The UN estimates that at least 50 liters of water are required per person, per day to meet basic needs and prevent health problems. However, many people in Africa have access to only 20 liters of water per day.
Many live far from water sources, and acquiring water can be an all-day job, that typically falls on the shoulders of women and children. Sadly, this means the help of children too often becomes indispensable to lessen the burden on their mothers, and therefore, many children—particularly girls—miss school as they attend to family tasks. Consequently, many end up dropping out of school.
To make matters worse, many sources of water are open and unprotected wells, which are often contaminated, posing the risk of exposure to dangerous diseases. Sources such as open streams and rivers can pose additional health problems as they are often unclean, and they also have the added threat of wild animals such as hippos and crocodiles lurking near the banks.
To address this situation we actively engage the local communities to address their needs, and we encourage our customers to support our initiatives. Thus far, with the help of our customers, more than US$1.2 million has been invested in water accessibility programs in these communities. This investment has allowed us to install more than 300 closed wells and boreholes in Africa over the last seven years. A village in Africa generally includes 20 to 50 families, which means that we have managed to reach roughly 10,000 families for an approximate total of 50,000 people.
Another issue we have been addressing is a primary source of water contamination—the lack of proper toilet facilities in rural areas. Many schools do not have toilet facilities, let alone separate toilets for boys and girls. Unfortunately, this is a common problem throughout Africa, and contributes to children dropping out of school. Therefore, we are working with villages and schools to build pit latrines, to lessen the risk of pollution and improve school attendance.
Access to water is also crucial for agriculture in rural areas of Africa. Crops cannot be grown during the seven months of the dry season if irrigation is not available. Irrigation systems in rural areas are rare even if there are large rivers and lakes near many of these areas. The available water requires pumps for distribution in the villages, and pumps are expensive, and require spare parts and fuel to operate.
To help combat this problem, we have worked to distribute treadle pumps to farmers near available irrigation sources. This type of pump is human-powered, where the operator stands on the treadles and presses them up and down in a rhythmic motion—similar to pressing the pedals on a bicycle. This allows a large amount of water to be pulled from the water source with relative ease. The pumps on the market today are sturdy and require limited maintenance.
We have distributed more than 5,000 treadle pumps in Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique, so farmers can cultivate additional food and feed crops in the dry season. The investment in this program thus far totals nearly US$750,000. We have also started assessing small and large ram pumps to test sturdiness and efficiency.
However, these pumps do not solve the problem for all of our contracted farmers as many do not have fields close to a water source. Therefore, we have also started a program to build small dams and reservoirs to harvest rain water for use during the dry season.
Over the last three years, we have built more than 70 dams and reservoirs with an investment of approximately US$650,000. We are continuing to expand these efforts in Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique. So far, this program has benefitted approximately 3,000 families who can now grow additional crops and tend livestock.
In addition to financial investments in these projects, an investment of significant amounts of time and labor have been required. Time and effort are necessary to plan the projects; to purchase and deliver the building materials; to contract a construction company; and to supervise the construction activities. But the investment is highly rewarding as we continue to see improvements in these villages. We have decreased the burdens on families, increased school retention, seen health improvements and increased agricultural production for family consumption and for the market.