Interview with ‘Life Water’ (November 3 2015)

What countries do you work in?
Lifewater currently works in Uganda, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Malawi, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. Click here for a map of our current and completed programs

What devices or systems regarding clean drinking water have made the biggest impact? (bio-filters, water storage improvements, solar stills, etc.).
Good question but difficult to answer. Biggest in terms of population served would probably be deep wells that are able to serve high volumes of people and so they are usually installed in places like trading centers and schools. But most rural communities are best served by protected springs or shallow wells which are less expensive and so are easier for the community or maintain themselves. One way of looking at biggest impact is how long a water system will last which is most often a question of the ability of the community to maintain the source, including finding a mechanic that can maintain/repair it and finding spare parts available and affordable locally. These are some of the biggest challenges and the factors that are most likely to determine a source’s sustainability.

Are there aspects of water sanitation that have been implemented in communities, that still are not functioning to their full potential and can be improved?
Are they perhaps functioning to a lesser degree in some parts, more than others for specific reasons? The systems are installed to their fullest potential but if a community does not maintain it then it will soon be operating at a lesser capacity, either in terms of quality or quantity. Communities don’t always maintain the source well due to poor/lack of training, lack of spare parts, or poor monitoring and support.

What systems or techniques of water sanitation, if any, are still unexplored and perhaps may have potential?
There are a lot of new technologies that are always coming out. The biggest challenge that Lifewater has observed in ending the global water crisis isn’t’ new technology but rather helping people maintain the safe water system after it is installed. If governments and NGOs continue installing new systems without doing more to help the community maintain it, repair it, and replace it when it reaches its lifespan, then the water crisis will never end. Training and infrastructure (like systems parts stores and trained mechanics) are needed more than new technologies.

Do the communities you work with have nearby water sources?
An issue we have explored is water transportation to get the clean water back to their families. In some places we work the water is close to homes and transportation is less of an issue, other places like southern Ethiopia water is very far away.

Why are communities that do not have clean drinking water, still without?
For example, is it a matter of unique terrain or climatic conditions that hinder the same successful techniques used in other parts of the world that keep them from being implemented there? Or is it just a matter of funding? I would say the answer is twofold.
1) there are many communities who once had clean water and now they are without due to poor maintenance. As I previously answered, this is a critical shift that is needed to end the global water crisis,
2) as the percentage of the population without access to safe water gets smaller, that population will be people who are hardest to reach.

What logistics, political or social aspects are involved in the work that Lifewater does which may both aid and support, or hinder and provide setbacks to development?
Governments that don’t encourage handouts and societies that don’t expect them certainly support the sustainability of Lifewater’s work. Some governments forbid NGOs from giving away latrine slabs or they have systems set in place to encourage communities to pay for their water. Some governments also have invested more in training and certifying water mechanics, which also is beneficial for long-term water access. Generally populations that have experienced past relief work and are used to being given free support are less willing to invest their own time and money to improve the health of their communities.

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