While clean water for hydration, hygiene, and even recreation is accessible to nearly everyone in the United States, 36 percent of households in the African nation of Rwanda do not have access to clean drinking water within about 500 yards of their home.
Global Water for Sustainability (GLOWS), a program started by the School of Environmental Arts and Sciences at Florida International University, has brought clean drinking water to more than 20,000 people in Tanzania, and it’s in the process of doing the same for Rwanda.
The water program aims to “promote the integrated management of water resources and aquatic resources worldwide,” according to its mission statement. With success stories dating to 2005, Global Water for Sustainability has spread to eight countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe.
FIU’s partners in the water consortium include USAID, World Wildlife Foundation, CARE, and WaterAid America. Together, these programs work with scientists, government officials and students to create innovative ways to bring water to these sanitation-limited countries.
Vivienne Abott, program director in Tanzania, was able to witness that country’s progress, but says the discovery of a new well-drilling tool will extend success throughout the world.
“Scientists have discovered a new drilling tool that only costs about $20,” Abott said. “It is still in its infant stages but we have hired scientists to make this tool readily available. I’m certain it will be a success.”
Abott’s specific program, and perhaps the most recent success story of Global Water for Sustainability, seeks to increase access to sustainable water supplies for poor rural and small-town dwellers.
But Abott said that the root of the problem must be addressed.
“We’re trying to take a much more holistic view of the management and use of water,” Abott said. “Many programs focus only on water supply or water resource management, but very few programs try to take a more holistic view.”
The holistic approach requires working with the government to teach them the ways to keep their water clean and drinkable, making it important to work with sanitation people.
Abott’s team works with the local water sanitation program there and trains the workers on how to maximize their supply of clean water. Abott said before they arrived in Tanzania, there were only about five people employed in water sanitation.
“In America, we use water to drink, to clean ourselves, and even to wash our cars,” Abott said. “Most people don’t have that advantage.”
Miriam Shotadze, program director for Global Water for Sustainability in the country of Georgia, said that sometimes natural resources are readily available but the lack of environmental laws cause what may have been potable water to be severely polluted. Her program aims to make these types of laws clear, so they can be enforced.
“We work closely with the local communities to come up with priority interventions to help,” Shotadze said. “This could include plans for emergency irrigation.”
Shotadze’s program started in September 2010 and is a six-year project. By then, Shotadze and her team hope to make a lasting impression. They seek to do this by “empowering local communities and authorities” through local governance — in ways that allow the rural population “to advocate for change that betters their lives,” according to the project brief.
Other programs directed by Global Water for Sustainability are just taking off, but their directors say they hold promise.
David Mutekanga, program director in Rwanda, hopes to bring clean drinking water to 86 percent of households by 2012, but said the access to clean water will have a domino effect.
“Providing clean water will also help with food security, as Rwanda has rain-fed agriculture,” Mutekanga said. “Their crops are vulnerable to climatic variations.”
Abott also stressed that if other issues arise, Global Water for Sustainability will try to address them.
“My team also campaigned about the cholera outbreak, which is also related to clean water,” Abott said. “Education is the foundation. The more we educate, the better off these countries will be.”
Global Water for Sustainability also has projects in the Wakal River Basin of India, the Pastaza River Basin of Ecuador and Peru, and also in Kenya and Morocco.