide clean water and better the lives of those in need.
Living Water provides clean water in 17 countries around the world and is a $25 million organization. The organization focuses on establishing access to clean water and educating local leaders on how to construct and maintain the water systems, a service that is sorely needed when 768 million people still do not have access to a safe water source.
Living Water representative Julie Hill sees unending benefits from this commitment to developing clean water programs. “Water is the very first step towards a strong and healthy community. There’s no way out of poverty without it. It’s fundamental and I believe it is a human right. We all need water.”
Because of the efforts made by the project team at Living Water, five primary benefits are afforded to needy communities.
Elimination of Long Walks to Water Wells
In communities without readily available clean water, women and children will walk three to seven miles a day just to bring home water. All this time spent walking to and from wells is time that children are not in school and women are not able to work and provide for their families. This is a concept that Hill terms “time poverty.” However, once Living Water provides clean water to a community, time poverty is eliminated. Children have the time to attend school and women gain economic agency, as they have time to work how they please.
Increased Safety for Women
According to a 2016 Thomas Reuters Foundation study conducted across 24 countries in Africa, 17 million women a day walk to collect water. As these women walk for one of their most fundamental needs, they face a greater risk of sexual violence, especially when walking in the early morning or late at night. In a Rwandan HIV clinic recently visited by a Living Water representative, 90 percent of the female patients reported they had contracted HIV after being sexually assaulted while walking for water. In communities where Living Water provides clean water and a consistent source is established, rates of sexual assault drop dramatically, as women are no longer exposed to this risk.
Living Water Provides Clean Water to All Members of a Community
In some areas where Living Water provides clean water, people are relegated to different classes and denied access to water because of their status. Typically in India, where the caste system used to be in place and still affects people today, those of an upper caste will take control of a water source, using threats to deter those of lower castes from using it. Conflicts arise as tensions are heightened and people become violent due to their desperation for water. When Living Water’s programming is implemented in the community, it is openly declared that the water source is for all people, no matter their background. Often, these groups of people will move forward with far less conflict, a “peace-making quality” Hill attributes to clean water.
Better Education on Sanitation and Hygiene
Germs, germ transmission and proper hand washing are all topics that communities that lack clean water have little to no knowledge of. Without ever having had clean water before, people do not think about washing their hands after going to the bathroom or before meals, or participate in the typical hygienic practices expected in American culture. As Living Water’s team begins working in a community and building wells, it also teaches people the basic rules of sanitation and hygiene, reducing the spread of germs and illness.
Decreased Risk of Disease Transmission
In places without clean water, communities lack the ability to create latrines or bathrooms, and many people have no other choice than to defecate in public. Not only is this practice dehumanizing, it is incredibly unsanitary, yet it is still practiced by 15 percent of the world’s population. When Living Water’s team comes to a community, it instructs locals on latrine construction so that people have a specific place to go to the bathroom. As communities take steps to eliminate open defecation, they can be certified Open Defecation Free (ODF) by local governments.
The effect this can have on the health of a community is enormous. In March 2014, a massive Ebola outbreak struck Liberia. At the center of the outbreak was a community that Living Water programmers had been working in for some time and had recently been declared ODF. Despite the fact that most of the country was suffering from the outbreak, the ODF community had zero cases of Ebola. This simple effect of providing clean water has drastically decreased the spread of disease.
As the team at Living Water looks towards the future, it hopes to continue its influential programming and expand to other parts of the globe. In all the areas in which Living Water provides clean water, these five major benefits strengthen communities.
– Sarah Dean