Water Ecuador prepares to build its newest Water Center
By Conor Robinson, Pathfinders Project director
Back when I ran Pathfinders Project out of my garage, months before I approached Foundation Beyond Belief to discuss the idea of launching a Humanist Service Corps, I knew I wanted to focus on clean water work. Clean water projects are never just clean water projects—they improve health, increase access to education, empower women and communities, and free up resources for development.
Most people don’t realize the severity of the global water crisis. Waterborne diseases kill more people every year than conflict. These deaths disproportionately affect children—90% of the more than 1.5 million water-related deaths each year are in children under five years old.
People spend hundreds of billions of hours every year just walking for water. The responsibility usually falls to women and young girls, who often face harassment and sexual assault as they walk miles to the nearest source, which is unprotected and likely contaminated. Time spent walking keeps the girls from school and the women from work and taking care of their families.
Water Ecuador’s approach to the water crisis in coastal Ecuador is simple, honest, and effective. The organization essentially creates a market for clean water by educating the community about the importance of drinking it, and then they use the revenues generated by water purchases to pay for maintenance of a Water Center and the water manager’s salary. Proper care of the Water Center is incentivized because it is a source of income; consequently, communities are invested in protecting the source of clean water generation after generation.
Currently, Water Ecuador runs six Water Centers in rural Ecuador that provide clean water to more than 2,000 people daily. I was thrilled when I heard that Foundation Beyond Belief is supporting Water Ecuador with a Poverty and Health grant in the fourth quarter of 2013, and I am proud that the Pathfinders will help Water Ecuador break ground on its seventh Water Center, on Isla Puná, off the southern coast of Ecuador.
Like the other Water Centers, the one in Isla Puná is being built in collaboration with the community leaders and residents after grassroots education about the importance of clean water. Water Ecuador is working to have things on Isla Puná ready for construction by the beginning of February, when the Pathfinders arrive. In addition to the construction, the Pathfinders will be involved with Water Ecuador’s continued education efforts in the Isla Puná community. The Pathfinders will give presentations in schools to teach children of all ages about good water and hygiene practices, and they will visit families in their homes to learn about how the water crisis has affected them.