By ERIC SONG and DANIEL SHIN
Maliki wakes up at 3 a.m. to the sensation of cobwebs entangled in his throat. He coughs and attempts to clear them, but is only met with the same searing pain he has grown so accustomed to in his dry, monotonous life. Upon realizing that his family’s liquid elixir had all vaporized in the Ugandan heat, Maliki grabs the family lifeline—the cool metal handle of his rusty water bucket—and sprints down a path he has taken every morning for the past seven years of his life: the path towards water. His routinely trek has become more of a necessity than a choice; without water, his family would not be able to wash, cook, and most importantly, survive.
On this particular day, however, the penetrating rays of heat get the better of him. Maliki collapses and is sucked into the abyss of victims killed not by dehydration, but by society’s ineffectiveness in dealing with a crisis so prominent in today’s world: the inaccessibility to clean water in developing countries.
Although countless NGOs and other environmentally driven organizations have invested billions of dollars into the construction of wells and proper irrigation systems in rundown third world countries, there is an apparent lack of progress. Most notably, in 2007 the World Bank invested $1.42 billion in a water project in Tanzania. The initial layout of this project was to grant 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites access to clean water by 2010 and continue this pattern until each Tanzanian citizen can enjoy the availability of safe water. However, the percentage of citizens with access to water has ironically decreased from 54 to 53 percent since the start of the project, as reported by World Bank in 2014. In other words, 3.8 million more Tanzanians lack access to clean water today than before the project began, painting a rather bleak picture for the future of water safety in countries like Tanzania.
If so much time and money is invested into improving the water-related infrastructures in developing countries, why is there a lack of proportionally significant changes? Why have project after project failed to leave a mark in the battle against the water crisis?
The first key factor lies within the concept of sustainable development. According to UNICEF, 75 percent of all wells drilled in Africa cease to function after five years. Thus, even if an average of $2000 are spent on each well, all investments become useless if such infrastructures are not properly maintained. In order to maximize the efficacy of their humanitarian efforts, NGOs should shift their focus to properly educating villagers on not only how to build wells, but also how to most effectively maintain them through periodic check-ups and routinely repairs. Also, in order to allow quick access to replaceable parts of a well, NGOs ought to pressure third world countries and governments to establish factories that produce components of wells that can be easily replaced.
Another significant factor is the adaptability of the solution. Although building wells is considered the generic solution to the water crisis, it is rather delusional to hope that such a simplistic solution will eradicate the breadth of the crisis. Instead, a study of each respective region should be conducted to take into account the differing geographical and cultural elements. One of the NGOs that have taken essential approach is Charity Water. The organization has implemented a wide variety of equipment, ranging from various rainwater catchments and piped systems to numerous water purification methods, in order to serve the individual needs of communities. Other organizations should not be afraid to follow suit with this course of action.
With these steps, time, money, and most importantly, lives will be saved. With the accessibility and practicality that the two solutions above provide, innocent children will no longer need to dwell upon the question of water. Then, Maliki can wake up at 3 a.m., not with tingling cobwebs down his throat, but with the reassurance that his magic elixir will never run dry again.