ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

What’s a litre of water worth to you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 15:36

While the average Australian consumes up to 220 litres of water each day, most of us don’t put much thought into where this water comes from or what it would mean to us if it suddenly wasn’t available. Sure, we’ve all experienced firsthand water shortages and the occasional water safety crisis, but the reality is that we wouldn’t be able to function if our taps stopped running.

Someone who does know what it’s like to live without a reliable source of clean water is Jane Nyamukunda of Mugadza village in Zimbabwe (pictured below).

Jane’s village has no running water supply. While there was once a well to provide water to her village, a lack of equipment, technical knowledge and financial support from the government led to this well becoming broken and unusable. The only alternative for Jane and other villagers was to make the 6km round trip to the closest river to gather water for her family. Only able to carry 20L of water per trip, Jane had to make at least four trips per day to meet the needs of her family of five. This activity took up most of her day, and left her with very little time for other household activities, earning an income, or spending time with her family. In addition to this Jane and her family would often fall sick from drinking river water, affecting their ability to complete daily tasks.

This situation is not unique to Jane’s village, with access to clean water a problem throughout Zimbabwe, and little being done by the government to improve the situation. This limited access to safe drinking water has had a significant impact on the health of Zimbabweans, with increased risk of contracting water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Since 2008, Zimbabwe has had a series of cholera outbreaks, resulting in almost 100,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.

Aware of this problem, ActionAid has been working to restore many of the dilapidated wells in the Makoni district, and building new wells where needed. In addition to providing new materials and pumps for the wells, ActionAid set up several well maintenance committees who regularly check and fix the wells in their villages. ActionAid also provided training to local members of the community on how to fix and maintain wells, so should repairs be needed someone is readily available.

For Jane, having a close, clean source of water has been a life altering change, as she now has time to put towards other things such as maintaining a vegetable garden and doing odd jobs for a supplementary income. She has also reported that she and her family have had fewer incidents of stomach infection since drinking from this new water source.

Access to clean water is a basic necessity and human right, and as part of our rights based approach ActionAid is committed to ensuring everyone has continued access to safe drinking water.

Today (22 March) marks the annual celebration of World Water Day, an international day to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water is at least 1.8 billion and water-borne diseases kill roughly 3.5 million people each year. These statistics are alarming, and the issue of access to clean, potable water is one that needs to be discussed and addressed by governments as soon as possible.