Before you give to water

"Today, more than 5000 bloggers from 130 countries are coming together for a single day of blogging about a single topic: water" Blog Action Day

I am one of those bloggers. Here is my skinny contribution.

I think it totally rocks that so many people are concerned with getting good water to the world's poor. And social media has made giving to water projects even simpler and quicker than buying a newspaper. Water is absolutely essential if we are concerned with people. Even Jesus talked about giving water to thirsty people, including himself on one occasion.

Last week I talked to a young guy [hi Jesse] who raised $14,000 for water. Fantastic!

Water has become somewhat of a money-magnet in the social enterprise world and millions of dollars are being channeled to water projects all over the globe and all this is good. Very good . . .

But I wonder if we have all the facts.
I wonder if all those wells we are building will be working in a year's time.
I wonder if those wells will actually be utilized by the villages they are intending to serve.
I wonder if all the money intended for water becomes water.

More than 50,000 rural water points in Africa (36% of the total) are non-functional. In Sierra Leone the figure is 65% (UNICEF)

And how will we know? I had this discussion last week in Durham NC with some people that are researching the connect [or disconnect] between funding for water and the actual water-to-mouth-quenching-thirst experience that it is hoping to purchase. They have found over 80 groups providing water to the thirsty and have some suggestions for best practices in this field.

"The estimated cost of universal access to Clean Water is $42 billion – the estimated cost of repairing existing infrastructure is $350 billion. So the problem isn’t going to go away" (WHO)

Dr Jonathan Mitchell, who was kind enough to have a coffee and chat with me last week, has some statistics on water that fundraisers don't want you to know. One of the statistics that makes you want to kick the dog [sorry pet lovers] is the amount of money that sits around in government piggy banks, waiting for the right moment to expend itself to solve the water problem. But when the end of the year kicks in, the money that was late to the party goes to  . . well . . . other parties. Maybe private parties? Who knows?

"In some countries 40% or more of government water and sanitation budgets are not spent – there are local resources lying unused" (Wateraid)

Source: Wateraid  [Download PDF]

The solution for people on the ground, says Dr Mitchell, is not to avoid the government but rather cooperate with them closely and assist them to do the right thing. In his words:

"Our dollars can leverage local funds if the organizations that do clean water take the time to coordinate with local governments and learn how to influence the right people.  There is often an assumption that government are totally corrupt and irrelevant which is silly.  Until communities learn to influence their political representatives and demand their share of local government resources, well intentioned and naive do-gooders will be trotting around doing the same work they are now." Dr Jonathan Mitchell, Give to Water [personal email to tallskinnykiwi, used [ha ha it incorrectly came out "sued" – my keyboard is dyslexic] with permission.

Dr Mitchell also suggests that charities and social enterprises who are building the wells post GPS coordinates of their wells online and invite the global community to check them out. Good idea. Geo-caching anyone? Water crawls? Well location art? Well games? The WAR OF THE WELLS?  . . .  makes the mind boggle.

So, giving to water is great and lets keep it up. In fact, check out Give to Water before you give so you can give more wisely. But lets also leverage our existing investment by encouraging transparency across the board.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.

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