Done Well By Water: Q& A with Living Water International

Chances are, you strolled into your kitchen today and gulped down a glass of clean water. You had no problems accessing this water, nobody attacked you on the way to your kitchen, and you likely used clean water to bathe yourself at some point during the day. For most industrialized nations, water is ever-present. It’s no big deal.

But in most developing countries water represents hope of a better life. For some, hope to have any life at all.

Over 3.4 million people die from waterborne diseases every year, a number equal to the size of Los Angeles. 780 million people–that’s 1 in 9–have no access to clean drinking water at all, and the consequences are heartbreaking: children in countries starved of clean water die at a rate of one child per every 21 seconds. Women risk their lives walking for miles on end to collect unclean water, a total that estimates at 200 million hours a day that is spent on something other than earning a wage. Children are often tasked with collecting water along with the women, resulting in over 440 million days of school and much-needed education that cannot be reclaimed. It’s a dire situation that will require a solution on a global scale.

Living Water International (LWI) is an organizations looking to make a difference one region at a time. LWI has installed over 11,000 wells across the developing world, a number that has benefited over 2 million people. As Jonathan Wiles, Vice-President of Program Excellence for Living Water, explains in the Q&A below, there’s no end to the ways that LWI–and people who wish to partner with them–can help change the world.

 How did Living Water get its start? 
Jonathan Wiles: It all began in 1990, when a group from Houston, Texas, traveled to Kenya and saw the desperate need for clean drinking water. They returned to Houston and founded a 501(c)3 non-profit. The fledgling organization equipped and trained a team of Kenyan drillers, and LWI Kenya began operations the next year under the direction of a national board. That pattern continues today; we train, consult, and equip local people to implement solutions in their own countries.

 What is the process for obtaining permission to install a well within a country?
Wiles: It varies widely by country. There is generally a permitting process that may include site surveys or environmental analysis, either per water point or for an area where several water points will be installed.

What are some of the common obstacles LWI faces when undergoing an installation? Do hostile forces at the local or governmental level ever hinder LWI’s work?
Wiles: We occasionally deal with overt resistance. A few years ago, one of our teams in North India ran into some opposition from a fundamentalist Hindu group who didn’t understand what our team was doing. Generally, we work in sync with government authorities, and we prioritize areas where the people are most eager for water, sanitation, and hygiene services. Responding to demand, in addition to need, is one way to increase the likelihood of long-term sustainability.

Has any country ever refused you entrance to dig wells within their borders?
Wiles: None that we’ve attempted to work in.

With over 11,000 water projects completed, how does Living Water oversee maintenance of such a large system of wells? What are the logistics involved?
Wiles: Our goal is to help communities handle their own system maintenance, and the planning and expansion of water and sanitation services in general. They can’t do this alone, though — there are several ways that communities need support in order to keep water systems working: technical support, management support, and supply chain for spare parts, for instance. We often play one or more of these roles for some period of time, but it is our goal to hand these functions off to others… local vendors who carry parts, local government agencies who can support the local leadership’s financial management capacity, and so on.

There are several countries in which LWI has no completed projects. Do you have plans to expand into new territory?
Wiles: Our current plans are primarily about going “deeper” before going “wider,” but we will expand into some new areas based on need, demand, and opportunities over the next few years.

How can people contribute to LWI’s mission? Through donations, volunteerism, etc.?
Wiles: There are plenty of ways for people to get involved. Many are simply attracted to what we do because it resonates with what they want to see happening in the world. Making donations and going on a volunteer trip are great ways to start, but that’s just the beginning. There are opportunities for corporate partnership, fundraising through sporting events… the list goes on: