Category Archives: Clean Water

Probably due to its inclusion in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (Goal 7, Ensure Environmental Sustainability), clean water and sanitation have improved markedly in many countries over the last 10 years. Despite this, we still face grave challenges in terms of ensuring Clean Water for everyone on the planet. For this indicator, I’m using data from the World Health Organization database..

Water Tech Wizardry

Clean WaterIn many fantasy stories, certain chosen individuals get special powers over various elements, usually fire, air, earth, and water. We are paying plenty of attention these days to the powers of fire (including nuclear power both weaponized and not, blowing things up with all sorts of explosives, and other sorts of combustion), air (all that carbon floating around), earth (farming, land-use, preservation, fracking), but water always seems to be the last element on the list.

But those old stories (as well as some new ones) are  hitting new nerves and some part of us is recognizing that taking care of our water sources is essential to our continued survival. And new kinds of magic are happening in our ultra-modern world.

One of the continuing frustrations of working in developing countries is that a charity will often go in, dig a well, install a pump, and then leave. A few years later the pump is broken and the people are no better off than before the charity arrived. Now, another solution is now on the horizon: smart pumps. Taking the communication even further, another group is developing a way for residents to call in the broken pumps via mobile phone.

Water_CanaryBut as the best myths and stories always tell us, the magical solution is really in the people. I’ve been hoping this next organization will get off the ground soon but it’s not quite there yet. Still, if Water Canary succeeds (or even if it hands over the reins to another organization who can take the idea forward), it will mean a huge step in the global care-taking of one of our most important resources. By crowdsourcing the testing of local water sources (giving individuals cheap, effective testing materials) relief organizations, governments, and people can work together to identify clean water sources and, at the same time, warn residents away from contaminated sources.

With the help of some technological wizardry, people across the planet are gaining access to clean water, and also learning to take care of this magical resource.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC


Sudan’s Water Key

“So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains,
And we never even know we have the key….” — “Already Gone,” The Eagles

This lyric sums up the recent revelation of massive and very deep water aquifers discovered under the northern part of Africa. (Huge’ water resource exists under Africa.) Specifically, the biggest source is under north-eastern Chad, throughout much of eastern and southern Libya, and under some areas of Darfur. (There is also a significant source under Mauritania and Western Sahara.)

In other words, droughts that the western Sudanese have been suffering through for years (only 57% of the population has access to improved water sources – CIA World Factbook), could have been largely mitigated by tapping into this resource. If the Khartoum government, instead of attacking, pillaging and raping both the land and the people, had invested in both people and sustainable land use, we could today be seeing a much greener vision of that area of the world. Instead, corruption, greed and extremism have prevailed, and we have a decimated landscape as well as population.

Darfur has fallen off the front page recently as the focus (as well as Sudan’s military) has shifted to the border with South Sudan, amid the north’s sudden frantic realization that the South has decided to take its petroleum toys and go play with other nicer, regional playmates, leaving Sudan without a significant source of previously reliable revenue.

But the problems in Darfur still persist. What can be done? The United Nations and African Union have some forces there, and some aid agencies have made progress, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to do. To truly effect change in the region will require a major political shift in those who control the country and that still seems a long ways off with President Omar al-Bashir firmly in charge despite the international pressures to alter that situation.

One organization that has been consistently working to raise awareness is Aid Still Required. They have been consistent in getting the word out about conditions in that inaccessible area. They also have a program, not yet launched, which could potentially help the people of Darfur tap into this vast water resource right under their feet. It’s called The Village Reforestation & Advancement Initiative (VRAI).

We’re unfortunately pretty far away from even beginning to implement such projects and there will be many, many projects of this type needed. But I will hold on to the hope that, like the untapped and powerful resource of this underground water,  the resource of empowered people in Darfur will eventually be released to rebuild their region and their lives.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. If you want to see an excellent documentary of exactly what has happened there (with footage the journalist and ex-Marine risked his life to get), watch The Devil Came on Horseback. You can see an excerpt here on Youtube: The Devil Came on Horseback excerpt. (Warning: includes some very graphic and disturbing stuff.)

Can Tech Both Old and New Avert the Coming Aquapalyse?

