GLOBAL WATER
Our Background

Background

Introduction| The Problem |The Solution | Appropriate Technology |Past Failures

Global Water is an international, non-profit humanitarian organization specifically committed to the development of safe water supplies in rural areas of developing countries. In addition, our water supply projects often include complementary programs that include effective sanitation and hygiene facilities in association with related health education.

Rather than providing short-term supplies of food and bottled water that are quickly consumed, Global Water’s strategy is to provide permanent solutions to a region’s water needs by providing appropriate equipment (to include state-of-the-art technology) to:

• Secure, purify, store and distribute new sources of water for domestic uses (such as: drinking, cooking, and hygiene) and agricultural purposes;

• Drill new water wells to allow access to groundwater;

Global Water believes the lack of access to safe water is the root cause of disease, hunger and poverty in the developing world today. Right now, countless communities in over 50 nations are suffering because local water supplies are either scarce, contaminated, or non-existent. Our program is designed to provide safe water supplies in rural villages to enable the rural poor to help themselves.

In 2001, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) asked Global Water to perform an investigation of groundwater availability in water-short regions of the world. That investigation was documented in a report entitled: Groundwater Availability Study for Water-Short Developing Countries, where it was shown there are significant groundwater assets available even in some of the most drought-prone areas of the world. Although available, these groundwater assets are not being used today because often the leaders of drought-prone countries do not possess the political will to drill water wells for their own people.

Global Water has learned through experience that temporary handouts during emergency crises, unfortunately, cannot solve long-term regional health and other famine-related problems. Permanent sources of clean, fresh water are needed in order to stop the drought/famine cycles that plague many regions of the world. Right now, countless communities in over 50 nations are suffering needlessly because water is either scarce, contaminated, or non-existent. The sad irony is this: Often there is enough water to save thousands of lives just 100 to 300 feet away. Where? Underground. Even during the most intensive droughts in arid, desert-like areas there is often groundwater available only 100 - 300 feet deep. However, we fully appreciate the fact that to a villager with hand tools, digging a water well 100 feet deep is unimaginable. But Global Water can and does bring state-of-the-art water well drilling equipment to rural areas in order to provide life-giving sources of water.

Since 1982, Global Water has worked with water supply projects all over the world in a variety of roles in order to accommodate local conditions. These include technical assistance (either consulting or on-site supervision), water supply equipment, on-site volunteers, and often direct financial aid to local, community-based organizations.

Now Global Water wants to do more. They want to go into rural areas that have unsafe water supplies or are susceptible to water shortages, such as drought (but might not be experiencing an emergency today). In these regions, Global Water wants to drill a series of wells that can be used to supply safe drinking water supplies to tens of thousands of people during all conditions, but especially during periods of drought. In addition, Global Water wants to provide water for agricultural purposes to end the drought/famine cycle in many rural areas once and for all. In concert with this goal is to also provide state-of-the-art water treatment equipment to purify water, especially for the many existing water supplies that have been contaminated with various forms of pollution for many years. In addition, specially designed water storage containers will be distributed to villagers to provide storage and distribution of water to ensure safety throughout a newly created water supply system.

That in a nutshell are the goals of the new Rural Outreach Water Supply Program. Global Water has done a lot since its inception in 1982, but it now wants to go beyond the conventional, short-term humanitarian project to make a genuine, lasting impact in rural regions.

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The Problem

Simply put - the lack of safe drinking water is the primary cause of disease in the world today. Everyday, tens of thousands of  people die from causes directly related to contaminated water. And for those who survive, without good health, there is little chance for a normal and productive life. A surprising statistic to many is that contaminated water causes 80% of the health problems throughout the world. Much of the reason is because in rural areas of developing countries, the only water source for people to wash with and drink from is often a badly polluted shallow well (less than 10 feet deep) or mud-hole used by both animals and humans. In those areas where there’s actually a stream or river, they’re often polluted as well, because animal and human wastes are emptied directly into it without proper treatment.

Throughout the world, water supplies in developing countries are contaminated with a wide variety of microorganisms that cause typhoid, diarrheal diseases, amoebic dysentery, cholera, and other notoriously virulent diseases. Diarrheal diseases alone are directly linked to the deaths of more than 6 million children per year. Unfortunately there has been a dramatic increase in the past 10 years of the number of deaths from the consumption of contaminated drinking water around the world. A particularly sobering thought is that this unnecessary misery and death is occurring in areas where there is no major drought or "official" emergency or disaster to cite as a specific cause. By the time a recognized emergency does occur, the numbers of people injured or killed due to drinking contaminated water quickly becomes much more dramatic since water supplies become very polluted in localized areas as people congregate during periods of drought, famine, and natural disasters.

It’s an especially sad irony that these conditions persist at the very time when water treatment equipment has experienced new and exciting technological developments that can remove virtually all pollutants from water in a single stage.

