Pause for a moment and consider all the many ways that you may have interacted with water today: brushing your teeth, showering, cooking, drinking and making use of the bathroom!
Many of us are fortunate enough to not think too much about where our water comes from or how safe it is. Yet for many others, water access is a constant worry and this has a huge impact on health, education, and livelihood. Maybe you are one of these people?
Here we explore this challenge, reflect on what water means to us all, and commit to seeking justice for those who do not have the safe water that we should all be able to enjoy.
Why is water important?
Local, sustainable, safe water should be available to everyone, no matter who they are or where they are.
Did you know that up to 60 per cent of an adult’s body is water? We can go up to several weeks without food, but only three or four days without drinking water.
We all know that water is essential for life. It is needed for drinking, washing, cooking, cleaning and farming. In the developed world, most people do not have to worry about water. When a tap is turned on, or a toilet flushed, water is there.
Yet billions of people still lack access to safe water. For so many, there is no choice but to walk huge distances to fetch water. Even then it is often dirty and polluted, coming from rivers, ponds and holes in the ground.
Lack of access to safe water gives rise to numerous issues. When people must cover large distances on a regular basis to fetch water, it takes away time that could be spent on education and earning a living.
Contaminated water, often containing faeces and dirt, causes diseases like dysentery and typhoid fever. Managing menstrual hygiene with dignity requires safe water access and without it, girls often miss out on schooling during their period. Childbirth without safe water increases the risk of infections like sepsis.
- 2 billion people – 26% of the world’s population – lack safely managed drinking water
- Around the world up to 443 million school days are lost every year because of water-related illnesses
- If everyone, everywhere had clean water, the number of diarrhoeal deaths would be cut by a third
- Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor toilet access kills one child under the age of five every two minutes
How are women and girls affected?
When a community is deprived access to safe drinking water, whether at home or in the workplace, it is disproportionately harder for women and girls to lead safe and productive lives.
Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises. Collectively, women and children spend 200 million hours every day fetching water. Despite this time- consuming and physically taxing pressure, fewer than 50 countries have laws or policies that recognise women’s participation for rural sanitation and water resources management. A household’s need for safe water means that women and girls are at high risk of being excluded from access to education and employment.
Kisita, a mother of four from Kinkwanga village in Kavwaya, Democratic Republic of Congo, used to begin her day with a one-hour walk to fetch water from a natural spring. In her village, diseases caused by unsafe drinking water, such as cholera and diarrhoea, are very common. Kisita said,‘Every month I had to visit the clinic three times to take my children for treatment.’ With the nearest treatment clinic a two-hour walk from Kinkwanga, this adds yet another burden to the day for women like Kisita.
The Salvation Army’s international development team in the United Kingdom were able to work with the local Salvation Army in Kavwaya to address this issue. Salvationists and employees in Kavwaya worked with the community to build concrete protection around the spring, adding a pipe to collect the naturally flowing water so that it would not become contaminated.
Kisita recognises the significant improvement this protection has brought to her daily life, saying:‘I no longer have to spend days walking to Bakini health clinic because of frequent ailments.This has saved me lots of time which I now use to tend to my small cassava garden.’ The land provides food for her family, so time is valuable.
The women of the Kinkwanga village still spend a significant part of the day collecting water, but they now feel much more hopeful for the future, assured that the water is safe for their use.
Stock image used to illustrate story
What does water mean to you?
Major Hudson Mouhaliar
Water means life. Water and sanitation are crucial for the whole of creation and for human health and well-being.
In Kenya there are various sources of water varying from community to community. We collect rainwater from the iron- sheet roof tops of our houses which is then stored in tanks. We find water in springs, drilled boreholes, dug shallow wells and dams. The communities around these sources benefit as they can access the resource easily. Those that can’t access these sources, however, suffer.
Where water sources are far away, women and girls have to wake up early in the morning to fetch water.These are long distances and lots of time is being spent doing this. In schools, learners may walk significant distances for this commodity which might be dangerous and, again, takes time.‘Where there is water, there is life.’
Hudson is a Salvation Army officer living and working in Kenya.
To me water is an important source of life. Water can support the daily life of people. Water can generate income. Water supports good health and improves the harmony of families. Without drinking water, we cannot survive. Without clean water, people will get sick. Without water, there can be no husbandry, agriculture or production. Water played a big part in the creation of the world.
I am blessed to live in Hong Kong, where the infrastructure is sound and mainly comes from mainland China. The Hong Kong government closely monitors the quality and supply, and we have no difficulty accessing water in the city.
Meanwhile, in most remote areas of mainland China, a shortage of safe water is common. People in rural and mountainous areas cannot easily access water for daily living. Having a drinking water supply means village women no longer have to fetch water from faraway sources, and so have more time for agricultural work to generate income, and more time to spend with their families.
Heidi is The Salvation Army’s Administration and Projects Manager for Hong Kong and Macau.
I’ve always been fascinated by water – wanting to understand more about its physical properties was what led me to study engineering. But just before I started my degree I was in a remote community in Venezuela and accompanied some of the community members on a long walk and down a steep bank to a river to collect water that I wasn’t prepared to drink. I entered university wanting to learn about how water flows through a pipe but left wanting to know what I could do to play a part in enabling more people around the world to access that water. It is this human element of water – its impact on people’s lives, livelihoods and health – that has become my career and passion.
I have been so privileged to learn from and work with communities all over the world in my career: standing with people experiencing the devasting consequences of dirty drinking water and celebrating with communities over a fixed handpump or a new rainwater harvesting tank. I’ve been reminded of the power of water through the physical damage caused by floods and of how disruptions to water supply goes beyond drinking to every single aspect of day-to-day life.
