The value of clean water – World Water Day 2021

Three women smile as they collect water from a water tank
Written by Paul Mpundu Kulya, published on March 19, 2021 Sign up for eNews

This year’s World Water Day theme is valuing water. On March 22, we celebrate World Water Day by recognizing that the value of water is much more than its price. Water is an integral part of our daily lives and impacts health, education, economics and our environment. Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is listed by the United Nations as one of their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Clean water is also incredibly valuable in eye health.

Clean Water and Avoidable Blindness

Access to clean water is an important part of ending serious eye infections like trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. Trachoma causes the eyelid to turn inward so that the eyelashes rub the eyeball. This results in intense pain, scarring of the cornea and ultimately, irreversible blindness. Although trachoma can be treated with medicine and, in more severe cases, surgery, the most effective way of reducing rates of this painful infection is to address one of the root causes, which is lack of adequate sanitation. With access to clean water, people can wash their hands, faces, clothing and homes and prevent the spread of trachoma. This improved sanitation also aids in the reduction of other serious illnesses such as diarrheal disease, upper-respiratory infections and other communicable diseases like COVID-19.

A student washes her face at her school in Kenya

Drilling and Rehabilitating Boreholes

Operation Eyesight follows the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy for eliminating trachoma in areas of Kenya and Zambia. SAFE is a comprehensive treatment and prevention program that includes:

  • Surgery to treat trichiasis (the painful late stage of the disease)
  • Antibiotics to eliminate infection
  • Face washing and hygiene education
  • Environmental improvement including wells and latrines

Properly implemented, the SAFE strategy permanently eliminates trachoma. One of the key factors for achieving this is drilling or rehabilitating boreholes. In recent years, we’ve shifted our focus from drilling new boreholes to rehabilitating existing, dysfunctional boreholes. The cost-savings employed by this method allow us to reach many more communities.

An Operation Eyesight-supported borehole in Kenya

When a borehole is drilled or rehabilitated, we establish local Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees. These committees are trained on how to maintain the borehole and ensure its longevity. Properly maintained boreholes can provide clean water for decades. The WASH committees also provide community health education sessions to help people improve their sanitation habits. They incorporate messages on facial cleanliness and environmental improvements such as the proper building of latrines. 

The Ripple Effect of Clean Water

Clean water does so much more than prevent blindness. Families are able to grow more nutritious food and easily water their livestock when water is easily accessible. This leads to a reduced prevalence of illnesses resulting from poor nutrition. It also gives women and girls more opportunities. The task of hauling fresh water for long distances most commonly falls to women and girls. Depending on the area, the journey can also be dangerous, and the water from unprotected sources may not be safe. When clean water is easily accessible, women and girls have time to go to school, earn a living independently, and be actively involved in their families and communities.

Girls drinking clean water at the Mweela School in Zambia

Communities with a clean water source also become hubs of local trade and provide increased economic opportunities. New schools are often built near boreholes because of their central location and easy access to water. Existing schools are expanded on to accommodate for the increase in attendance resulting from more girls being able to participate in school now that they don’t have to walk far distances to fetch water. Read this story about how a borehole increased the attendance at Mweela School by 274 students.

This World Water Day, you can help bring the positive ripple effects of clean water to a community in need. Please donate today.