Q&A: "WASH" programs, past, present, & future

In today's Q&A, Randy Strash, World Vision's senior manager of water, sanitation, and hygiene programs (WASH), delves into the effectiveness of our work to bring clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene to the communities we serve.

1. WASH stands for WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene – that’s a lot of projects! Why does World Vision combine all of these areas? Doesn’t providing access to clean water take care of them all?

No, it doesn't. On average, safe water reduces child deaths by only 5%, while water and sanitation provided together reduce child deaths by 55%. Adding the hygiene component gets you even more bang for your buck. Providing access to safe water as a stand-alone intervention doesn't have the expected impact because the water gets contaminated on the way home from the pump, or in storage at home, especially if there’s no awareness of germs in the community.

2. World Vision WASH projects – like deep wells – are very effective and sustainable. What makes them work so well?

We can report best-in-class results with impact and sustainability because we always have someone on-site for the long haul – someone who prepares the community before the well drillers arrive, and stays long after they've left to make sure that the people are practicing good hygiene and sanitation and properly maintaining their pumps and facilities.

I don't know many agencies that remain for 15-20 years like World Vision does. Typically, other NGOs drill the hole and install the pump, and then hand it over to the community leaders in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Then they're gone.  When the pump breaks down (within a year, if not properly maintained) the village doesn't know how to contact the agency to come back and repair the well, since they weren't properly trained how to do it themselves.

World Vision takes the extra time and effort to train community volunteers how to maintain the pump, and also to train local technicians how to repair the pump. World Vision also encourages the community water committees to collect $5-10 a month per household (depending on their ability to pay) so that there's money available to pay for parts and labor when it's needed.

3. Why is clean water so important?

Water is foundational to development. In fact, there's an African proverb to the effect that "Water is life." Unless you address the water needs of a community, all other efforts will eventually be neutralized. Research shows that 80% of the diseases that afflict young children are WASH related, as are half of hospitalizations and deaths. Half of the malnutrition has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with fighting off infections from contaminated water, food, and fingers. Also, half of school absenteeism is due to WASH-related diseases.

At World Vision, we say, "WASH is the first and best medicine." But WASH does more than improve health and nutrition. With WASH interventions, not only do children survive and thrive, but the entire economy of the village surges. Some researchers have estimated that communities with WASH enjoy 7 or 8 times the disposable household income of communities without. The benefits are enormous!

4. World Vision is all about child sponsorship. How does our work with WASH interventions help children and connect with sponsorship?

Child well-being is the reason we emphasize WASH. Sponsorship is what enables us to be in the community over the long haul, organizing and mobilizing the community and teaching children and their parents about hygiene and sanitation so they can experience all the benefits of their WASH facilities. And our commitment is to assure that every sponsored child has a safe water source within a 15-minute walk of their home. In many areas, the up-front costs of installing WASH facilities are just too steep for local government or even for WV's sponsorship programs to afford. That's why we appeal to our faithful donors for extra gifts to cover the installation costs.

Young boy at a water pump. (Photo: World Vision)

5. World Vision is often on the cutting edge of development. Is there a newer, better, more innovative way to provide clean water than drilling wells? Is World Vision already working with these projects?

YES! We're trying several new things. First, we're finding cheaper ways to drill, while improving the pumps so they last longer. For instance, we have a partnership with Water4 in Oklahoma. They've developed a 2-person auger that drills shallow wells by hand at about 1/10th the cost of using the big motorized rigs.

Also, they’ve invented a hand pump for shallow wells that costs about 1/10th the standard hand pumps. It requires no maintenance at all! As a displacement pump, rather than a suction pump, it doesn't need tight fittings, so wear and tear is reduced to almost nil. These pumps have been tested at 4 million cycles without needing to be maintained, let alone replaced. This saves the community a lot of time and money. We have an agreement with them to drill 7000 wells in 7 countries, helping a million people obtain access to safe water.

There are other things we're testing, like a solar pump that can pump water from 600 feet down – 10 times deeper than standard solar pumps. We're also testing water filters – ceramic or nanotube – for use in villages where we can't reach underground water, forcing them to rely on contaminated ponds or streams.

One of the most exciting developments we're working on is a re-invented toilet. Three times as many people lack a toilet as lack safe water. Today, more people have cell phones than toilets! What we're hoping for is a toilet revolution, one that takes the world by storm and transforms health the way the cell phone has transformed communication. We're testing a prototype of a Tube Toilet that costs less than $100: odorless, pathogen-free, and doesn't need to be connected to a sewage system or septic tank. It never needs to be emptied, and it fertilizes the earth while ridding the environment of deadly parasites. If this tests out the way we hope, it could make a huge difference to the developing world.

Sponsoring a child helps provide clean water and other life-saving basics. Join us in fighting poverty holistically for just $35 a month. Change a child’s life for good!


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