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Written by Marleen New, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations

"Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!"

The phrase I used to chant when I was a kid has been on my mind a lot this week. Access to clean, safe water is a major issue for families in the Copperbelt Region of Zambia. Although we've been told the water table is adequate and the quality, when accessed with the proper tools, is good, only 37 percent of the rural population has access to water. A majority of those have to walk long distances just to reach it. And when they do, it is unlikely to be from a safe, clean source— rivers, streams and unprotected wells are the only access points for a majority of rural Zambians.

For families in the Elanco-funded project we’ve visited, the statistics vary:

·      53 percent of families get their water from open, unprotected wells. Since numerous families all access water from each well, various pollutants are introduced. Hands from many households are touch the bucket lowered to fill the jug, and the bucket also picks up bacteria and other contaminates after it is set on the ground. That begs the questions: Have all (or any?) of these hands been washed recently?  Has a dog or another animal rested (or worse!) where the bucket is set down?

·      The river or a stream is the only source for water for 20 percent of families. This is the same river families will use to wash their clothes, bathe, bring animals to drink and wade through and perform other bodily functions.

·      32 percent report that the water source they use is not reliable and they have to walk long distances for access. In the dry season, the distance is even further since some of the smaller streams will dry up.

Access to safe, clean water, something we take for granted in the developed world, is definitely a major issue and concern here and has been a constant topic of our late night dinner conversations.


Annie Bergman

Annie Bergman is a Global Communications Manager and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo, among many others in her six years at Heifer.