SEATTLE — In 2006, while sitting at a roadside café in Cambodia, Eric Stowe found himself incredibly disillusioned with the work he was participating in. At the time, Stowe was working with a charity that provided clean water to orphanages.
Although he felt that it was great to provide direct aid to children in need, he wanted to come up with a more long-term, sustainable solution, according to his speech at a TEDx event in Seattle. Thus, Stowe’s passion for contributing to the world of foreign aid was born.
In 2007, Stowe founded Splash, formerly known as A Child’s Right. His Seattle-based NGO built local networks for permanent access to clean water for those experiencing urban poverty. He hopes that by 2030, access to clean water will be so widespread that his NGO could shut down.
As of 2007, the majority of the earth’s population lives in cities rather than rural areas, and this number may swell to five billion by 2030. Poor urban residents, however, often lack access to safe drinking water and can only drink water that is often contaminated with E. coli, a fecal coliform.
The illnesses caused by this polluted water disproportionately harm children and youth, who make up over 90 percent of deaths from waterborne diseases. Stowe could not believe that people might be dying in cities due to water-borne illnesses when there were nearby cafés, hotels and restaurants that had access to safe, potable water. “The discrepancy,” explains his website, “is not technology, but justice.”
All of the components needed for safe drinking water are available in cities—Splash simply puts them together. The organization partners with governments, local businesses, schools, orphanages and hospitals to establish a system that effectively provides people with safe drinking water.
Tailored for and run by local communities, the water systems that Splash and locals collaborated on will eventually be overseen and managed entirely by locals once they are proven to work effectively. Every project has an exit date, which indicates when Splash will leave the city, as well as when all citizens should have access to safe drinking water.
Splash currently runs projects in cities in Nepal, China, Ethiopia, Cambodia, India and Bangladesh and has already completed projects in Thai and Vietnamese cities. Splash initiatives don’t just help one country, but add to the world of foreign aid.
According to the Southeast Asia Globe, the kind of system Splash has set up is one that ensures that cities are self-sufficient, and can provide clean water without outside help. In the article, Weh Yeoh, founder of the OIC-Cambodia Project, expresses that local governments have little incentive to implement systems that sustainably provide services when an international organization continuously provides them.
On the other hand, when Splash and similar NGOs work with locals to build self-sufficient systems, these locally-run systems are more likely to succeed. This is because, as the Southeast Asia Globe points out, individuals who run these systems better understand local communities.
Splash embodies the latter idea. With the help of local partners, Splash improved the world of foreign aid by giving 377,261 kids access to safe drinking water. Splash successfully exited Thailand and Vietnam and has exit dates set for Nepal and Cambodia. Stowe plans and hopes for his organization “to become irrelevant. Obsolete. Unnecessary.” If the organization continues to work with local partners to create sustainable solutions for clean water access, it most certainly will.
– Laura Isaza
Photo: U.N. Multimedia