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March 22 has been designated World Water Day by the United Nations (UN) to draw attention to the millions of people around the world who still do not have access to clean, safe water. The UN launched the long-running campaign in 1993 to support their Sustainable Development Goals of safe access to clean water for everyone by the year 2030.
This year’s theme, “Leaving no one behind,” addresses the central promise that clean, safe water is a human right. Oftentimes, the people who suffer the most from lack of clean water are children, women, refugees, indigenous peoples and disabled people, according to the U.N.
While great strides have been made since the UN declared safe water a human right, we have a long way to go. According to the World Health Organization, there are still 780 million people around the world who still do not have access to safe drinking water. While most of us feel that as surely as the sun will come up every day the water coming from our taps will be clean and safe to drink, that’s not the case in some areas of the world. Think about this: more people around the world have a cell phone than access to a toilet. And unsafe water kills more people than natural disasters and conflict.
There are organizations that are making a difference, however. In Lower Nyakach, Kenya, for example, it’s 70,000 citizens are not left behind with their contaminated drinking water sources because of the strategy implemented by the community-based organization, Friends of the Old (FOTO), working in collaboration with the International Water and Health Alliances (IWHA), founded by Dr Robert Metcalf.
Dr. Metcalf is a Professor Emeritus at California State University and long-time friend of IDEXX. International Water and Health Alliances (IWHA). The IWHA was established in 2010 to decrease water borne diseases through programs to test, treat and improve water sources and to improve sanitation and hygiene projects among the world’s most vulnerable populations, especially children in developing countries. The IWHA works with FOTO he community-based organization in Lower Nyakach, Friends of the Old (FOTO).
Dr. Metcalf focuses his efforts on eliminating water-borne disease in a Lower Nyakach. In Kenya, over 40% of hospital admissions are the result of contaminated water and lack of sanitation. Dr. Metcalf’s goal for the people of Lower Nyakach is to bring that number to zero.
“We adopted the goal of zero after learning of the aggressive goals of World AIDS organizations,” Dr. Metcalf said. “There isn’t any reason that in this day and age that we should still have people dying because of a lack of clean water.”
Dr. Metcalf’s efforts are paying off – in less than a year after providing resources to Lower Nyakach, diarrhea cases went from 145 to 30 and there were no cases of typhoid fever in the village, compared to 18 the prior year.
Dr. Metcalf follows a three-fold strategy to support his organization’s efforts: teach, test and treat. Dr. Metcalf and his volunteers teach members of the community the basics of microbiology and train them, so they can teach other members of the community. “We demystify microbiology,” explained Dr. Metcalf. “By the end of the training, the villagers feel empowered.”
The second arm of the strategy is testing. Dr. Metcalf distributes what he calls the Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML). The PML is gallon-sized zip lock plastic bag that contains enough supplies to test 25 samples for the fecal indicator bacterium Escheria coli, including IDEXX’s 24-hour 10 mL Colilert test. The PML enables water testing at the community level in developing countries to determine the disease risk of local water sources.
“The work that Dr. Metcalf is doing is quite amazing,” said Chun-Ming Chen, General Manager of the Water Division. “He really is making a difference in people’s lives and we are proud to support his efforts not only in Kenya, but all over the world.”
The third part of the strategy is treatment. Dr. Metcalf shows the villagers how to treat contaminated water so that it is safe to drink either through pasteurization using a solar cooker or through commercially available treatment solutions.
Providing training and resources at the community level in developing countries can empower communities with the knowledge and skills to evaluate their drinking water sources and to evaluate available household treatment methods.
“It’s simple, really,” Dr. Metcalf said. “By killing the germs, they can’t make them sick.”
On this World Water Day, and everyday, we applaud the efforts of heroes like Dr. Metcalf who are changing the world, one village at a time.
To learn more about Dr. Metcalf’s efforts, please visit the International Water and Health Alliances web page, www.http://waterinternational.org/. For more information on World Water Day and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, please visit their website, https://www.worldwaterday.org/.