Clean Water Brings Better Health

Clean water brings better health

Residents of Makoor, Kerala, India, show the effects of years of drinking and cooking with highly fluoridated water.

The World Health Organization estimates that almost one-tenth of global diseases could be prevented by improving the water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and the management of water resources.

The citizens of Patari, a village in Uttar Pradesh, are among 25 million people in India alone who suffer the consequences of fluorosis, an irreversible condition caused by elevated levels of fluoride in drinking water.

The painful effects of fluorosis can include bone deformities, calcification of ligaments and tendons, and abnormal bone density.

“The fluoride, because of its strength, rots teeth and destroys bones,” says Maurice Halliday, past governor of District 1020 (Scotland). Rotary clubs in Scotland partnered with District 3110 (India) to provide fluoride filters to 60 families in Patari and sanitation, safe drinking water and hygiene training to surrounding schools.

The Rotary Foundation leverages local experience and professional know-how to help communities, like Patari, help themselves.

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from poor sanitation somewhere in the world. Although the world is making great strides to meet the Millennium Development Goal for access to safe water, the goal of sanitation is falling further out of reach.

Perched in the rugged mountains of central Ecuador, the village of Tingo Pucará seems an unlikely place for artistic inspiration to strike. But Tony Riggio never leaves his camera behind – and his photos from there illustrate what can happen when Rotarians and engineers team up on a water project.

Riggio, a watchmaker by trade, has been leading youth expeditions to Central and South America since 2001, when his daughter participated in a program of Builders Beyond Borders (B3), a nonprofit based in Connecticut, USA. Construction projects have included hurricane shelters in the Dominican Republic, bridges in Nicaragua, and day care centers and classrooms in Costa Rica. Water and sanitation are always primary components.

As a member of the Rotary Club of Westport, Riggio understands the global need for clean water and improved sanitation, one of Rotary’s six areas of focus. “People don’t believe what you tell them sometimes – that things are how they are in parts of Central and South America,” he says. “Water is such a precious commodity.”

In April 2011, Riggio traveled to Tingo Pucará – one of five B3 project sites across Ecuador that season – to build pipelines in a joint effort with the Peace Corps and Engineers Without Borders. The village stands at an altitude of 12,600 feet, with the nearest spring about 4,900 feet down a steep path. The engineers designed a pumping system to draw water from the spring-fed stream, and the B3 team, made up of high school students and adult advisers, worked with locals to install the pipes, which now bring running water to homes.

Shortage of running water
Historically, faced with a lack of potable water and arable land, the men of Tingo Pucará have headed to the lowlands to find work, leaving the women to transport water for cooking, washing, and drinking. Before the project was completed, the 26 village families had as little as 15 minutes of running water per month, sent from a neighboring area when available.

“When you talk to people in these communities, they are hoping you’re going to be the person who’s going to make this happen for them,” says Amy Schroeder-Riggio, executive director of Builders Beyond Borders and Riggio’s wife of 30 years, describing the review process for project proposals. “Their stories are so compelling. They talk about the health of their kids and why they need water, and the hardship” – especially for older women who must carry heavy buckets of water uphill.

Living and working alongside the community members, B3 students and advisers learn about service and living with less. They confronted an array of challenges in Tingo Pucará: cold nights, debilitating altitude, and a mile of pipeline trenches waiting to be dug.

“For our kids, that project was not very rewarding – until the last day, when we got to turn the water on,” Schroeder-Riggio says. “When you’re doing a water project, you are laying the pipe, you’re covering it over, and it doesn’t even look like you were there. But when they turn the water on and everybody’s crying, it’s an incredible moment.”

“That was the first time running water had been in that part of the village,” Riggio says. “Some of the children there had never seen water come out of a faucet.”

Riggio’s work with Builders Beyond Borders has also included larger sanitation efforts in Peru, as well as other South and Central American countries. B3 program manager Karen Meyer was a Peace Corps volunteer in Bernales when Riggio’s team arrived there in 2010. The group worked with Meyer and the Peace Corps to build 44 bathrooms in the densely populated and earthquake-ravaged community. Facilities ranged from standard sewer-connected toilets to pit latrines, composting toilets, and pour-flush toilets.

“People thought they had to have the best beautiful bathroom to be healthy, and they couldn’t afford it, so they would say, ‘I’m too poor to be healthy,’” Meyer recalls. “The two teams that came down made a huge impact.”

Collaborating with the worldwide networks of the Peace Corps and Rotary can boost credibility and facilitate relationships, Schroeder-Riggio says. In 2008, B3 built a school for hearing-impaired students in San Marcos, Guatemala, with help from a local Rotary club. This year, B3 teams will partner with the Rotary Club of Georgetown, Guyana, on five construction projects, including community centers and a sand bridge that will connect coastal islands to medical facilities.

“These organizations make the world go ’round,” Schroeder-Riggio says. “The heart of it is our kids. It’s about building character, their relationship with these leadership programs. It lines up nicely with Rotary.”

In honor of World Water Day, consider a special gift to The Rotary Foundation to help address the unique water and sanitation needs of communities across the globe.

You can direct your Annual Fund gift to SHARE, to help support the local and international activities identified by Rotary clubs in your community. Or, you can direct your gift to Rotary’s Water and Sanitation fund, to be spent on quality water and sanitation projects identified and implemented by Rotarians around the world.

Either way, your contribution will be used to fund high impact, sustainable solutions to our world’s most pressing needs.

Contribute here!

Share your ideas on Clean Water & Health, in approximately 100 words, and earn a Make-up

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