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What you should know about water in the developing world

A woman fills a jerry can full of clean water she’s collected from a well.

A woman from Benin fills her jerry can full of clean water that she has collected from a well.

Did you know that a lack of clean water leads to 2.2 million deaths every year? It’s true. Water and sanitation are crucial to the health and well-being of children and families all over the world – it’s something everyone shares in common, no matter where you’re from.

But accessing water and sanitation is completely different in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries. To understand just how challenging it can be, we’re clearing up some of the misconceptions about water and sanitation in the developing world:

Myth: Digging wells and providing clean water is a simple project.

The truth: Ensuring families and communities have access to clean water is a big part of what we do at Plan, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

  • First, you have to locate a suitable site to dig a well, because hand dug wells can only be developed in places where the ground is not too hard and the water table is relatively high.
  • Next, you need to source the labour and materials to dig the well.
  • Then construction begins, working closely with community members, local government officials and other partner organizations.
  • After you find a place to dig and build a well, you also need to deal with its use and care in the community and be sure the well is properly maintained for the long term. Plan helps establish and train a Community Water Management committee in the communities where we work to oversee the upkeep and distribution of the water.

It’s often a long process to ensure everything runs smoothly, but worth every ounce of clean water.

Myth: Once a well is built, it’s all you need to ensure everyone stays healthy in the community.

The truth: Yes, clean water is essential to the survival of all humanity, but without proper sanitation and healthy hygiene habits in place, water-related deaths will continue to occur. According to the United Nations, access to sanitation, the practice of good hygiene, and a safe water supply could save up to 1.5 million children every year.

That’s why Plan often employs a Community-Led Total Sanitation methodology in many of its water and sanitation projects. This approach helps educate and mobilize communities to improve their sanitation and hygiene practices like washing hands, and encouraging the construction of safe toilet facilities for local families. The use of these facilities and hygiene habits, coupled with improved clean water supplies can drastically enhance the health of children and families.

Children gather around a bucket of water as their teacher shows them how to wash their hands.

Children at an early childhood development centre in Uganda learn the importance of washing their hands.

Myth: Everyone is entitled to free sanitation – it’s their human right.

The truth: Yes, safe sanitation is a human right, but it does not come free. That means people must contribute financially for greater access to their own sanitation. Therefore, families must invest money to improve their household facilities, like building improved latrines.

Myth: Worldwide, most people use toilets to relieve themselves

The truth: 2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean and safe toilet. In fact, 15% of the world’s population practices open defecation – that’s over 1 billion people. That means people are relieving themselves in the open, often in bushes, forests, streams and rivers. Though the numbers have dwindled in the last decade, open defecation still persists, with the majority of cases occurring in rural communities.

Going in the open affects the entire community. When human waste is released in the community, whether in the bush or near a water source, harmful germs will spread. Open defecation can lead to various diseases, cause stunting in the physical development of children, and cause severe diarrhea – one of the leading causes of death in children under five. To prevent open defecation, Plan works with communities to raise awareness on the risks associated with the practice, promoting an open defecation free community. We also work to improve the household sanitation and build public latrines.

You can help transform the lives of children and everyone in their community.