Going deep: Global water solutions

Going Deep: Global Water Solutions | World Vision Blog

Eugene Cho visiting water projects in Kenya. (Photo: One Day's Wages/World Concern)

Pastor, speaker, and author Eugene Cho's parents grew up in extreme poverty in Korea. In this video interview, he describes the "not with hand-outs but with hand-ups" approach that gave them respect and dignity.

World Vision approaches community development in this way, working toward significant and lasting change in communities around the world. In an excerpt from Eugene's new book Overrated, he describes how these solutions work best for clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.


New this month! Eugene Cho's new book Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? The post below is an excerpt …

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It’s easy to look for the simple solutions. One area where I have seen this again and again is in regard to water—particularly because water (like human trafficking) tends to be a popular issue for people today. One can say that these issues have gone mainstream.

But nevertheless, the reality is that we still have a water crisis. One in nine people alive today do not have access to clean water, and with that comes a cost to productivity, widespread disease, and even death. Every day three thousand children under age five die needlessly because of waterborne disease.

Do you remember the early video game The Oregon Trail? In the game, played in glamorous low-resolution green-and-black graphics, the player guided settlers across the native lands we now call America. Heading west, the group encountered a variety of obstacles and often became sick and even died from diseases we’ve cured in the Western world, such as cholera, typhoid, or dysentery.

While it might have been a game we enjoyed in the early eighties on newfangled Apple IIs, the diseases the player “encountered” are not a game to millions of people in the developing world, even today. The fact is, people still die from these horrible diseases, often transmitted because of contaminated water.

The cause of death from these diseases is usually dehydration. Severe diarrhea causes water depletion from the body, and in some cases, if too much water is lost, the sufferer will die.

And a disease such as cholera, which is painful and humiliating, can kill within hours if left untreated.

So what is the solution to the water crisis? Dig more water wells?

True story. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who were convicted, had epiphanies, callings, revelations ... about the water crisis, and desperately wanted to build water wells because that’s what they saw on television. They suddenly feel the urge to build water wells in Africa or Asia or some other apparently random country. They then want to spend several thousand dollars to travel to take pictures of that water well with many smiling children drenching themselves with clean water.

“Anywhere. I just want to build a water well,” said one person I met a couple of years ago.


“Because there’s a water crisis and people don’t have access to clean water. I feel called to do something, and I want to build a water well.”

“Okay. Why water wells? Is that the best solution? Actually, tell me some of the other solutions that you’ve researched.”

There was an awkward silence for a few moments.

While there are few things in development as spectacular as seeing water gush out of the ground after a well is drilled, what happens in year two, five, and ten is far more important, and difficult. By many reports, more than one-third of all wells drilled in the last twenty years are now broken—fifty thousand are currently broken in Africa alone, preventing access to clean water for millions of people. Some experts say as many as 60 percent of wells in the developing world aren’t working. Wells often break within a few years, and in most instances, there are no trained mechanics, spare parts, or tools nearby ... or the local community is not invested enough to maintain the well.

That’s why good community development must work with communities to equip people to care for their water systems, long after the “grand opening” ribbon-cutting ceremonies have faded from memory. If some organization comes in, drills wells, and doesn’t teach people the importance of clean water or teach how to care for the systems from a community level, it’s a disservice to the community.

And wells are not the only solution for access to clean water.

In certain areas of the world, you simply cannot dig wells. The water table is too low to be reasonably accessed, or the groundwater is too saline. In these places your best bet may be to create rain-catchment systems. These systems collect rain through gutters installed on the roofs of community buildings or schoolhouses, or collect rainwater in the form of platforms on the ground, which guide water into protected underground chambers.

Granted, this is not as glamorous as digging a well. It’s always fun to see water shoot up from the ground. But these alternative systems can be even more effective, and that’s what we’re after, right? Not good promotional pictures and selfies, right? One of these rain-catchment systems can provide water to a community for several months, even after only a single storm passes by. In northern Somalia, these systems, called berkads, catch seventy thousand gallons of rainwater and are the only good way to collect suitable drinking water, providing a lifeline to hundreds of people.

And wells and rain-catchment systems alone are not the solution either. Bio-sand filters—an innovative version of the slow sand filter—are quickly garnering attention as very affordable, simple, and effective in providing clean water to households.

Clean-water initiatives must come in tandem with sanitation and education. Sure, one in nine humans do not have access to safe drinking water. But consider nearly four in ten do not have access to toilets, according to the UN. That’s 37 percent of your fellow humans without a decent place to go to the bathroom.

Imagine that. Not having access to a toilet. And imagine how disease spreads without proper sanitation. No wonder those Oregon Trail diseases continue to kill.

WASH is a term used by those in the humanitarian world to encompass the whole solution: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. It all has to come together. Throw in that respective community engagement to the ideas behind why people need to wash hands, use toilets, and maintain wells, and you might have a chance to have a significant and even lasting impact.

Help World Vision make a significant and lasting impact on communities around the world through Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene innovations!


    I would like to participate in your clean water initiative. How much does it cost to dig a well and provide a purification system for the well?

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