What is Water to You?
Half a millennium ago, Leonardo da Vinci stated, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Though hundreds of years have gone by and technology has advanced to previously unimaginable levels, his words still ring true. We would like to embrace this year’s World Water Day theme and explore what #WaterIs to us today. Water nourishes our environment and informs how our climate changes. Water powers industry and makes our interconnected world possible. Water cures disease and provides sustenance for a growing global population. Water generates, sustains and improves life.
Shouldn’t such a basic human need be available for all? The answer is a resounding and universal “yes!” – but according to nonprofit Water.org, the reality is much different. Approximately 750 million individuals worldwide lack access to clean water, and millions more remain unconnected to sanitation systems.
Latin America fares better than the rest of the developing world. But, as The World Bank Water and Sanitation Program affirms, 36 million people continue to suffer from poor health, lower productivity and food shortages as a result of unclean water. Furthermore, 110 million live beyond formal hygiene infrastructure; five Latin American countries – Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti, Nicaragua and Peru – have less than 50 percent sanitation coverage for their rural populations.
So how do we change this? And how can we leverage water’s “driving force” to create a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren?
The first step is more responsible water stewardship. The Global Water Partnership notes that Latin America plays host to nearly a third of the world’s freshwater resources. Yet recent water crises, such as this year’s intense drought in Brazil’s populous São Paulo region, compel citizens, policymakers, corporations and nonprofits to reevaluate how we consume and distribute our finite supply.
An effective environmental conservation strategy should be implemented in tandem with social initiatives to bring clean drinking water and sanitation systems to towns and villages that still lack these resources. In such areas, water contamination causes gastrointestinal diseases, malnutrition and higher mortality rates. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, many rural communities lack access to or understanding of the importance of using clean water to wash raw vegetables and fruits and clean water and soap to wash hands and bodies. A failure to integrate these habits into daily practices facilitates the spread of parasites and other diseases. Gastrointestinal illnesses alone are responsible for 2.2 million deaths each year – mostly among rural children in developing countries.
Several of TRF’s local partners work specifically to address water issues in Latin America. In 2014, the Asociación Centro Regional de Formación para el Desarrollo Comunitario (CERFOR) installed a well in Retalhuleu, Guatemala – an area where 80 percent of residents suffer from gastrointestinal diseases and an alarming percentage of children under five are malnourished. CERFOR was able provide high-quality drinking water for the local community, mitigate the rate of disease in the area, offer employment to a number of residents, and ensure a sustainable source of potable water for decades to come.
One of TRF’s Mexican partners, Pronatura, implements a three-pronged comprehensive strategy to address this issue in water-scarce Tlaxcala. Environmental education among school-aged children instills a culture of conservation at a young age. In conjunction with efforts in schools, Pronatura conducts recycling campaigns and organizes community initiatives to plant trees and shrubs that prevent erosion along the banks of the nearby Atenco River. Finally, the organization helps install rainwater cisterns to ensure a steady supply of clean water for the community.
Meanwhile, in Colombia, TRF partner Fundación Social de Unibán installs in-home filtration systems for families without connections to the formal sanitation infrastructure in Zona Bananera municipality. These innovative mechanisms clean and decontaminate water, and have significantly reduced gastrointestinal and respiratory infections while simultaneously improving oral hygiene and nutrition indicators among the municipality’s residents.
Understanding water’s impact on our lives and those of others is essential to address the challenges of water access and conservation today. We have chosen to highlight the efforts of three of our partners above, and we invite you to explore the strategies being implemented by our network across the region by visiting our Potable Water & Sanitation Programs page. Together with our local agencies and donors, we strive to reach our idea of “what water is”: a basic and fundamental human right.
By Daniel McCown, TRF Reporting Associate