Why water?

Access to clean water doesn’t just benefit a communities health, but has a wide range impact of families in developing communities. Habitat for Humanity’s International Program Manager, Sophie Cooke explains…


AmenaA few years ago while travelling in Northern Bangladesh I met Amena. Amena told me how each day she and other women and children in her community would walk to the house of a rich man in a neighbouring village, to wait in line for at least one hour to collect clean water.

Time is precious, especially for the urban poor like Amena. The time spent walking and waiting for water, not only represented countless lost hours that could have been used to earn an income and support a family. For Amena, it also was a source of shame and embarrassment to heavily rely on others for this essential resource.

After Habitat for Humanity built a new well in Amena’s community, she told me it was a real source of pride for her. It meant a healthier, stronger future for her family.

It’s hard to appreciate what life without clean water is like, particular in Australia where it is always readily available at our fingertips. But for developing communities, access to clean water is indeed powerful and sits at the very core of sustainable development.

March 22 marks World Water Day, an opportunity to raise awareness about the action required to ensure universal access to safe water for all people everywhere. Today 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.

Why water matters

This year’s World Water Day focuses on the challenges of waste water management. The statistics around safe water management are alarming. Globally, over 80% of the wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or re-used. The poor management of waste water means that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. The result is that unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

Habitat for Humanity works throughout the Asia Pacific to support communities with safe water supplies, improved sanitation, drainage and waste management, and hygiene behavioural training. In Myanmar, we are working in an urban informal settlement in Dala, near the capital Yangon to improve access to safe drinking water, train the community to effectively manage their own waste, and improving drainage and sewage systems.

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Poor management of waste water causes around 842,000 deaths each year.

A growing urban problem

Urban living provides particular challenges to water contamination, as urban slums are often not connected to government water and sanitation services. In Dala, the community currently relies on a large contaminated pond and several unsafe water pumps as their main water sources. Neither of these are safe for consumption, and where they can, families purchase water from local vendors. A jug of drinking water can be purchased for roughly 50 Kyats, around 5 cents AUD. While this might sound reasonable, for families on unsteady incomes, purchasing enough water for the whole family can add up to a considerable expense and can be difficult to justify when income is unreliable and the cleanliness of the water is not known. As a result, families in this community have raised safe water as their biggest concern, and hope that safe water sources will considerably improve health, particularly of young children.

Poor health is exacerbated by the appalling sanitation and drainage. Many of the houses in Dala sit on stilts above smelly swamp-like land filled with rubbish, effluent and stagnant water, and to access the homes one has to carefully walk above this across narrow planks.

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A typical home in the Dala township

What can we do?

In Dala, Habitat for Humanity’s project is working with the community to rehabilitate the pond so that it can be safely used for household chores such as clothes washing, and constructing new water points to provide drinking water. The community is being mobilised to better manage their waste, and drainage and sewage improvements are planned to help reduce the levels of contaminated waste water in the community.

With the help of our supporters we can continue to reach more families throughout the Asia Pacific with basic services, including clean drinking water, contributing towards a global goal of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

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Clean water, an essential for sustainable development.

To find out more about Habitat for Humanity and how you can support their work in water, sanitation and hygiene visit http://habitat.org.au/water

Sophie Cooke is Habitat for Humanity Australia’s International Program Manager. Sophie specialises in developing and managing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programs, and previously held roles with Childfund and WaterAid.

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