More than 783 million people do not have access to clean, drinkable water, according to data from the United Nations. Hundreds of women and, especially, children get up each day with the single mission of finding and bringing home some of that liquid so necessary for sustaining life. And to do this, they walk as far as six kilometers and then cover the same distance home with 20 liters of water on their head.
A lack of water is the greatest kind of poverty, affecting 36 countries all over the globe, according to a 2017 Unicef report. And life in a dry, arid land isn’t easy: crops don’t grow, children become water carriers instead of going to school, and many of them die from diseases caused by contaminated water. Each day some 1,000 children die.
This water deficit in many parts of the world occurs when demand far outstrips renewable and available supply. Some of the aggravating factors that affect the quality and quantity of water include rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing floods and droughts and polar ice melting as well as inadequate sanitation systems.
Thirst kills, and endangers the future of the millions of people who live in these areas. Access to drinking water and sanitation services is essential for health and life. For this reason, in 2010 the United Nations recognized the right of all human beings to have access to enough water for domestic and personal use, and that it be safe and accessible.
Different organizations work to offer a ray of hope to the countries most affected. One of them is the Fundación Cerro Verde, a private, non-profit venture dedicated to cooperation and development, mostly in the Choluteca region of Honduras. Universidad Europea has been cooperating with it since 2013, thus making it possible for a group of students to travel there each summer to help put their knowledge to use and carry out projects supporting that community’s sustainable development.
The village of Cerro Verde and its surroundings used to have natural fountains, but a prolonged drought has left them completely dry, thus throwing the 600 inhabitants into extreme poverty. Families live in small houses they have erected in rudimentary fashion, and there is hardly any economic activity beside some livestock and subsistence farming, which survives with difficulty because of the lack of water.
Poverty, misery and dry fountains
The Foundation tries to improve living conditions in Cerro Verde and its surroundings. It works to create new fountains in the village, establish a system to distribute drinking water, and make the people aware of the importance of installing a sanitation system that will keep surface and underground water from becoming contaminated.
But it’s not an easy task. The main problem is the lack of resources for carrying out technical studies, which means that they drill for water without knowing if they will find it. As María Olga Bernaldo, a professor of Civil Engineering at Universidad Europea puts it, “it’s very frustrating and there’s such a high percentage of failures that on more than one occasion we’ve considered quitting.” But the residents of the village, who live in extreme poverty, are what impels them to keep on trying.
María Eugenia Meiler, a student for a Master in Public Health at Universidad Europea, spent 20 days at Cerro Verde during the summer of 2017. Beside finishing her end-of-master project about the health problems that affect people, she was able to experience firsthand the moment when water gushed forth from the earth after drilling a well. “Being able to celebrate the arrival of water with the people in the village and share their excitement was an indescribable experience,” she says.
A similar cooperative project led to the creation of Auara, a manufacturer of mineral water that uses all its profits to create natural wells in countries where a lack of water is creating misery. “After seeing firsthand what it means to live without drinking water and how this affects the poorest communities, we decided to something to change this,” the founders explain. And thus, by selling mineral water in the developed world, they are able to slack the thirst of people living in disadvantaged countries.
Over the course of 2017 Auara carried out 11 projects in seven countries, from Haiti and Cambodia to Ethiopia and Uganda. The aim is to provide drinking water by means of drilling or storage systems. In this way, over the past 12 months they have helped more than 7,000 people with a million liters of drinking water. “For every two bottles of water we sell in Spain, we are providing at least two liters to disadvantaged communities,” they add. Their challenge is to help more than 50,000 people by the year 2020.
Other large NGOs, such as UNICEF, provide 29.9 million people with clean water every day for drinking, cooking and washing themselves. “The UNICEF programs called WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) offer millions of boys and girls all over the world the chance to grow up healthy and happy. Such basic elements as a water tap, a bar of soap or a latrine can prevent diarrhea (one of the main causes of infant mortality) and other diseases, reduce malnutrition, help children do well in school, and offer clean and adequate surroundings so that the youngest of them can develop,” says Blanca Carazo, who is in charge of the Spanish Committee for UNICEF Programs.
Increasing the access, efficiency and recycling of water is essential in guaranteeing future supplies and sanitation services. It’s estimated that in coming years water consumption will increase by 50% due to population growth, and greater demand by the agricultural, industrial and energy sectors. To meet this situation and eradicate water deficiency, it is essential to better manage the water that’s available on the planet.