During a drought, water supplies dwindle causing agricultural-based villagers to travel the countryside searching for water and food (rural areas in developing countries often contain over 70% of a population). If a drought continues, the rural population must travel hundreds of miles to resettle in relief villages as agricultural production in a region decreases to near zero. In this manner, a large number of people can become solely dependent on a country’s government to supply food and water to its population. If the country’s government is dysfunctional, as has been the case in numerous instances in the past two decades (Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, to name a few) whole scale starvation results.


[Photo courtesy of Lifewater International]

It’s interesting to note that the lack of water is the primary reason why villagers must leave an area in search of food and water during a famine. Water is just too heavy to transport long distances. Food, on the other hand, can be readily transported by air and delivered to remote famine-susceptible locations. Therefore, if water is more available in rural areas, supplemental food can be air delivered to villagers experiencing famine. This would dramatically reduce the need for tens of thousands of people in weakened health conditions to travel long distances to resettlement villages. In addition, another serious problem that we’ve witnessed during recent emergency relief activities is the political threat to rural villagers that often exacerbates relief operations. As mentioned, because water can’t be realistically distributed to tens of thousands of people in rural areas, villagers must travel to remaining water supplies. This often means traveling long distances through regions that may be controlled by opposing political forces. During this past decade we’ve seen starving villagers become pawns in deadly political warfare with tragic consequences, all because they must travel to find water.

If you’ve ever seen an image of the glazed stare of a child sitting in a resettlement village during a drought/famine cycle and said "there must be a better way" you’re absolutely correct and Global Water’s Rural Outreach Water Supply program is that way.

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The Solution

The solution to change these desperate conditions that exist in many regions of the world must be multi-faceted to accommodate a variety of conditions. Where no water supply exists or only polluted water is accessible in an area, the answer may be to dig water wells below surface pollution to access uncontaminated water supplies. Although the solution to this incredulous situation that exists can be stated in one sentence, it is a difficult task, at best, that few relief organizations are equipped to tackle. Generally speaking, the major emphasis for governmental and private relief agencies around the world today is to provide food for starving people once a desperate situation, usually caused by drought, develops into a widespread disaster. We in no way wish to minimize the importance of these life-saving emergency efforts by many humanitarian organizations. These activities save tens of thousands of lives and the compassion demonstrated by these efforts truly show the best of human nature.

However, Global Water ’s concept of providing new and clean water supplies to withstand drought and alleviate the necessity to use polluted surface waters is a decidedly different focus from the normal relief effort today. Global Water wants to prevent the next famine, not react to it. It’s the only way to actually prevent the drought/famine cycle from occurring when regional weather patterns change periodically. And it has been suggested by many scientists that as global warming evolves, drought/famine cycles will become more common and for longer durations in many regions of the world that are currently in a water-stressed condition.

It is a sad irony that the overwhelming opinion of most relief agencies is that bringing state-of-the-art equipment and capability to rural areas of developing countries is not possible today when today’s state-of-the-art water treatment equipment now uses technologies that match perfectly with the water treatment requirements of polluted waters around the world. Relatively new water purification capabilities, especially from the use of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, match the technical requirements of purifying polluted water by desalinating water and providing a physical barrier to microorganisms and a wide array of chemical contaminants, all in one stage. Where microorganisms are the only contaminant to an otherwise safe water source, new disinfection technologies and new distribution techniques can create a simple and safe water supply system for thousands of villagers.

Global Water realizes that creating a safe regional water source is really only half the job necessary to ensure a safe water supply system in rural areas. The water must be distributed in such a way that re-contamination does not happen. Global Water agrees with the excellent work that has been initiated and accomplished by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in coordination with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) in the area of water disinfection and distribution for centralized rural water supplies. The equipment and methodologies developed by CDC/PAHO/UNC and endorsed by Global Water are listed in the section describing details of the new Rural Outreach Water Supply Program.

The problem with creating new water supplies in rural areas is not that we lack the technology to treat unsafe water or to drill water wells in remote locations. No, the real problem is the organization and funding have been lacking to implement and sustain true state-of-the-art water supply equipment in remote locations.

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Appropriate Technology

water mill

For many years and continuing today, the level of technology that is
thought usable by developing countries is technology readily understood by the local population. That generally means using equipment made from locally available materials that can be repaired by local craftsmen. This is called appropriate technology and it works very well since it is fine-tuned to a local area, its people and its craftsmen’s capabilities. In the area of water supply and purification, appropriate technology can dig shallow wells, provide filtration of turbidity and reduce levels of microorganisms (through slow-sand filtration ), and may be able to store water from existing freshwater sources.

What it can’t do is effectively treat a polluted source to drinking water quality, or drill water wells beyond modest depths, or store water under sanitary conditions. However, the technology to do these tasks does exist outside of the appropriate technology arena. State-of-the-art technology can be harnessed to develop drinking water supplies that far exceeds appropriate technology capabilities and expectations. But this equipment must be supported by a continuous system of communication, training and logistical re-supply.

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