World Water Day

Children and Youth Seek Solutions for Clean Water

Guest post by Alan Parker

Alan Parker, based in New York City, writes about alternative energy, green business, sustainability and climate change. Follow on Twitter @AGreenParker.

With the focus this week on World Water Day, it’s good to step back and recognize that approximately 1 of every 6 people on the planet has difficulty accessing sanitary water. The problem exists primarily in developing countries, where water is a day’s walk from home, is polluted or is buried deep underground. There are a number of charities that teach people of the importance of clean water and have helped countless villages and towns attain water, yet many people still fail to comprehend how immense this problem really is.

Photo by Jake Lyell

Enter the International Year of Chemistry (IYC), a worldwide event sponsored by some of the leading international chemistry institutions. The centerpiece event of the IYC is a worldwide chemistry experiment called Water: A Chemical Solution. It’s geared toward elementary and high school students and has two main goals. The first is to get students excited about science, especially chemistry. The second is to teach the importance of clean water for all. As Andrew Liveris (head of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), one principal sponsor of the event) claims, the experiment “encourages young people to respect water as a vital resource and how science can help make it cleaner and more available to everyone.”

Through the experiments, students will help to complete the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goal of greatly improving access to safe drinking water before 2015.

The global experiment contains different projects where students will complete water-themed chemistry tests to distill water so it can be consumed. The first tests teach students to measure the acidity and salinity of their local body of water. They can then upload their conclusions to the IYC’s website, and compare their results to those from all over the world. Students will also have the chance to develop filtration systems and solar stills from readily available materials to learn about alternative approaches of sanitizing water.

Experiments are tailored for students of all age groups, so elementary school students perform simpler tests, while those in high school can run more complex and challenging tasks. Further, to ensure as many students participate as possible, the experiments will cost very little, if anything at all. The IYC’s experiment runs through December 2011, so if you think that your child or local school would have fun contributing to the experiment, visit the website.

The IYC’s Global Experiment on water could not have come at a more important time in the resource’s history. According to Global Issues, roughly 1.1 billion people in the developing world lack adequate access to water, more than 660 million people lack access to sanitation and survive on less than $2 a day, and children are absent from school around 443 million days due to water related sickness and disease. Water is unquestionably a human issue, and the global experiment is using chemistry to stimulate young students to find solutions.

Liveris, with ICCA, notes that water scarcity means “the world is searching for sustainable, innovative solutions that can only be realized through the advances of chemistry.” Through the awareness that the IYC is raising, it may well be students who will help develop these solutions and aid in getting clean water to those who need it most.

Innovation Brings Water to a Community in The Gambia

by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Africa Regional Communications Manager

Water is a big challenge in our region; so I find myself thinking a lot about World Water Day, commemorated each year on March 22. In Africa, people travel long distances and stand in long queues to get water. Sometimes the water runs out before those in line can fill their containers. They return home empty handed. A lot of time is wasted waiting to get water — time that could have been spent doing other things.

In some areas even if there is water, it’s unsafe for drinking or cooking. So I thought of sharing with you my visit to The Gambia, where I had the opportunity to see the water pyramid, operated by the Ding Ding Bantaba Child and Family Support Association, a ChildFund affiliate.

Water pyramid in The Gambia

Water is stored below ground before the pyramid is expanded.

Sibanor village is the capital of the Foni Bintang Karanai District in the Western Division. As the capital, it is also the commerce center for several satellite villages as well as many in the Cassamance region. Sibanor is rapidly increasing in size and now has a population of 4,000.

For years, Sibanor lacked clean and accessible water for human consumption. Most of the community’s wells produce brackish water not fit for drinking or preparing food. Nor is the water ideal for laundry, as it does not readily form lather with soap.

As the population has increased, so has the water problem. Because only three hand pumps were producing good-tasting water, residents of the newest settlements started traveling some distances to nearby villages to obtain water.

Water pyramid blown erect

The water pyramid is fully expanded.

Those living around the ChildFund-supported Early Childhood Development center fetched water from the covered hand pump well in the village. The rest shared the remaining two pumps resulting in long queues. Women lined up around these pumps as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m., waiting for the overused wells to refill.

Water storage tanks

Water storage tanks

For years, community leaders tried different options to get clean water but without success. Some families resorted to using unsafe drinking water from locally dug and uncovered wells that had better taste. The main borehole was re-dug in 2001, but, unfortunately, it produced the same poor-quality water. The community endured 20 years with no improvement in the water supply. A radical shift in approach was needed.

In a bid to address the situation, Ding Ding Bantaba Child and Family Support Association, working with ChildFund and the Dutch organisation Aqua Aero Water System BV, succeeded in getting a water project proposal funded by the World Bank.

This grant has built a water pyramid, which consists of a borehole and a rainwater collection system that provides clean and sufficient water (up to 5,000 liters per day) to serve the entire population of Sibanor and surrounding villages.

This innovative water system also provides distilled water for hospital use and for battery refilling. Testing has proven the water to be the cleanest and safest drinking source in the country based on national and international standards.

Water packaging process

Community workers package water into packets.

ChildFund played a role in negotiating the grant project and provided on-site supervision as the water pyramid was constructed. We worked closely with community members to engage them in the project and involve them in carrying out the nontechnical aspects of construction.

Today, ChildFund continues to monitor the viability of the community-operated enterprise and ensure water-quality controls remain in place.

Numerous sponsored children and their families in Sibanor are now benefitting from clean water. It’s a victory to celebrate on World Water Day.

Water for the World’s Children

Today, as we mark World Water Day, established by the United Nations in 1992, ChildFund is implementing water solutions with long-term positive impact.

In the Andean community of Pastocalle, located in Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Province, a new irrigation water tank is helping families improve their children’s nutrition and health.

In the past, Pastocalle families have typically produced only corn, barley and chocho, a type of gourd. Harvested just once a year, these crops required little water.

Yet, they did not provide adequate nutrition for growing children. Due to the lack of vegetables in their diet, the children of Pastocalle were deficient in vitamins and at high risk for illnesses.

With the support of ChildFund and a local indigenous organization, the community decided to expand its food crops by building a water-collection tank.

Fresh vegetables improve children's diets.

The tank provides irrigation water to small parcels of land farmed by 97 families, allowing them to produce vegetables in every season. A local committee manages the irrigation tank, and families contribute to its maintenance. Irrigation was especially critical last year, due to the dry season.

Families sell surplus vegetables at a local fair.

Already, Pastocalle children are benefitting from a well-balanced diet, rich with home-grown vegetables. Child illnesses are on the decline. The families have embraced organic production methods and a forestation program to help protect water sources and ensure soil recovery through crop rotation.

Although most of the vegetables are grown for the families’ consumption, a reliable water source has led to some bumper crops. The families sell the surplus vegetables at a parish fair for additional income.

Water has made a precious difference to the children of Pastocalle.

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