During my time living and working with World Concern in East Africa in the 1990s, I remember visiting a community in the Juba valley of Somalia. This village was hundreds of miles from any safe water source, so World Concern rehabilitated a well in the area. As I approached the massive area that surrounded the well, an astonishing sight came into view. Multitudes of people and animals crowded around the water source, trudging through mud to reach the water.
As I watched people drink from this well, it really hit me how critical this vital resource—water—is to human survival, and to any possibility of escaping the grip of extreme poverty, sickness, and hopelessness.
People and animals surround a water point in Somalia during the 2011 Horn of Africa famine.
My thoughts shifted to the thousands of other communities who were (and still are) waiting for water. The impact of water-borne diseases on people—of parasitic infections on children—is staggering. Children’s bodies are depleted of nourishment, growth is stunted, and their systems weakened by intestinal worms that suck the nutrients from their food and cause constant pain. Young girls and women spend the better part of each day walking 5 to 10 kilometers carrying 20-liter jugs of water on their heads or backs...
And I asked myself, how can we change this story?
It’s hard to imagine living your entire life lacking water and under the threat of water-borne illness. I only had one experience in Somalia when I got sick from water—and it wasn’t even from drinking it! I had a rule: Never eat salad. As long as I ate cooked food, I knew the bacteria and parasites would be killed in the cooking process. But for whatever reason, I decided one time that the hotel I was staying at was nice enough that I would eat a salad there. Boy, was I wrong. I got so sick. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say, I won’t ever forget that experience.
The fact is, the tiny droplets of water that had come in contact with the lettuce in the washing process contained microorganisms that I couldn’t see. The hidden danger in the water was invisible.
I learned my lesson, and thankfully recovered in a few days. But millions of people don’t. They live with constant sickness that ravages their health and traps them in a cycle of suffering.
Their only chance at freedom from sickness and suffering is a sustainable source of clean, safe drinking water. And the good news is, that’s possible. I’ve witnessed the dramatic impact clean water has on lives and entire communities.
We can change someone’s life by changing the quality and purity of the water they drink. I don’t know what else is quite so life-giving as when you give a community water. It actually makes me emotional to say that. When we connect with people at the point of human need, it’s profound.
Africa, in a lot of ways, shaped my theology. And I believe that water is a reflection of God’s goodness to us. The hope and opportunity clean water gives people is so powerful.
Water is life.
World Concern President Nick Archer lived and served with World Concern in East Africa in the 1990s and early 2000s.