Water. Our most precious resource, essential to the existence of every living thing on the planet, yet all too often out of reach of over 1/3 of the world’s population.
1 out of every 4 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease, and in developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.
In rural villages in Malawi, a country with a population of over 15 million people, communities are entirely dependent on wells for clean water. Each well services roughly 200 to 300 villagers, and can cost up to $30,000 to build.
However these wells often break, becoming inoperable and leaving whole villages without access to clean water. The average lifespan of the donut-shaped rubber piece that rubs against the pipe to create water flow is only about 3-5 years.
In addition, most of the time these wells are drilled by foreign companies and there is no reliable service for maintenance and repair when the pumps stop working. Many wells need repair within a matter of months after installation, and locals are forced to return to the endless and often fruitless search for potable water.
A broken well increases a village’s dependency, as they are left at the mercy of raising exorbitant amounts of money and relying on outside groups to come and rebuild.
Enter the Malawi Well Repair Project, courtesy of co-founder Dr. Jan Snyder, ASU professor and president of Sustainable Resources Ltd. Snyder discovered that the wells could be fixed with a few basic tools, some rope, and a $5 piece of rubber.
The MWRP encourages the participation of local community members. Local residents learn how to maintain and repair their wells, and after receiving the proper training, can then launch small businesses and offer their services to nearby villages.
The impact of the MWRP results in self-sustainability; communities are empowered fiscally through small business entrepreneurship and are trained in a skill set that can be shared with other groups. More importantly, the village itself possesses the ability to supply clean water for its people and for surrounding communities.
When communities can rely on existing wells that are repaired and maintained locally, dependence on external relief will be reduced and development efforts will indeed become sustainable.