SEATTLE — March 22 was World Water Day, established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993 to address the water crisis: 1.8 billion people around the world drink from a contaminated water source that puts them at risk of contracting debilitating, and sometimes deadly, diseases. In communities like Kubacha, Nigeria, Sunlight Water Centers are sources of safe, clean water that not only cut down on the disease but also free up thousands of hours of productive time for women and girls.
Around 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to safe water sources. Women and girls are responsible for 75 percent of water collection and spend around 40 billion hours each year collecting water from sources that are sometimes a day’s hike away.
On average, women hike two to three hours to a water source and might spend all day waiting in line for water, sometimes not returning home for several days. Other women rely on wells in their communities, but wells carry the added danger of low water supply and are often breeding grounds for disease.
In 2016, TechnoServe, in partnership with Unilever, opened one of eight Sunlight Water Centers in Kubacha, Nigeria so that women could gain access to clean water in their villages.
A local woman entrepreneur runs each center. The Sunlight Water Centers extract water through a borehole deep in the ground and sell it for a low price, along with other products such as toiletries and food. The centers also use solar power to offer services, like mobile banking and mobile phone charging.
Sustainable management and distribution are crucial to the Sunlight project. Many water projects lack incentive and structure and fall flat soon after they get started. TechnoServe and Unilever’s vision is to create a sustainable business model that funds future centers.
Since the women who run the boreholes make a steady profit each month, they have an incentive and the financial ability to maintain the centers. Not only do the Sunlight Water Centers give the women who run them a steady income, but they also benefit other women’s income too. Women now have free time that they normally spent collecting water to focus on their own businesses.
Binta Musa, a woman from Kubacha with a family of 10, used to spend hours each day collecting water. Now she has time to focus on her palm oil business and provide for her family financially.
In the future, Unilever and TechnoServe hope to create 1,000 water centers around Africa, empowering women to be a part of something important for their community and to make up for lost time spent collecting water. Each center reaches up to 2,500 members of a community, which means 1,000 centers in Africa could reach 2.5 million people, and tens of thousands of girls and women should have time to contribute economically to their communities.
– Rachel Cooper