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Access to Safe Water Never Loses Value

The writer is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Safe Water Network
The UN will be commemorating World Water Day on Monday March 22.

COVID precautions at Safe Water Network iJal Station in India. Credit: Safe Water Network

NEW YORK, Mar 20 2021 (IPS) - The global community is celebrating World Water Day 2021. In the COVID-19 pandemic era, the importance and value of water for all people has never been clearer. Access to safe water is essential for public health and thriving communities.

Before COVID, we knew that 4 billion people, or about two-thirds of the world’s population, face severe water scarcity at least one month every year. One of the most important defenses against the coronavirus, washing hands with soap and water, is out of reach for 2 out of 5 people worldwide simply because they do not have access to basic handwashing facilities.

As we reflect on World Water Day 2021’s theme of “valuing water,” we know that water is an essential part of human life and is experienced and valued in different ways across different cultures and communities.

One of the easiest ways to think about the value of water is by simply looking at the prices people are willing to pay for access and consumption. This market determination can be an effective reference point for understanding the value of any natural resource in a quantifiable metric.

Governments, national and local, place a related market value on water often by committing to various levels of subsidization to ensure their constituents have affordable access. Socially-conscious water organizations, like Safe Water Network, invest in optimization and ways to increase efficiency to drive down costs to keep water accessible at prices that enable communities to thrive.

Recent moves by governments to mandate free access to water during the COVID crisis have challenged the sustainability of the water sector.

New household connection customer in Nobewam, Ghana. Credit: Safe Water Network

Consumer demand is critical to the financial viability and longevity of a water system. Sustainable safe water has a price, and investing in markets within local communities to manage and distribute water drives a strong sense of ownership and encourages self-sufficiency over the long term.

Safe Water Network’s oldest running small water enterprise in India, the Nizampally iJal Station, recently celebrated 10 years of operation. Over the last decade, it has served as a template for the hundreds of additional iJal Stations that have been launched in the state of Telangana since. Its longevity is a testament to Nizampally’s desire and capability for community management.

Small business owners, restaurateurs, and beverage producers place their own value on water when they are able to build trust with their customers by using clean water in the food and drinks they produce.

When these business owners are able to locate their operations near a reliable source of safe water, they are also able to cut costs when they can avoid hiring people to fetch water from a distance. For example, restaurant operator Martha Kumi of Asikuma, Ghana, used to hire individual water vendors to fetch up to 2000 liters of water a day from a hand dug well 3 kilometers away for food preparation and cleaning—a major business expense.

With safe water available 24/7 at her place of business, she is able to hold onto more revenue and increase her profits.

Water is valuable to a community in a myriad of other ways beyond market prices and business practices. Equitable access to safe water ensures that people are able to expend energy on other priorities in their lives beyond meeting this essential human need.

Clean water is crucial in the areas of health service and public health. Doctors and other health professionals are able to deliver better and more efficient health service to their communities.

During the COVID crisis, soap and water have been a core pillar of effective disease prevention practices and essential for essential health workers to maintain sanitary working conditions and their personal protection routines.

When a healthcare facility has a reliable source of safe water, patients can trust that proper cleaning practices are in place and are able to receive care without bringing their own water. This trust is particularly important for major medical procedures when access to clean water is vital for cleanliness and better health outcomes, including for pregnant women who would otherwise need to transport their own water to delivery.

Martha Kumi, restaurant owner. Credit: Safe Water Network

Access to clean water is valuable for all communities, but in the COVID-19 pandemic era, direct connections and automated water ATMs allow for convenient and safe use of water while maintaining necessary social distancing. In one community in Ghana’s Ashanti region, 500 households have been connected by Safe Water Network since the start of the pandemic, with many families willing to pay small upfront connection fee if it meant they could reduce their risk to COVID-19 exposure outside of the house.

Household connections to safe water also provide value for education, when both teachers and students are able to access water conveniently at home or at school, saving time otherwise spent fetching water from a distant source, enabling more regular attendance of classes and effective engagement in teaching and learning.

An August 2020 joint report by UNICEF and the WHO revealed that 1 in 3 schools around the world had either limited drinking water service or none at all before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During COVID-19, the value of water has become strikingly obvious for public health. But water is valuable to all of us for many reasons and sustainable access to safe water is necessary for communities to thrive. Safe Water Network is working to bring a proven model of small water enterprises to millions of people in India and Ghana.

On this World Water Day 2021, let’s recommit to meeting the vision of Sustainable Development Goal 6 of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. We have a long way to go before achieving this ambitious goal, but we must prioritize and invest in sustainable water models.


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