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HOW DOES WATER AFFECT OUR LIVES? A FRESH LOOK AT H2O

Water makes life possible, but it also has the power to wash away everything you’ve worked for in an instant. Here are 5 ways that water impacts the communities we work with — for good and for bad.

Water is life, as the saying goes. We rely on water for our food, our health, our livelihoods, and for fun and leisure. But water can also take away life. And the absence of water can be even worse. Currently, 700 million people live in water-stressed areas. By 2025, this number is expected to grow 1.8 billion — about 25% of the world population.

As Number 6 on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, “Clean Water and Sanitation For All” is currently struggling. If we want to meet this goal by the deadline of 2030, the UN says we’ll need to double our current rate of progress. Only then can we ensure that there’s universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene resources, improved water quality, and restored water-related ecosystems. Here are 5 ways that water use affects our lives — and what we’re doing to help make clean water and sanitation for all a reality.

1. WATER PUTS FOOD ON THE TABLE AND MONEY IN THE BANK

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly 60–80% of severely food-insecure people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods (and their own nutrition). This includes farming of crops and raising livestock, as well as fishing. In Africa, where over half of Concern’s country programs are located, 95% of crops are rain-fed. This means that water shortages have a compound effect: As we’ve seen in areas like Somalia, just one drought can spell disaster for an entire harvest.

kitchen garden in Burundi

Six-year-old David Minani waters the family kitchen garden in Mutembo, Burundi, while his mom, dad, and four brothers watch on. Photo: Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures

Concern has found solutions for many farming communities. In one Ethiopian community, for example, we provided the expertise and money needed to help build a 10-mile system of irrigation channels and reservoirs, bringing water from a nearby river across 200 acres to 140 farming families. That means bigger harvests to keep families fed — and incomes stable.

When lakes and rivers dry up, families are often forced to walk hundreds of miles to find water for their animals to drink. Or, they may lose their (literal) cash cows. A drought in the Turkana region of Kenya, that has now lasted for nearly 4 years, has meant that pastoralists like Ng’ikario Ekiru, a 37-year–old mother of 6, have gone from herds of 100 down to 5 (Ng’ikario, her family, and the flock all rely on the same source of food — a wild fruit that grows in the bush). Concern can’t refill dry rivers, but we can (and do!) truck water to the families and livestock that need it most.

Woman with goat herd outside her home in Turkana, northern Kenya

Ng’ikario Ekiru with the last of her goat herd outside their home in Turkana, northern Kenya. She is feeding her family and livesstock with wild desert fruit and roasted animal hides as the area experiences the second drought in 3 years. Photo: Gavin Douglas / Concern Worldwide

2. WATER CAN HELP KILL GERMS — AND CURB PANDEMICS

Washing your hands doesn’t just get them clean — it can also save your life. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that good hygiene is the best way to prevent infections and diarrheal diseases. As we’re currently seeing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing is also one of the best things we can all do to curb the spread of a global health crisis.

In many of the countries where Concern works, these infections are a leading cause of illness and death. But a lot of the diseases and infections that affect the communities we work with are 100% preventable, and a little bit of soap and water go a long way towards that prevention. As part of Concern’s water, sanitation, and hygiene programming (WASH) we help provide clean water and teach people good habits so they can stay healthy.