Cerys Matthews visits our work in India

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/James McCauley

To mark World Water Day 2016, musician and broadcaster Cerys Matthews shares her experiences of visiting our work in India.

This year, on World Water Day – 22 March – over 650 million people around the world woke up with no clean water.

That’s one in ten people. Forced to drink, cook and wash with dirty water, people are at risk of getting sick and missing vital days of work and education, trapped in a cycle of poverty. 

Shockingly, every year in India around 140,000 children die from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and inadequate sanitation.

Last month WaterAid invited me to travel to India with my 12–year–old daughter Glenys to see the situation for myself.  

I visited Sanabenakudi, a remote village in east India, to understand what everyday life is like for people living without access to safe water.

A community of over 400 people living in thatched mud huts and set against a palm fringed lake, Sanabenakudi initially appears idyllic. However, I soon discovered this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The groundwater here is contaminated with iron and saline. The scattered water pumps throughout the village frequently break, taking weeks to repair. When this happens people are forced to use the water from a large, open, dirty pond.

The pond is a hive of activity – everything happens here. It’s where animals and people bathe and clothes are washed, it’s where insects swarm and rubbish floats on the surface. 

Fertilisers from nearby farms drain into the pond. As a result the water is a dark green colour, and covered in a film of detergent. A large cow bathes on one side of the pond, while a lady brushes her teeth on the other.

I met 20-year-old student Sibani who has grown up in this village and is part of an active women’s group, campaigning for change around water and sanitation. 

I walk through the village with her, carrying the silver bucket she uses to collect water several times a day. 

Sibani tells me that she had been sick many times from drinking the water here, once having to take a whole month off school. She explains that she’s seen the colour of the water in the pond get worse over the years and that it tastes really horrible. But she has no choice. She has to drink this water.

Without access to safe water people like Sibani are at risk of missing their education and the chance to earn a livelihood and build a better life for themselves.

Hope for Sanabenakudi

However, there is hope in this village. Sanabenakudi has been declared ‘open defecation free’, thanks to the arrival of household toilets and the hard work of women like Sibani, who have been encouraging their fellow residents to learn more about hygiene. They have since been campaigning to secure access to safe water.

Later this year WaterAid will be working with local partners and this community to install a sand filter in the pond, creating a safe and reliable water source for the village.

Having clean water here would change the lives of people like Sibani. It would mean she no longer has to worry about getting sick every time she takes a sip of water, securing a brighter future for her and the village of Sanabenakudi.

Sadly, the situation in this village is not unique. Millions of people around the world still don’t have access to safe water, an essential we take for granted here in the UK.

WaterAid’s vision is a world where everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, and the people of Sanabenakudi just took us one step closer to reaching that goal.

Find out how we're changing lives in India >