World Water Day: Help create safe and reliable access

By Susana Rojas Williams, Habitat for Humanity International director of international shelter initiatives

It’s early in the morning and cold. A 10-year-old girl awakens in a dense neighborhood and prepares for her long walk to get water. Local vendors are too expensive, and the water tastes bad. Her round trip to a neighboring community will take three hours, forcing her to miss school, but the precious cargo she’ll carry home is needed for survival.

Such struggle to access safe water is not unique. According to the World Health Organization, more than 783 million people worldwide live without access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people don’t have sanitation facilities.

Today, on World Water Day, please join Habitat for Humanity and partner organizations in raising awareness about the worldwide need for access to safe water and sanitation.

Habitat has seen the impact that adequate housing has on the health, education and livelihood of the families and communities we serve. We believe that adequate housing requires safe and reliable access to water and sanitation, and as such, they are core components of our Housing Quality Standards. WASH — water, sanitation and hygiene — are among the most cost-effective housing investments to reduce poverty around the world. WASH also brings economic benefits ranging from $5 to $46 per each dollar invested due to increased health and productivity.

Habitat’s WASH solutions range significantly based on particular needs, local context and the most appropriate and affordable options for both families and communities. We also recognize that we cannot do this alone but in partnership with governments, other nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.

Our WASH initiatives have included: low-cost and energy-free bio-sand filters in rural Tajikistan; housing improvement loans for household level connections in Vietnam; community-led total sanitation strategies in Cambodia tied to school WASH groups; and community water points and sanitation facilities managed by neighborhood committees under a comprehensive slum upgrading program in Madagascar.

Access to water and sanitation facilities has also created a safer environment for widows, orphans and vulnerable girls in Lesotho, Uganda and Zambia. They no longer have to endure threats of violence and harassment on their way to get water. For women in the rural community of Varjada in Brazil, the time savings from water collection (four to five hours a day) and access to ventilated improved pit latrines at home and in community buildings empowered them to establish an income-generating microenterprise. Their Embroidery Association received the Caixa Best Practices in Local Management Award.

Habitat has helped thousands of families in need of water and sanitation, but it is still not enough. Please join us today in bringing awareness to the critical role water plays in our lives. If you are in the U.S., we ask you to support the Water for the World Act. If you’re in the Atlanta area, we are jointly hosting a panel discussion “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Transforming Lives” with CARE, the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Task Force for Global Health on April 9. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional details.