Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with feces, according to the World Health Organization, and 842,000 deaths from diarrheal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene.
Poor water, sanitation and hygiene are major contributors to neglected tropical diseases like schistosomiasis, trachoma and intestinal worms, which affect more than 1.5 billion people every year.
One Oklahoma City-based organization is trying to change that. Water4 provides clean water to developing areas by teaching residents how to drill, make and install water wells/pumps, and, more importantly, how to maintain them and teach others.
What makes them truly different is that they not only drill wells, but they also teach communities how to maintain those same wells. In addition, the people they train go on to train other communities, making for a more sustainable solution to the water crisis in developing countries.
Water4 started in 2008 after Richard and Terri Greenly, owners of Pumps of Oklahoma, went to China to discuss water issues and realized that clean water was an issue globally. Clean water would open doors that were normally closed to international humanitarian efforts
In Africa, for instance, water pumps that were provided by the United Nations—expensive, complicated creations—mostly failed after 11 months of use. The villagers couldn’t repair them, and the pipes were too heavy to get out of the ground. All over Africa stand the corpses of once-functional water wells.
Unlike the complicated and heavy wells drilled in the past, the Water4 wells are dug manually, using PVC pipe. Instead of spending up to $20,000 for wells and pumps that would break in 11 months, Water4 instead recruits and trains locals in manual drilling techniques and maintenance.
The average well cost for Water4 is $1,900, but the organization invests much more than just a hole and the hardware. It trains the community to take care of the well and to take care of themselves through a sanitation and hygiene program called WASH.
The last few years, Water4 has been refining its process with a focus on having every person, school and clinic have clean, accessible water in every community in all 14 countries Water4 works in.
"We asked ourselves what would happen if we picked an area that was small enough to do but big enough to matter and tackle the water issue for good by making it sustainable forever," Mitchell says. "We are at the point where we have a goal to have at least one county or district in all 14 countries free of a water crisis by 2030."
Water4 knows it can't solve the world's water crisis on its own, so it hopes to inspire other water organizations to think differently and see there is a better way to solve the water crisis.
To help them reach that goal, Water4 will host the inaugural Walk 4 Water from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 5 at Wheeler Park in Oklahoma City. They aim to raise $250,000 for water projects this year.
"People in developing countries have to get up in the morning and walk for miles and for hours to get to a water source while carrying a 5-gallon bucket that can weigh 40 pounds while full," Mitchell says.
Participants in Walk 4 Water will do the same thing, he says. The 3-mile walk begins with people carrying an empty 5-gallon bucket. Halfway through, they must fill the bucket with water and walk the remaining way.
"We wanted to do something that lets people experience what that is really like," he says. "Everyone knows that people in developing countries have to walk miles for water, but they get to actually experience it on a personal level now."
The event isn't just hauling water and walking. Food trucks, entertainment, music, hand pump replicas and more will also be available for the family-friendly event. What's more, the event is free.
"We wanted to keep it free with the hopes that as many people will sign up and then share it with their friends to support the walk," Mitchell says. "We hate being 'the best-kept secret' in Oklahoma. People have no idea that an organization like ours exists in Oklahoma City. For 10 years now, we've helped 1.3 million people get access to clean water and our teams have completed over 5,000 water projects. And that happens here from Oklahoma City."
For more information or to sign up for the Walk 4 Water, visit Water4.org/Walk.