WaterAid”    Peter Watson 15th August 2019

 “ Clean Water, Decent Toilets, Good Hygiene”

 In the Gents’ toilet at our venue, Christ Church Fulwood, there is a notice show­ing the facil­ity we use is ‘Twinned’ with a rather charm­ing thatched lat­rine in Zambia.  It is a reminder that we tend to take our clean­wa­ter supply for wash­ing and cook­ing, san­it­a­tion, and sewage dis­posal for gran­ted. All is provided con­veni­ently and reli­ably to our house­holds at probably-if metered and paid by Direct Debit- less daily cost than the price of Costa Coffee.

Our Speaker this week, Peter Watson, gradu­ated in Ecology from Bristol University in 1973.   He worked as a water and san­it­a­tion engin­eer for number of Water Authorities and com­pan­ies includ­ing Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Anglia.  For the last ten years of his career Peter delivered water and waste water train­ing courses, and the National Hygiene train­ing and assess­ment require­ments to water com­pan­ies’ and allied staff. 

After retire­ment, Peter wondered how he might put his work­ing life­times exper­i­ence to bene­fit others. He went on to share how his interest was aroused and how he in turn now volun­teers as a speaker to arouse, inform and update others.

Lala and her water­bucket” 

Peter con­tras­ted our lives in the UK –where we use an aver­age of 138 litres of water per head each day- with com­munit­ies  in the third world. Our speaker gained our atten­tion with a number of har­row­ing photos of urban slum and rural priva­tion. People using prim­it­ive lat­rines or earth holes which fre­quently foul water sources spread­ing such con­di­tions as Cholera and Dysentery.  On the encour­aging side, we were shown what a dif­fer­ence the install­a­tion of decent sus­tain­able if some­times low tech facil­it­ies can make (see photo at top, taken in Nigeria).  We were amused by the pic­ture of a bicycle adap­ted to pump water!   But it was the photo and story of Lala  in Zambia  which I will always recall. This young child was only four years old and one of seven sib­lings.  She had to walk four miles twice a day to carry twenty litres of water that her family needs every day. Think of the impact of all that weight, borne for per­haps two hours or more per day, on her young body. And the time wasted that could have been put to more pro­duct­ive use such as early edu­ca­tion and when older, eco­nomic activ­it­ies and skills.

While a number of agen­cies such as Oxfam had earlier involve­ment in hand­ling emer­gency situ­ations there was, by the 1980s, a grow­ing need for a more coordin­ated inter­na­tional approach with a strategy and resources to deal and find solu­tions to mat­ters on a long term basis.  It was clear that the world’s pop­u­la­tion was grow­ing and urb­an­ising rap­idly: 3 Billion in 1980 has grown to 7 Billion today. Growth for the remainder of this cen­tury was likely to be greatest in parts of Asia, Latin America and espe­cially, Africa.  Water usage was grow­ing as living stand­ards rise together with irrigation/agricultural output to feed the expand­ing pop­u­la­tion. Even today one in nine of the world’s pop­u­la­tion has no clean water, one in three has no decent toilet and one child in two dies because of unhygienic con­di­tions.

Poverty and lack of food and basic facil­it­ies can, of course, affect both men and women: but it’s the latter that seem to come off worse. Peter emphas­ised that men­stru­ation is a key area where pro­jects by his char­ity assist girls and women.  Privacy provided by a decent toilet, along with edu­ca­tion and raised aware­ness. Both can make the dif­fer­ence to encour­age a girl to stay at school.

These con­cerns about water supply and its impact on health and eco­nomic growth in an increas­ing number of third world coun­tries were the sub­ject of the ‘Thirsty World’ London Conference in 1981. WaterAid was set up as a char­ity shortly after­wards involving sev­eral UK water com­pan­ies who offered both resources and expert­ise to provide sus­tain­able pro­jects in needy nations such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and others. While many pro­jects are small, some are large, such as the Dolaka enter­prise in Nepal which bene­fits 30000 people.  The land­scape is moun­tain­ous.  It might be good for sight­see­ing but not so good if you have to climb a dif­fi­cult ter­rain and the carry it back to your house!

 Under the Presidency of Prince Charles, the ‘Wateraid’ concept has spread to sev­eral other ‘giving ‘coun­tries includ­ing Australia, Canada Sweden and USA.  In 2010 the organ­isa­tion became a fed­er­a­tion work­ing with 34 ‘receiv­ing’ coun­tries. WaterAid receives its fund­ing from Water Companies’ (in response to a ques­tion vol­un­tary levies from cus­tom­ers), dona­tions, fun­drais­ing events (includ­ing Glastonbury) and gov­ern­ment aid grants.

Looking to the future, WaterAid is one of the part­ners with the United Nations Millennium Development ini­ti­at­ive which is seek­ing to improve the lives for dis­ad­vant­aged peoples by 2030. While it is estim­ated that 1.4 bil­lion have benefited to date from there are many chal­lenges ahead.