Next Friday, 22nd of March, we celebrate the World Water Day. This year’s theme ‘Leaving no one behind’ focuses its attention on the access to water, hygiene and sanitation of the most marginalized groups in today’s society: women, children, refugees, indigenous people, among others.
For the occasion and to understand more about the challenges faced by NGOs and worldwide organizations whose daily work consists of bringing safe drinking water to the world’s most marginalized people, we have created a cycle of interviews to numerous entities, the first of which is World Vision.
We speak with Dr. Greg Allgood, Vice President of water for World Vision. His main tasks are to create alliances with corporations, foundations and individuals to allow this international organization to bring clean water to millions around the world.
Question: Firstly, we would like to know briefly your career path.
Answer: “My academic background is in water. Then for 27 years I was blessed to work at P&G, creating and leading their non-profit water program. We worked with more than 60 partners, including World Vision. That’s where I first got to know the organization. I saw World Vision’s work in more than a dozen countries over the years. I loved World Vision’s holistic model, not only addressing water, but working in an integrated way in partnership with the community to address their needs from water, to nutritious food, to education and economic empowerment. When I took early retirement from P&G, the only call I made was to World Vision. At the same time, the organization was starting to ramp up water work and they had decided they needed someone with a reputation in water. I was on their list, but they thought I would never leave my previous job. It’s incredible how it all came together – truly an answer to prayer.”
World Vision reaches one new person with clean water every 10 seconds
Q: What type of activities does World Vision carry out related to water and sanitation?
A: “World Vision reaches one new person with clean water every 10 seconds. We’re able to do it because of our unique community engagement model and our global footprint. While World Vision is the largest non-governmental water provider – we’re much more than a water charity. We address education, health, and economic development. And it all starts with water. One of the main things that makes World Vision unique is our community engagement model. We have boots on the ground, or sandals in the sand, in nearly 100 countries – many of the toughest to reach places with the greatest need. Because our staff lives where they work – and are part of that community - we’re able to develop the trust that’s needed to solve complex problems.
We invest an average of 15 years in a community – developing a long-term partnership. During that time our teams work side by side with community members, addressing the root causes of poverty. In this way we create solutions that last. An independent study conducted by the University of North Carolina examined water points in Ghana and showed that water points provided by World Vision had a higher rate of functionality than those provided by other non-profits. The difference is the community engagement that includes a water committee and charging a small affordable fee so there are funds available for ongoing operations, maintenance and any repairs that are needed.
We invest an average of 15 years in a community – developing a long-term partnership
Q: Out of these activities, which one would you highlight for its social impact?
A: “I would highlight the power of what happens when you bring clean water to women and girls. It not only saves lives, it also allows women and girls to have choices. It allows them to dream about the future. When you’re hauling water all day you don’t even want to dream about what’s next because what’s next every single day is hauling water. Women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours fetching water every day. To break that down, on average women and girls walk 6 kilometers every day to haul 40 pounds of water. This robs women and girls from a meaningful life. With clean water access, women and girls can get an education, start a business, dream about ways to improve their community. The type of change that can have a ripple effect across entire countries. We know that an educated women earns better income than an undereducated woman, and she spends a larger percentage of her income on food and school for her children. And we know women use their resources, including their voices, to change and improve their communities.”
Q: What are the main difficulties World Vision finds in providing access to clean water and sanitation?
A: “The logistics can be challenging – finding how to get water to the people who need it, whether it’s a pipeline, a borehole or some other method. But the knowledge gets better every day and now the frustration is that we know how to do this, and still every day nearly 1,000 children die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation and unsafe hygiene practices. We need to build awareness and get people excited so they join us to end the global water crisis.
We have made tremendous progress and it is within our grasp to solve the crisis by 2030
Q: What geographical areas does World Vision consider most challenging in relation to water, sanitation and children?
A: “Every place has its own challenges. Water problems – and the solutions -- can be very local. In places like Rwanda, Haiti, Honduras, it’s protecting natural springs. In Sub-Saharan Africa --Mali, Niger and Ghana -- it’s drilling and finding the water. Then you get to watch the dessert bloom. It’s no longer one size fits all. The key is to figure out what is the most sustainable water supply for that community. We’re bringing innovation – working with partners like Grundfos to provide solar mechanized systems into the system and allow for more people to get clean water than ever before. With this technology we’re able to bring clean water into homes, health clinics and schools.”
Q: Does World Vision collaborate with other NGOs, foundations, etc in water related projects?
A: “Absolutely. We have wide range of partnerships. One of longest lasting is with Conrad Hilton Foundation. They have partnered with us for more than 27 years. Now we’re both focusing on finishing the job and going into all districts to reach everyone with clean water and sanitation. We are collaborating with them to bring clean water to rural health facilities where is desperately needed. We partner with academic institutes like Drexel University, Desert Research Institute, and the University of North Carolina Water Institute to learn how to do our work better. We work with large private companies like Grundfos and P&G. And, we partner with other non-profits – for example, Sesame Street – where we use a Muppet named Raya to help teach children safe hygiene practices.”
Q: With regards to the World Water Day, why do you think it necessary to highlight the marginalized groups’ difficulty in accessing safe water?
A: “For us, there are many reasons – from an ethical and humanitarian perspective and our Christian faith. View this through any of those lenses and you have a moral obligation to help people who need it most. Especially when, as I mentioned, we have the knowledge to solve the global water crisis. And then from a community health standpoint, it’s important to help the whole community. What kills kids is often infectious diseases that are spread from germs. If you ignore some people in the community or only reach those who are easiest to access, those who are left out can spread the germs to others. You need to reach everyone in a community to keep the community safe and healthy.”
Q: And lastly, what do you think citizens can do to make the SDG 6 goal possible (ensuring access to water and sanitation for all)?
A: “Learn more about the global water crisis. We have made tremendous progress and it is within our grasp to solve the crisis by 2030. World Vision alone reaches one new person with clean water every 10 seconds. So the solution is there. The more people understand this, the more they will be inspired to leave this generational legacy. To eliminate one of the top preventable killers of kids.”