Why walk for water? Your seven biggest questions answered

We answer your most common questions about water and our work – and explain how your support is helping us reach our vision of getting taps and toilets to everyone everywhere by 2030.

23 Aug 2016

1. It's not as easy as moving closer to the water

Around the world, millions of people – especially women and girls – make the long walk to collect water every day. So why don’t communities move closer to the source?

As you might expect, there are lots of obstacles. Firstly, just like here in the UK, moving isn’t always easy. We work with the world’s poorest communities, who can’t afford the best land – leaving them without access to water.

Even if they could afford to relocate, many people can't leave their livelihoods behind. 

And then there’s the problem of natural water sources themselves: they’re often filthy, and contaminated with all sorts of waste and parasites which can spread diseases like cholera.

Not only that, but they’re also unreliable. Rivers can dry up, and whole communities simply can’t move every time that happens. That’s why we try to move water closer to people, by tapping into groundwater, drilling wells and harvesting rainwater.

Chaltu Negero, 55, will be one of the users when WaterAid’s project brings water to her village. August 20, 2015. Kilfo, Toke Kombolcha, Toke Kutaye district, Oromia.
“I feel really bad giving unclean water to my children. But I have no choice. I just hope it will be ok," says Chaltu, 55, who lives in Oramia, Ethiopia where there's no local supply of clean water to drink, wash or cook with. 

2. Boiling water isn’t the best idea. This is why.

Surely a simple solution is to boil the water? The trouble is, fuel is expensive in the countries where we work, and often in short supply.

Not only that, but burning fuel on a regular basis can give you respiratory problems – and boiling doesn’t remove all the nasty stuff from water, like arsenic and nitrates, which can cause deadly health problems over time.

It also doesn’t solve the problem of women and children having to walk for miles every day, carrying unimaginably heavy loads of dirty water – which is why we’re investing in sustainable, long-term solutions instead.

3. Loos are life-savers – but not everyone has one

Why are so many people still living without a decent loo? For starters, toilets remain underfunded in many developing countries, as politicians rarely want to talk about where people do their business – so other areas, like health and education, get prioritised.

And it's not just about the amount of funding. It's also how it's spent. Building loos without promoting behaviour change can mean these essential facilities don’t get used and fall into disrepair. Why? Because communities haven’t had the support to see the benefits of making the most of (and maintaining) a safe, clean toilet.

None of this helps the 900 million people who have no choice but to relieve themselves out in the open. And is having to go outside really so bad? The answer is yes. In fact, it can be deadly: not having a decent loo costs almost 900 children their lives every day through diarrhoeal diseases.

The good news is, things are changing. An incredible 2.1 billion people have gained access to a better toilet since 1990. But the humble loo is still not enough of a priority in many of the world’s poorest countries.

A woman empties her rubbish on an open dumpsite next to the sea in Morondavo, Madagascar.
A woman stands next to the sea in Morondavo, Madagascar. Every morning and evening local residents use the beach to relieve themselves – because there are no toilets in the area. 

4. To DIY or not to DIY?

Don’t people build their own wells? They do, all over the world, despite the dangers of construction.

That's because, unlike here in the UK, not everyone can rely on their government for the provision of such essential services.

However, unless you know what you're doing, the water you collect from your well might be dirty or even dangerous – wells are easily contaminated, spreading diseases like cholera.

What our local partners add is the expertise needed to build wells that are safe, with access to clean water, as well as support for local people, as they develop the skills to manage their new facilities for years to come.

5. Treating water can work (in the short term)

So what about treating the water? After an emergency, that can be a life-saver – in the short-term.

When thousands of people lost their homes in the 2015 Nepal earthquakes and local facilities were destroyed, many were left without clean water to drink. 

Dilip Kumar Tamang, 31, shows the bottle of Piyush water purification drops he was given by WaterAid partner ENPHO to purify water after the earthquake on 25 April 2015. His home has been badly damaged and he is now living in a temporary shelter with his family.

Dilip Kumar Tamang was given a bottle of water purification drops by our partner, the Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO), after the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal.

We distributed purification drops to treat dirty water, until longer-term rebuilding work could get underway and vital water supplies and infrastructure could be restored.

And in the long term? Purification is both unrealistic and expensive. It would mean manufacturing purifying kits for the millions of people around the world who need them, not to mention a reliable way to reach every single one of those people. 

6. Women and men often have different water stories

Why do we tell so many stories of women and girls? In many of the countries where we work, the responsibility for collecting water falls to them – while men are often earning an income for their families.

Because women and girls are most affected by a lack of access to water, we share a lot of their stories. But we also meet plenty of remarkable men, too > 

7. Aid has changed the world – but there’s still so much more we can do

So what have your amazing donations achieved so far?

Since 1981, we’ve been working with local partners and governments around the world to reach 23 million people with clean water and 21 million people with better sanitation. That’s no small feat – but it’s only been possible because of incredible people like you.

It’s definitely something to celebrate. And it also gives us hope because your support has helped us find solutions to tough issues like sustainability, infrastructure and the remoteness of communities.

Dilip Kumar Tamang, 31, shows the bottle of Piyush water purification drops he was given by WaterAid partner ENPHO to purify water after the earthquake on 25 April 2015. His home has been badly damaged and he is now living in a temporary shelter with his family.

17-year-old Tahiry celebrates when a water point is installed in her village, Lovasoa, Madagascar: "For me, today is the best day of my life here. Having water nearby allows me to do and work on other things."

There isn't a miracle invention that will solve the water crisis. And yes, the problem is still huge – right now, there are 663 million people living without clean water and 2.3 billion without a toilet. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

With your help – and the support of the international community, who made universal access to water and sanitation one of the Global Goals in 2015 – we’re determined to do everything we can to get clean water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030.   

Find out what your support has achieved so far. Read these incredible stories from our work >