If you can, try to count how many times a day you turn on a tap. As I write this, it’s not even 9am, and I’m already up to seven. I’ve taken a shower, flushed a toilet, washed my hands, made coffee, rinsed my cereal bowl, and gotten a glass of water. Clean, running water is so readily available to us, it’s almost impossible to understand what life is like without clean water access.
But in developing countries, many people still don’t have access to clean water, even today. And it’s more than just an inconvenience: every 90 seconds, a child dies from diseases spread by dirty water. That’s why water is one of our best opportunities to improve children’s lives. Here’s how:
1. Clean water is health.
Without running water, families turn to whatever water sources they can find. Muddy streams, puddles, and contaminated boreholes are all better than no water at all. But at what cost?
When you share a water hole with herds of goats and cattle, there’s no telling what parasites are lurking in your water. The families we serve are susceptible to typhoid, cholera, bilharzia and many other deadly diseases. Most of the kids we serve know someone who has suffered severely, or even died, from these preventable, water-borne illnesses.
Even if your muddy water isn’t hiding deadly parasites, it’s often host to pain-inducing bacteria. In Kenya, they refer to it as “running stomach” and it’s shockingly common: kids frequently get diarrhea from drinking dirty water. Not only is it painful, it can also lead to dehydration and other complications.
Even “fresh” ground water has risks. In Kenya particularly, the natural fluoride content in the ground water is so high that it rots teeth and bones. At small concentrations, fluoride can be helpful, which is why many cities in the U.S. add fluoride to their water. But at higher concentrations it can cause skeletal deformities and rot teeth. In the Rift Valley in Kenya, groundwater contains up to three times the maximum level of fluoride recommended by the World Health Organization.
2. Clean water is time.
Children in developing countries spend hours each day walking to fetch water. They often take four hours – or even more – out of their day, just to be sure there is water at their house.
Fetching water is traditionally a “woman’s job,” so it’s a burden carried (literally) by women and children. They make the long walk to the nearest water source with empty “jerry cans.” These big yellow plastic jugs typically hold 5 gallons of water. Once filled, they weigh about 40 pounds. Children sometimes carry smaller, half-size jerry cans, which are still plenty heavy. The return trip carrying the heavy, full cans always takes longer. Many families live 2 or 3 miles from the nearest water source. And most children make this journey twice a day – once before school, and once after.
Four hours fetching water is time that could be much better spent studying! The daily time cost of collecting water grinds away at a child’s opportunity to succeed both now and in the future.
3. Clean water is financial security.
In many areas, families do have the option of clean water…they just have to pay exorbitant prices for it. Enterprising individuals put locks on borehole pumps, forcing families to pay before they can access the water. Or they truck water in from outside areas, and sell “bottled” water to local residents. Both these options are expensive. And even if you do pay the high cost, there is no guarantee the water is even clean. But in some areas, buying water is still the best option, despite the expense. The crippling costs mean less money for food, school, and rent.
On top of that, dirty water can lead to high medical costs. When a child gets sick from drinking dirty water, parents will do anything to get them the care they need. Often, that means paying medical costs with money that would have gone to putting dinner on the table.
4. Clean water is empowering.
The lack of clean water can be all-consuming. Time, health, and money are all wasted in the search for water. The worry is constant – will this sip be the one that makes me sick? Am I strong enough to carry water home tonight? Do we have enough money to buy water today?
But with consistent access to clean water, all those worries fly away! Now there is time to plan and dream. There is hope that things will improve. There is time and space for kids to just be kids: they can play instead of trudging down a dirt road, carrying heavy water.
Clean water empowers children and families to escape poverty and build a brighter future.
5. Clean water is LIFE.
The benefits of clean water are endless. But even more important is the opportunity to share about Jesus – He is the Water of Life!
All of our clean water projects are coordinated through local churches. Our water tanks are built on church properties. People who’ve never set foot in church before are now coming to church for water. It’s an incredible opportunity for the local congregation to share the good news of Jesus. It’s also a beautiful witness – what better way to share God’s love than by meeting people’s most basic need?
Childcare Worldwide is grateful to partner with generous people all over the world to build a better life for kids in need. If you’re interested in providing clean water for children in need, click here.