Prior to World Vision's initiative, residents of Fitiwalo, Ethiopia, had no choice but to walk for hours to retrieve filthy water that caused widespread illness.
Demekech's daughters rejoice as they play at one of the clean water access points installed by World Vision in their community of Fitiwalo, Ethiopia. Their ecstatic demeanors betray no sign of the dire situation these four children once faced — walking and waiting in line for hours just to acquire tainted water that made them sick. © 2007 Aklilu Kassaye/World Vision
In the United States, where constant access to safe, clean drinking water from the tap is considered standard, it's difficult to imagine hiking for miles across rough, unforgiving terrain — just to fetch water tainted with animal waste.
Yet this is precisely what villagers in Fitiwalo, Ethiopia, faced for years before World Vision's work in the community. Lack of a potable water source in this area about 80 miles southwest of Addis Ababa, the nation's capital, left local residents obtaining water from a turbid spring — located at least an hour's walk from the village and separated by steep, rugged hills.
It's a scenario repeated all too often in developing countries around the world. Globally, some 1.1 billion people have no source of clean water. Tackling this problem is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. These eight goals, agreed to by the world's leading countries and development institutions, form a plan to meet the needs of the world's poorest people, all by the target date of 2015.
Demekech Debele, a 38-year-old farmer and mother of four in Fitiwalo who is the sole income-earner for her family, can attest to the hardship of lacking a resource as basic and essential as water.
"Access to clean water was always a problem here," she says. "We and the cattle drank from the same spring water for years. The urine and dung from the cattle used to make the spring and its surroundings filthy and unhygienic."
She has four daughters — Genet, 17, Belele, 15, Chaltu, 13, and Ldiya, 11 — and none of them has avoided an experience with waterborne illness. Belele suffered from ascariasis, which sent her to the hospital; the other three were infected by amebiasis. Both parasites are spread by ingestion of fecal matter through contaminated water.
"They suffered from continuous abdominal pain, diarrhea, tenesmus, loss of appetite, and vomiting," says Demekech.
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An unpleasant, taxing responsibility
Meanwhile, Chaltu held the unenviable task of helping her mother fetch the putrid water from the distant spring each morning before school. It was a difficult and costly chore, she recalls.
"Whenever there was a long queue at the spring, I had to go to school so late and miss some classes," says the eighth grader. "As a result, I often scored low grades."
The enterprise wasn't any easier for her mother.
"I carried a large pot full of water on my back and moved the hilly way up home for [so] many years that my back still hurts," says Demekech. "Returning home after fetching water, I used to get so exhausted and find it too difficult to carry out household chores and other activities."
To make matters worse, the spring's water output declined drastically each year between December and May. During those months, it was often reduced to a trickle. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people had to wait in a long line to collect water.
"We had to stay a minimum of three to four hours to fetch a pot of water," recalls Demekech.
Easing the burden
Demekech's children happily jump rope at their school. Thirteen-year-old Chaltu, who was once forced to miss class just to go fetch disgusting water from a contaminated spring, now can focus on her education and future thanks to World Vision's installation of clean water access in the village.
© 2007 Aklilu Kassaye/World Vision
Recognizing clean water as a basic necessity — the absence of which perpetuates poverty and despair, preventing children from reaching their God-given potential — World Vision developed a new supply system for Fitiwalo in 2005. Constructed at a cost of nearly $50,000, the system includes four access points from which residents can acquire clean, uncontaminated water
. About 2,000 villagers now benefit from this development.
Dirbinesh Geletu, head of the health clinic in Fitiwalo, says her office once treated hundreds of cases of waterborne illness each year. "The spring water [the villagers] were making use of was unprotected. As a result, they were exposed to various waterborne diseases, including giardiasis, ascariasis, and typhoid."
Such is no longer the case, she says. "Our clinic is not crowded with waterborne diseases, as it used to be. [Now that] potable water is in place, the incidence of waterborne disease has decreased by 80 percent."
'I no longer miss class'
Currently, Demekech and her daughters can obtain drinkable water from their own home. "Long live World Vision," she says. "[My children and I] are drawing water from our home, and we no longer suffer from waterborne diseases and fatigue as a result of [long waits] at the spring."
Chaltu, whose education and future was once threatened for lack of a resource as basic as clean water, has found cause for renewed hope.
"I no longer miss class," she says proudly. "I go to school on time, and my grades are improving."
>> Read "Just Add Water,"
a World Vision Magazine feature that discusses water as a simple solution to poverty across much of West Africa.
>> View "Splashes,"
a World Vision Magazine slideshow documenting the powerful effects of clean water for children around the world.
>> Read an eNews article
about how World Vision-supported water projects have assisted children and adults alike in drought-ravaged areas of Southern Africa.
Two ways you can help
>> Praise God for the residents of Fitiwalo, Ethiopia, including Demekech and her daughters, who now have easier and more reliable access to clean, life-saving water. Pray for those around the world who still lack access to this necessity; in its absence, countless children are subject to a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and despair.
>> Help provide clean water to children around the world who need it the most. Your gift today will allow World Vision to bring life-saving assistance to communities devastated by waterborne illnesses spread through contaminated water supplies.