Now working for The Salvation Army, I support colleagues around the world as they seek to provide water access at schools, in health centres and in communities. It is an absolute privilege and joy and I hope never to take water for granted.
Joanne works at The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters in London, UK, as a Community Development Coordinator covering Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.
Captain Stephanie Garcia
I grew up in Southern California, where we were in drought on and off for my whole childhood. I remember seeing notices urging people not to water lawns and not to wash cars. In fact, water conservation was such a huge part of my early life that it became a habit that has lasted to adulthood. I never let the tap run while I brush my teeth, I take six-minute showers, I fill a basin to wash the dishes rather than letting the water run. All of these things I do without thinking about it because I’ve always understood that water is a precious resource.
And even as rare as rainfall is in my hometown – and as much as we’ve always heard about our drought – I’m still very aware that there are places in the world where it is much worse. Los Angeles imports most of its fresh water from other places, but we still have water coming out of our taps whenever we want. I hope everyone is aware that there are places in the world with no clean drinking water – that’s why we need to bring awareness to this issue.Water isn’t optional for living.
Stephanie is a Salvation Army officer living and working in London. She is originally from the USA.
Commissioner Janine Donaldson
In 1997, Zambia was low on water. For that year, we had running water for just an hour a day. In that hour we needed to shower, wash clothes, water gardens and fill containers that would last us to the next day. 6pm was etched in my mind: it meant water, glorious water!
Strangely, often during the day I found myself reaching for a tap and turning it on. It was like I knew no water would gush out, but I couldn’t stop the hope that there might be some!
It doesn’t take long for the Bible to mention water. Genesis 1:2 (New International Version) says:‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’ God knew that water was such an essential component of life, he created it on the very first day. He knew water was life.
In 1997, I came to significantly understand and value the gift of water. Each day as I held my breath for that glorious hour of water to flow, a familiar song based from my home came to mind.
‘Wash from my hands the dust of earthly striving;
Take from my mind the stress of secret fear;
Cleanse thou the wounds from all but thee far hidden,
And when the waters flow let my healing appear’.
We need water to live, but Jesus offers us water for our soul. He invites us to come, drink and live!
Janine is a Salvation Army officer living and working in Australia. She is originally from New Zealand and has worked in Zambia, South Africa and London.
What is The Salvation Army doing?
The Salvation Army works around the world to support communities and improve economic and social relationships.We believe water access should be for everyone.
‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’ – (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Mali is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking at 184 out of 189 on the Human Development Index (2019). Nearly 44 per cent of the population lives below the national poverty line, and more than half live on less than US$1.25 a day. The country’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, which employs 90 per cent of the country’s rural population – but the sector is increasingly being affected by climate change. Already one of the hottest countries in the world, Mali is now experiencing even higher temperatures – the average annual temperature is 29ºC – less rainfall and creeping desertification.
The Salvation Army in Mali is contributing to the well-being of communities in Mali by supporting people in Kassela and Sanakoroba. Through the provision of six new wells, access to safe water will now be available to the communities. This will be coupled with health and hygiene promotion.
In Kerala, India, many communities frequently face drought and acute water shortages.The majority of people in rural areas depend on unprotected wells, ponds, rivers and streams for their water needs.
The Salvation Army is supporting 17 villages where this is a serious problem. Many of these are in hilly areas, where it is difficult to carry water from the low land water sources to the upper residential areas. Geological surveys have identified that, in these places, water sources are not far underground.Through boreholes, wells and new connections to mains water supplies,The Salvation Army is working to make safe water access a reality for almost 6,000 people, including 3,000 girls and boys.
The Salvation Army supplied several water tanks to various corps (Salvation Army churches), schools and communities in Kenya. We have drilled several boreholes which worked out very well. With potable, accessible water, surroundings are clean and become safe for habitation.
The Salvation Army in Hong Kong and Macau supports many water-related programmes in mainland China.These include digging wells, constructing water systems (storage tanks, filtering tanks, laying pipes from water source to households) and training to enhance people’s awareness of personal hygiene.
In Uganda, 4,500 households will benefit from work by The Salvation Army to educate and advocate for good water and sanitation practice. Through the installation of rainwater harvesting facilities, gravity flow schemes, new handwashing facilities and latrines for the community, people will be given the knowledge and resources for sustainable, long-term change.
3 ways to make a difference
Donate and raise money
Run, swim, make cakes – there are so many ways to raise money! Think about generating funds which can be used to make a difference. And if you can, why not commit a portion of your income to charities working to improve the situations of communities around the world?
Cut down on waste
Act in solidarity with those with less access to safe water. Shower for less time, reduce food waste, buy products that use water sustainably in their production. Avoid single-use plastic bottles. Let us value the resources we have!
Talk to people
You have a voice, and you can make a difference. Start conversations about unequal access to safe water. Let those around you know the facts around this issue. Why not start by posting about your visit to this exhibition on social media?
Pray through the day
Calling all those who pray! Join us in praying for water access whenever you interact with water. We know that you might not be in a position to do of all these things, perhaps because you don't have safe water yourself. If so, at a suitable moment, pray into these situations. Let's keep praying until we see change!
First drink of the day
Thank God for the gift of life, and for his creation that is sustained by water.
Brushing your teeth
Ask for God’s wisdom in our use of water, and that we will all minimise waste wherever we can.
Pray for equitable access to water, fresh and pure for all.
Quenching your thirst
Ask God to restore us, to give us fresh vision and a passion for fighting injustice around the world.
Flushing the toilet
Ask God for a global will for clean and safe water for everyone.
Pray over all those working to make a difference – charities, non- governmental organisations and individuals. May they be able to speak to those in power and make a real impact in the lives of communities.