In most of the United States, water is not only accessible, it’s rarely more than few feet away: at home in the kitchen or bathroom, free flowing from public water fountains and swimming pools, packaged and sold in bottles of all shapes and sizes. This convenience makes it foreign to fathom — and easy to forget — that in much of the world, crisis looms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 844 million people in the world today lack access to a basic, sanitary drinking water source, with contaminated drinking water causing over 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths annually.

To bridge this gap and achieve WHO and Unicef’s goal of global access to safe water by 2030, leading WASH organizations, such as the international non-profit One Drop, have established a multi-pronged approach that promises sustainability by paving the way for self-reliant communities.

Improve access

Water is vital to all communities not only for drinking, but for cooking, cleaning, farming and beyond. It is needed not only in homes, but in schools, businesses and health clinics. Yet for 263 million people, reaching safe water means travelling over 30 minutes roundtrip, a burden which disproportionately falls on women and children.

Therefore the first step to combating the water crisis is developing or rehabilitating the infrastructure needed to deliver safe water to those who need it most. As One Drop’s efforts illustrate, need varies regionally. In Haiti, this meant constructing solar-powered community centers with showers, toilets and laundry facilities. In Nicaragua, the development of water reservoirs offers improved rainwater storage for use in the dry season.

Change behavior

Once structures are in place to bring water into a community, the next step in eradicating the disease and death that results from water and sanitation issues lies in implementing local water supply governance and best practices to prevent contamination. Just as critical is fostering improved hygiene practices as, in water scarce areas, basic sanitary measures such as handwashing often aren’t deemed a necessity.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly acknowledged that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right.

As One Drop’s efforts have revealed, social art is a powerful tool in empowering communities to repair their relationship to water. Through artistic workshops, all generations can engage with preexisting storytelling and artistic traditions as well as newer media, such as filmmaking, to educate and inspire others to change their behavior towards water issues. In Burkina Faso, over 100,000 people have already been reached through travelling performers and radio theater. In Odisha, one of the poorest states in India, 44 short films were produced about water and sanitation in the project’s four year span.

"It is clear to us at One Drop that access alone won’t solve the global water crisis and that’s why we try to bring an innovative and sustainable approach into all of our projects. Through our unique social art for behavior change programs, we involve the entire community and we tap into what will resonate within its existing cultures and beliefs to ensure the long-term functionality of WASH infrastructures as well as the adoption of healthy behaviors around water, sanitation and hygiene. With 13 projects on 3 continents we are certainly proud of what we are accomplishing; there is still tremendous work to be done and we are looking forward to improving the living conditions of more people around the world" said Veronique Doyon, Chief Program Officer for One Drop.

Increase capital

In Guatemala, as well as many of the other countries where One Drop is present, over 50 percent of the population lives below the country’s poverty line. When water is available from safer, more easily accessible sources, countless hours are freed for other activities, and the generational cycle of subsistence can be broken. 

Through a market-based approach of extending microloans to families and entrepreneurs, irrigation and sanitation technologies can be expanded, and control placed in the hands of the community. In El Salvador, Azula, an international microfinance fund, offered equal opportunity for male and female participants, leading to the consolidation and expansion of dozens of family gardens. In combination with loans for fish farming, the program continues to benefit not only individual families but the community at large. The project’s efficacy is also demonstrated by an astonishing 99.7 percent repayment rate.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly acknowledged that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right. Today, organizations and communities across the globe are partnering to ensure that this right is upheld, sustainably, for all future generations.