Nothing Alone

A 15-minute decrease in one-way walk time to water source is associated with a 41% average relative reduction in diarrhea prevalence, improved anthropometric indicators of child nutritional status, and a 11% relative reduction in under-five child mortality.

Quote and statistics from: Pickering, A. J. & Davis, J. (2012). Freshwater Availability and Water Fetching Distance Affect Child Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental Science and Technology. 46: 2391-2397.

All it takes is bringing a water source 15 minutes closer to a child’s home to transform their life in radical ways. In fact, even 5 minutes closer will impact their life by a 14% relative reduction in diarrhea. The impact on a child’s life is profound: they gain time, health, and no longer carry heavy loads over long distances (remember, water weights 1 kilo per 1 liter, or  8.4 pounds per gallon). As I read this article in Environmental Science & Technology, I found more data to support the work we do. Yes, these impacts are intuitive – it makes sense because I see healthier children and I see more children at schools as I walk through rural villages. But there is more. From other research and my experience in the field, I know that there is no silver bullet.

The most effective programs target more than just one thing, letting each success compound other gains. This is why we design programs that not only increase access to water, but also teach hygiene and sanitation. This is why we target not just traditional leaders, but primary schools, mothers, pastors, and community health workers. Buried inside the discussion of this article, we find that a decrease in walk time had a “greater impact on child health in households with access to sanitation.” Yes, distance and access to water are critical factors in increasing child health, but the health gains are greater when there is access to sanitation. Nothing stands alone as a silver bullet; each piece is an important part of this complex puzzle. These are just some of the factors influencing program design, the details behind every picture and statistic and story that we tell. This work is complex and beautiful, and transforms the lives of thousands of children every year.