The importance of clean and accessible water
Water scarcity impacts more than a third of the world’s population, and 437,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal disease caused by lack of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
Weaknesses in water and sanitation services and infrastructure limit the practice of effective hygiene. This results in multiple threats to health and nutrition. Having access to basic clean water and a decent toilet saves children's lives, gives women a better chance to earn an income, and ensures a good food supply.
CARE International's work on water is not just about digging wells or building latrines. We work with governments on policies, guidance, and resource allocation, to ensure lasting improvements. We also integrate our water work into our other program areas, including our work on education and climate justice.
What is CARE International doing to increase accessibility to water and sanitation?
CARE International prioritizes our work in this area in regions experiencing high water insecurity including in places such as the Sahel, Horn of Africa, Middle East, the Dry Corridor of Central America, and the high Andes of South America.
CARE International includes various approaches and models in its water systems programing including water and climate-specific tools such as the Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA), Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA), strengthening water systems, and water conservation models.
Together with local communities, we build and maintain wells, boreholes, and latrines in their villages. It’s a joint effort where we provide the training and construction materials while the communities contribute labor and pay for operation and maintenance costs. The goal of these projects is to reduce the health risks of water-related diseases and shorten the time women and girls need to fetch water from distant sources. With their saved time, they can earn an income or go to school.
“When we used to go to the river, we would drink dirt. Cattle would drink in the mud, and we would also drink there, having no idea at all how safe it was.”
In schools the absence of safe drinking water, soap for washing hands and toilets can create an environment of embarrassment, shame, and disgust – particularly for adolescent girls. We provide safe water, hygiene promotion, and sanitation facilities to help keep girls in school. And we train families on adequate hygiene practice to reduce the risk of illnesses.
Women’s empowerment goes hand-in-hand with the improvement and equitable governance of water supply and sanitation facilities. CARE International promotes local management of natural water sources and we include women in these discussions so they can contribute their part.
Precious is one of 75,000 people in Zimbabwe who now have access to clean drinking water, through CARE and the Chivi Rural District Council’s efforts under the Australian Government-funded Chivi WASH project.
Precious says, “When we used to go to the river, we would drink dirt. Cattle would drink in the mud and we would also drink there, having no idea at all how safe it was... I am so happy to have seen our water coming out. I feel happy, I played with the water, I washed with it and I stomped in it. I am happy because the river is quite a distance from here. It was the norm to get there and find a long queue of people waiting for their turn to get water, and I waited sometimes until it got dark. No crocodiles are found at the [new] borehole. Nothing there poses any danger.”
Empowering women to lead communities
CARE International places an emphasis on women in all our water work. That's because impoverished women are disproportionately excluded from decisions regarding water allocation and management, despite them often being tasked with collecting and distributing water for their families and communities.
CARE International provides women with equal decision-making power by including them in discussions on water and sanitation at the local, municipal, and state levels. We also work closely with women to lead their communities in changing critical hygiene practices, such as hand washing.
The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is 6 kms every day, carrying 20 liters of water. In some areas, this can mean more than 15 hours per week is spent collecting water. Women have more time for income-generating projects and school when they aren't spending hours each day hauling water. Access to safe water also results in women spending less time caring for family members who would otherwise fall sick due to unsafe water.
Also, improved sanitation keeps girls in school when facilities such as toilets and handwashing facilities are available to her when she reaches puberty.