Ensuring Safe Water, Not Just “Improved”

Last Thursday, I live-tweeted a USAID Water, Health, and Sanitation (WASH) webinar, hosted by Water Resource Specialist Dr. Trey Flowers and Environmental Health Technical Advisor Dr. Rochelle Rainey. Dr. Flowers and Dr. Rainey shared practical strategies for incorporating water quality considerations into water supply projects.

The seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG), set by the World Health Organization (WHO), is aimed to ensure environmental sustainability and halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

The world has now met the MDG target relating to access to safe drinking water. In 2012, 90% of the population used an improved source of drinking water compared with 76% in 1990. However, progress has been uneven across different regions, population densities, and socio-economic statuses.

Just a reminder – improved drinking water is not the same as safe drinking water. Improved drinking water only means that once collected, the water is protected from additional outside contamination. Safe drinking water is defined as being protected from contamination, with acceptable health effects, managed by an entity with adequate technical and financial capabilities to maintain these standards. 783 million people do not have access to safe drinking water.

Current rates of progress were too slow for the MDG target to be met globally for basic sanitation. In 2012, 2.5 billion people did not have access to improved sanitation facilities. The number of people living in urban areas without access to improved sanitation is increasing because of rapid growth in urban populations.

There are 3 pillars of safe drinking water: protection, monitoring, and governance. Mama Maji makes sure to cover all three pillars to ensure that our water projects are both safe and sustainable.

Protection includes a sanitary survey and investigation of household practices to determine the risk of drilling in the area and whether or not a well would be beneficial there.

Monitoring is the process of assessing the microbial content of the water and what the water is being used for to determine the functionality of the well.

Governance is the final pillar and is the point where the local government takes responsibility for the monitoring and protection of the water supply. Unfortunately, this pillar is often overlooked. “The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says up to US$360m has been spent on building boreholes and wells that then become useless because they are not maintained or fixed when they break down. As a result, 50,000 water supply points are not functioning across rural Africa. According to the report only one third of water points built by NGOs in Senegal’s Kaolack region are working and 58% of water points in northern Ghana are in disrepair.”

Drinking water quality

Mama Maji drills boreholes, which fall under the “Deep Well” category in this USAID graphic on water quality. Deep Wells have some of the least amounts of contamination and highest success rates of water projects! We also make sure that the local government is involved from the beginning of a water project, and give women in the communities the tools they need to maintain and repair the borehole and kiosk.

According to the 3 pillars of safe drinking water, we are covering all of our bases-ensuring clean, safe, sustainable water in the communities we work in for years to come!

Feeling enlightened and inspired? Learn more about our work and how you can help here.

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