Access to clean water not only restores health but also opens doors to educational opportunities and a promising future. In this interview, we hear about water communications from within World Vision, an NGO with more than five decades of work in water, sanitation and hygiene. As part of his role as VP of Water, our interviewee Dr Greg Allgood directs the communication into the organisation’s water efforts.
Question: How do you think communication in relation to water and development has evolved in recent years?
Answer: Awareness has increased dramatically in the early 2000s following several major natural disasters, including the Southeast Asia tsunami and the Haiti earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak. With each of these disasters, water was a critical need, and so it was thrust into America’s psyche. This has been supported by significant, measurable progress. In the last 20 years, more than 2 billion people have been reached with clean water. World Vision has been a part of this effort as the number one non-governmental provider of clean water, reaching one person with clean water every 10 seconds.
Q: Why do you think it is important to communicate about water?
A: It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to save a life as far as cost-effectiveness. Every day nearly 1,000 children die from diarrhoea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation and unsafe hygiene practices. And the search for clean water is robbing women and girls of their futures. Women and children in the developing world walk a combined 200 million miles a day. When we bring in clean water, we see it transform entire communities.
Q: What are the most challenging aspects of communicating about World Vision’s work?
A: WASH involves not only clean water, but also handwashing education and sanitation. However, it’s often hard to get people to understand the importance of that part. But the onset of the coronavirus changed things dramatically. Now handwashing for disease prevention is being talked about constantly by our public health officials, in PSAs and on posters. This has allowed us to make significant progress in this area in a short time. For example, we’re partnering with the government of Rwanda to install handwashing stations in 49 hospitals, 250 health care centres, 250 schools, and 209 places of worship.
Q: Could you highlight one of your organization’s communication success stories?
A: We had committed to bringing water to 800 facilities in the next three years. This all happened prior to the coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic hit and the focus turned to frontline healthcare workers, we were able to show through our research that in rural areas where we work, half of the healthcare facilities didn’t have access to water on premises, and 84 percent didn’t have soap and water for basic handwashing to protect them and their patients. This really resonated with people and with the support of foundations and individual donors, we’ve already completed more than 80 percent of our goal.
Q: Who or what organization inspires you when it comes to ways of communicating?
A: Studies show one of the biggest barriers to people giving to international development is that donors feel like they can’t make a difference because the problem is too big and intractable. The government of Rwanda was able to turn this on its head. They’ve been working in partnership from the national government all the way down to the local mayors telling people about the importance of water and helping to make it sustainable. Their work has allowed us to commit to bringing clean water to everyone, everywhere we work in Rwanda within the next two years.