We all know it’s coming: the Impending Doom of the Global Water Crisis when we all end up in the “Mad Max” world where clean water is more valuable than gold. Many in the media and the environmental community are strongly on this dramatic bandwagon and we are bombarded with messages presaging the coming “Aquacalypse.”

And, yes, we are certainly facing some pretty daunting problems worldwide as our population increases, demand for arable farmland goes up, and certain industries (the new and as yet, unknown practices of the gas “fracking” industry come to mind) and countries (China is getting slightly better but recent spills indicate there are still massive problems), seem to be determined to ignore the issue.

But countering this dismal view of our blue planet’s future are some organizations and people working rather more quietly towards a better managed water future.

A very old technology as well as a simple, cheap and smart one is being used again as described here, Peru finds new solution to a very old problem. Fogtraps have been around for a long time (and even, apparently, in the distant future, making it into Frank Herbert’s epic Dune novels!) so it’s not really a “new” solution but it is ingenious, and it does make me wonder what other wisdom from ancient cultures we have not yet discovered. (Peru has a relatively decent rate, 84%, of access to clean water for its citizens, although, as the article says, they need to do better.)

In more recent years, a movement towards better management of our water resources with technology is also taking place. An Israeli company, TaKaDu, is using the latest in software technology to eliminate water waste and streamline existing public water infrastructure. One interesting quote from TaKaDu’s website says a lot: “Water loss, sometimes referred to as Non-Revenue Water (NRW), amounts to 25-30% of the world’s water production.” A lot of this is lost due to easily fixed problems like leaky pipes. Maybe one of the best solutions to the world’s water problems is as simple as calling your plumber.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Drops in the Bucket

As I mentioned in my previous entry on Clean Water, we’ve made some surprisingly decent progress over the last decade getting potable water to people all over the world. That said, we’ve still got a ways to go. Today’s Los Angeles Times had an article, Adding up the water deficit, on the slowly declining water resources in the American Southwest, the lack of preventative measures being taken, as well as the blunt possibility that there just may not be anything we can do about it if a natural “megadrought” comes along (which has happened in the past, decimating Native American communities living in vulnerable areas).

But sometimes people decide not to wait for the government, or anyone else, to fix things for them. I’ve come across some interesting solutions to water problems across the world recently, and thought I’d share:

We’re going to need a lot more of these kinds of solutions to get through the next 100 years or so, but I’m encouraged by the ingenuity of what people all over are coming up with. It would be great if some of our governments would follow their example.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Clean Water

When I look at the international aid community’s focus, at least as shown in the media, I am often struck by the emphasis on food, and not water. After all, we need both and in reality, water is the more important of the two — you can live much longer without food than without water. But when the mega-fundraisers take place, and the subsequent celebrities, development experts, and celebrity development experts are all trotted out onto the giant global media stage, the message is always, “More food.” (Part of the reason for this is, understandably, that “Clean water” is a more difficult thing to give: sending shiploads of food is much more tangible as well as impressive. Still….)

Fortunately, there has been a slight shift in this perspective over the last few years. I’ve noticed it mainly because there seem to be a few more aid organizations (charity:water, and LIFESAVER Systems among them) focused solely on water. Another factor is the inclusion of this as a component of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

With a recent and formidable increase in weather-related disasters (flooding, drought, tsunamis and hurricanes), economic and political turmoil (aid monies decreasing, infrastructures battered by conflict and corruption), you would think that the news on the water front would be pretty bad too.

Surprisingly, it’s not. Probably due to its inclusion in the MDG’s (Goal 7, Ensure Environmental Sustainability), clean water and sanitation have actually improved markedly in many countries over the last 10 years. I very happily discovered this when updating my “Water” numbers recently. I had been using 2001 figures because I couldn’t find anything earlier. Then, about a month ago, I found much more recent data from the World Health Organization database. I was amazed as I updated the numbers that many developing countries had improved their water and sanitation systems by 20, 30, even 50%!

Despite this, of course, we still face grave challenges in terms of ensuring Clean Water for everyone on the planet. (The current cholera outbreak in the Somali refugee camps in Kenya is a stark reminder.) But after updating those figures, I am quite hopeful.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC