Have you ever been really thirsty? It's not a good feeling. When you and I experience momentary discomfort like this, we can only begin to imagine what it might be like to live with thirst—every day. Thankfully, we can turn on the tap and get a drink any time.
Khaira Abdi knows what real thirst is. Searching for water consumes her entire day. The mother of three treks back and forth to a storage pond in her village of Amuma, hauling 40-pound jerry cans to her family—every day. The water pan is the only source of water in Amuma, a Kenyan town near the Somalia border in the drought-prone Horn of Africa region.
"Here, there is no well. We'll be in trouble just like before if rain doesn't fall soon," she said, straining to lift another jug from the murky, shallow water pan.
Khaira is not alone. In this culture, collecting water is seen as a woman's job. Men take care of the herds, so mothers often have no choice but to leave their children unsupervised while they collect water. "Residents trek for miles to reach a well, some as far as 27 kilometers (17 miles)," said a young man named Abdullahi, who lives in a nearby village.
Women spend between one and three hours a day collecting water during the rainy season, but up to 9 hours a day during the dry season. That's a full-time, exhausting job.
Sicknesses are spread easily because people lack not only clean water, but basic hygiene and sanitation. Only 22% of households in Amuma have a latrine. The majority of people defecate in the bush.
Africa, diarrhea is
now the single
biggest killer of
children under 5.
–World Health Organization
"Whenever it rains, you can see feces around the compound, and the water flows to the pond where we get our water. That water becomes harmful," explains Haret Ahmed, a father of eight. "Toilets will prevent that."
There's another problem, according to Amuma Chief Abdikadir Buno Abdi. "We depend on stagnant, dirty water," he said with a look of concern on his face. "The water is now dense. It is even changing color."
The village chief knows that dirty water leads to sickness.
One in three children in this area suffers from diarrhea. Nearly the same number, 28%, are sick with fever—most likely from malaria. Intestinal parasites and trachoma (a dangerous eye infection spread by flies) are rampant.
None of this is pleasant to think about, but you can see how disease spreads in this environment.
Together, we can reach families like Khaira's, and others, with clean water and better health. Her children can drink freely from a well flowing with fresh, safe water. They can have privacy, dignity and safety with a new latrine. And they can understand the message of hygiene and the importance of washing their hands.
Water is life. And this new life starts with you and me deciding to do something about it.