Getting fresh water to the disabled remains a challenge


A man fills a jerry can with clean water on World Water Day March 22, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. World Water Day recognizes the global need for water and energy conservation.


Robertus Pudyanto

GRANTHAM, Pennsylvania — The availability of and access to clean water is one of the major issues of our time. While tremendous strides have been made globally to increase access to clean water, making water available to people with disabilities remains an often-overlooked problem.

Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, according to the United Nations. But the UN estimates 768 million people still lack access to an improved drinking water source. Of those, 40 percent reside in sub-Saharan African countries, and many of those are most vulnerable because they live with disabilities.

The Collaboratory at Messiah College, a center for service learning and scholarship, is partnering with World Vision and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to increase access to clean water by persons with disabilities. The project, known as the Africa WASH & Disabilities Study, is currently working in World Vision communities in six African countries.

Saturday was World Water Day. Here are four reasons why we should seek to increase our commitment to inclusive clean water access.

Persons with disabilities constitute a significant portion of the global population. The World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people live with some form of disability, 80 percent of them live in a developing country.

People will spend time fetching it. It is estimated by WaterAid that the average African spends three hours per day fetching water. A disabled person typically spends more time at this task because it is difficult to carry a full, heavy water container. His means more frequent trips to the pump because many persons with disabilities are only able to fill their water container a third or half full each trip. The more spent toting water cans leaves less time for other worthwhile endeavors such as education.

For many young women, the ability to fetch water is a prerequisite for having a family. On one occasion, we interviewed a young woman in Mali with visual impairment to ask if she ever tried to carry water. Her mother quickly interrupted us and said that it would be impossible for her daughter to do so. After her mother had left, the young woman told us she often sneaks out at night to practice fetching water because she knows that she will never have a family if she is unable to do this daily task.

Many persons with disabilities are unable to independently access clean water because clean water sources such as pumps and wells. For example, hand-pump facilities in Mali are constructed on a raised platform, which is surrounded by a high cement wall to discourage livestock from entering the pumping area.

This design presents many obstacles for the disabled, leading them to rely on others to provide them with clean water. This service is not always free of charge. Recently, while interviewing persons with disabilities in Malawi, one woman mentioned that she has to wait a few days for clean water as she has to save enough money to pay her neighbor to fetch it.

This World Water Day, the Collaboratory is seeing assistance in bringing more attention to this important issue by becoming an advocate for inclusive water access. You can begin by researching the organizations that you support. Are they prioritizing inclusivity in their programming? If not, familiarize yourself with the issue and share your knowledge.

By fostering greater understanding of this issue, we can help to ensure that all sectors of society not only have access to clean water, but can access this resource with dignity and respect.

Nate Kamban is a project manager at the Collaboratory at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA. He oversees the Africa Water and Disabilities Study project. He and the student team are also currently working on a documentary that highlights the Africa WASH & Disabilities Study entitled, Beyond the Margins. Rebekah Randolph is a student at Messiah College and serves as the student leader for the African WASH & Disabilities Study.