One in five people live without safe water.

Yet here in New Zealand, clean water is so plentiful and easily available that we simply take it for granted. In the world’s poorest countries, ill-health from drinking dirty water is one of the most serious threats to human life. Despite great improvements, diseases caused by unclean water and inadequate sanitation claim the lives of over one million children each year. Most cases can be prevented or treated. In the absence of safe water and sanitation, people find it impossible to escape the downward spiral of poverty and disease. A lack of water and sanitation strongly impacts on the fulfilment of other human rights, such as health, work and an education.
  • Water is key to health and quality of life.
  • Water is key to escaping poverty
  • Water is key to sustainable development
  • The right to water is essential for equality
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has established water as a human right, which Oxfam strongly supports. In itself, this will not bring about universal access to safe, clean water, but it puts an obligation on governments all over the world to make sure people have sufficient, affordable, accessible and sustainable safe water and sanitation services. Oxfam supports governments and local communities with training and infrastructure, ensuring that the local people can operate and maintain their own water services. In this way, everyone’s right to a reliable and lasting supply of clean water can be achieved.

Life without safe water

Without a safe source nearby, women and children in particular spend a great deal of time collecting water. For women this means less time spent working and caring for their children; for children it means less time for schooling. Without basic sanitation, many women are forced to wait until darkness falls in order to relieve themselves with at least some privacy, putting themselves in considerable danger. Many families living in poverty spend a significantly greater proportion of their income on water than do those in developed countries. Prices paid to water vendors in developing countries are often ten times more than the tap price. When water and sanitation are provided to communities they can begin to spend their insufficient incomes on food, healthcare and education.

Sustainable solutions

Often the solution to providing safe drinking water is not complicated – the engineering requires just some know-how, a few materials and a bit of hard work. The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme uses technologies that:
  • are affordable
  • are appropriate to local conditions
  • use water efficiently
  • use local materials
  • local communities can operate and maintain in the long term
Deciding which technologies to use depends on a community’s specific needs and the water sources available in the area. Often the solution to providing safe drinking water is not complicated – the engineering requires a little know-how, a few materials and a bit of hard work. Some examples of the technologies used by Oxfam and its partners: Rainwater harvesting Collects water from the roof and stores it in a tank. One of the cheapest ways of collecting safe drinking water. Easy to maintain. Most suited to areas with high, even rainfall. Borewell/Tubewell A narrow, deep hole that reaches down to groundwater with a hand pump to draw water to the surface. Useful where rainfall is low and there are no other sources of water. More expensive and complicated to build and maintain but, if constructed well, supply high quality and plentiful water all year round. Dugwell A large diameter well about 5 – 10m deep, depending on the depth to the water table. Covered to prevent contamination. Sometimes fitted with a hand pump but usually water is collected using a rope and bucket. Cost effective and easy to maintain but susceptible to contamination from dirty buckets and objects falling in. Gravity Feed Systems Water piped from a protected spring or river located above where a community lives. The water flows down to communal taps. While this type of water supply is usually plentiful and of good quality, it is only possible where the water is nearby, otherwise piping will be too expensive. Conflict between landowners at the water source and the end users can sometimes be a concern. Ferro-cement water tanks Made using cement reinforced with wire and chicken wire. Use few materials, are easy to construct and more durable than other types of tanks. Keep water cooler. Can be constructed locally, bringing much-needed employment and new trade skills. Apron and soak pit An apron is the concrete area surrounding any waterpoint such as a well or tap. It drains water away from the waterpoint, preventing the build up of stagnant water that can attract mosquitoes. The water drains into a soak pit, which is a hole filled with gravel. The soak pit allows water to safely drain into soil where it can nourish the roots of plants and vegetables, making good use of the used water. Ventilated pit latrines The VIP latrine is similar to the pit latrine but has a pipe that takes away smells and insects. Insects are attracted to the top of the pipe, which is covered by a fly screen to stop them getting in. ATloo A specific type of VIP latrine developed by ATprojects, Oxfam’s partner in Papua New Guinea. The ATloo has a pedestal seat rather than a hole and has proven very effective in busy areas such as schools, as they’re much easier to keep clean and cheaper to repair. Percolation tanks Catch water in steep areas where runoff is too rapid to allow it to naturally soak into the soil and recharge the levels of groundwater on which many domestic water sources depend.

Killer facts

  • One billion people in our world live without safe drinking water.
  • Today, 2.6 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without basic sanitation.
  • Diarrhoea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
  • Dirty water is killing more people than wars and other violence.
  • There are over one million children dying every year from dirty water and poor sanitation.
  • When combined, safe water, sanitation and hygiene reduce the number of deaths caused by diarrhoea by 65 percent.
  • The minimum estimated amount of safe water every individual needs is 20 to 50 litres every day.
  • The average person in the developing world uses 10 litres of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. This is the same amount used in the average flush of a New Zealand toilet.
  • New Zealanders each use between 160-400 litres per day.
  • The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 20kg, the same as the average NZ airport luggage allowance.
  • 40 billion working hours are spent carrying water each year in Africa.
  • 443 million school days are lost due to water related diseases.
  • 11 percent more girls attend school when sanitation is available.
  • Oxfam projects providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene education cost on average just $45 per head.
Facts are taken from the following sources: United Kingdom Department For International Development, United Nations Children Fund, United Nations Human Development Report, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, World Health Organization, World Water Assessment Programme.

Your support can go a long way

  • $35 can provide a tap stand so five families can access safe drinking water.
  • $80 can provide fittings for a village water system.
  • $95 can help provide a cement base for a shower for five families.
  • $250 can help train local villagers to educate their community in the health risks associated with open defecation and unclean water

Give the gift of safe water

You can do something. With your gift of $50 you can help bring safe water to those who so desperately need it.